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  • pastoremily5

April 28, 2024

Fifth Sunday of Easter

Acts 8:26-40

Psalm 22:25-31

1 John 4:7-21

John 15:1-8


Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you from the one who is at work in love. Amen

 

We’re a little over halfway through the season of Easter,

 we’ve heard stories of the resurrection

and of Jesus’ post resurrection appearances to the disciples,

of their fear and doubt

 and how Jesus dispelled their fear,

 gifted them with peace and the Holy Spirit

and sent them out into the world to proclaim the good news.

 

Last week we heard how Jesus is the good shepherd

a reassuring image of care and presence throughout life,

 

 and now as we move farther away in time from Easter

and the initial encounters with Jesus,

so too do our texts,

 

we are moving from the initial awe and celebration

 to what it means to daily live with and for the resurrected Jesus,

we start to see how Jesus’ resurrection has changed the lives of the disciples,

how it might impact our own lives.

 

Our history lesson in Acts today

 is the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.

 So far in Acts the disciples have witnessed Jesus’ ascension,

and received the gift of the holy spirit at Pentecost

which blew them out from behind closed doors into the world.

 

Peter has preached several rousing sermons

which have attracted many new believers

 as well as the ire of the religious leaders.

 

Leadership has been shared with the newly ordained deacons

and Stephen has become the first martyr

as persecution of the Way begins

and ramps up especially once Saul gets in on the act

 scattering the apostles abroad.

 

Scattered, Philip finds himself preaching in Samaria

and the good news is received by some of the Samaritans-

 the word is starting to spread outward

 not just to the Jews

but to their close cousins. 

 

And then Philip receives instructions from an angel of the Lord

 to go travel on the wilderness road between Jerusalem and Gaza.

 

Out on the wilderness road

he encounters a chariot,

 which the spirit tells him to approach-

 a bold move since one would imagine

that a chariot of this nature

 would be protected against robbers-

 

 remember it was a wilderness road

 that the man in the story of the good samaritan was traveling

 when he was beset by robbers, beaten and left for dead.

 

 but Philip at the urging of the spirit joins the chariot

 and inside he finds someone

 that is different from himself in every way possible,

an Ethiopian,

a court official of a queen,

who because of their position is a eunuch,

 

and yet who is seeking something from Philip’s God,

as they are returning from worshiping in Jerusalem

 and reading from the prophet Isaiah as they go.

 

And all this otherness doesn’t seem to phase Philip,

 instead he focuses on what they have in common,

the scripture.

“Do you understand what you are reading?” he asks

and this simple question of curiosity

opens the way for further conversation.

“How can I [understand], unless someone guides me?” The Ethiopian responds,

 and invites Philip to join him in the chariot,

 

 and following the official’s lead,

the conversation starts with the scriptures

 and moves to the good news about Jesus.

 

Presumably as part of this good news

 Philip mentions baptism

because as they go along

they come upon some water

and his companion says to Philip

 “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

and they stop the chariot,

get out and go down into the water

 where Philip baptizes the eunuch,

 

 and as they come up out of the water,

 we are told the spirit snatches Philip away

so that the newly baptized is left alone

but we are told goes on his way rejoicing.

His encounter with the spirit through Philip has been brief but life changing

 as are most of the post-easter encounters with God-

 

And I have to think that this experience was transformative for Philip as well.

 His attention to the spirit in this moment is truly remarkable,

 there were plenty of logical reasons

 for him to ignore the spirit’s directions,

 or at least protest them,

 

traveling the wilderness road,

the extreme otherness of the person in the chariot,

reasons for Philip to be afraid or hesitant,

and yet Philip listens and follows.

How is this possible?

 

I think it is possible

 because Philip knew

he was joined to something, someone greater than himself,

he was acting as the branch attached to the vine

which was his source of life,

 he was abiding in the love of God,

 love, which 1 John tells us, casts out fear.

 

In our other readings for today

we have these teachings that keep using the word “abide”

when describing the relationship not just between Jesus and his father

but also our relationship with Jesus,

 

there is an intertwining of our lives

such that we draw life from Jesus

 like a branch draws life from the vine.

This strength of connection means

that when we act we do not act on our own

 and there is power in that.

 

 I know I’ve done things for Jesus

 that I wouldn’t have done for myself,

 times where with the nudging of the spirit

 I have overcome my personal reluctance

 to do whatever it is the spirit is nudging me toward

 and the result has been more profound than I could have imagined,

leaving me to be thankful that I listened to the spirit

 

and most of the time,

 most of the instances I can think of

are not particularly remarkable

but rather similar to Philip approaching the eunuch’s chariot

 and starting a conversation with a simple question,

and overcoming any fear or trepidation that I might have felt on my own

was more than worth the results of the conversations I have had.

 

As we move farther away from the resurrection appearances of Easter

we are still called to share the good news of Jesus Christ

with those we encounter,

especially those that differ from us,

 whether in ways large or small,

 

 and we are able to do this

because we do not do this alone,

 joined to Christ

we draw strength from him,

the strength of love that will bear fruit.

 

And yes this is something that we have to work at,

 the paying attention to the spirit,

the drawing strength from love,

the choosing to act,

and the more we practice the better we will get.

 

We will have a chance to practice this in the coming months

as we move into the next phase of the vitality initiative.

 You will hear in just a little bit

what we have done around the question of “who are we?”

 

 now we are moving to ask: “who is our neighbor?”

and this will involve talking to our neighbors,

 joining them on their way,

 listening to the spirit’s nudges,

 overcoming our own reluctance

by drawing on the strength of the one in whom we abide,

 the strength of love.

“We love because [God] first loved us.” Amen

 

 

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