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"From the Pulpit" - April 28, 2024

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church

Acts 8:26-40

26 An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 2 7So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32 Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

 “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,

  and like a lamb silent before its shearer,

   so he does not open his mouth.

33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.

  Who can describe his generation?

   For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.       from the first reading for Sunday, April, 28th, 2024

"War of the Worlds"

Grace to you, and peace, from God our Father, and the LORD Jesus Christ.

Some of you may recall the Academy Award winning sci-fi movie from 1959 entitled, "War of the Worlds".  It's a thriller about scientists locating a large meteor heading for earth, with a landing estimated in less than 8 months. The world is in a panic, and scientists get together to build a 20th century "ark", in order to save humanity by sending this spaceship to another planet, while the rest of humanity perishes in the collision.  The movie explores all the emotions, politics, and real world stuff of what would happen in such an emergency. Pretty compelling story!

Our first reading for this Sunday is a "War of the Worlds" sort of story, which I love, by the way.  Philip, not the apostle, but another converted Jew to the "way" of Jesus Christ, is led by the Holy Spirit to encounter this Ethiopian eunuch as they travel to, of all places, Gaza. The eunuch (check out what this is at Google.)  He's a person of high privilege, at the very heart of power at the throne of the Queen of Ethiopia.  And he's in this sort of caravan as they journey.

Thus "two worlds".  One, a life of probable simplicity. A "nobody" in the scheme of things, but a zealot for Jesus and the new gospel story.  The other, a life of privilege and wealth. A life of abundance. Furthermore, an Ethiopian - a foreigner.  About as far apart in every way you can imagine, including geographically.  And brought together by the Holy Spirit, Philip is asked by the Ethiopian eunuch to interpret a passage from the prophet Isaiah as he's on his journey. And Philip gladly does so.

After some reading and reflection on the text, the eunuch asks this amazing question of Philip. He asks, "What's to prevent me from being baptized?"  Think about that. And so, the duo finds a water hole, more likely a puddle in some mud based on the Greek, and Philip baptizes this Ethiopian eunuch right there on the spot.

Now, as I see this story, it has implications not only for the characters involved, but for the wider church tomorrow, as I'll explain.  But after being confronted by the Ethiopian eunuch, it seems as though Philip had three choices. He could have said, 1) "Oh no, you can't be baptized.  You're not like us. You're not one of us.  You're not a believer like me and my "tribe". Go away. 2) He could have said to the eunuch, "Well, let's see, you've had your first course in bible history and theology, but you're not ready to be baptized just yet. There's more that you need to learn and understand about the faith before you can be baptized.  Or, 3) Philip does what he should have done.  Baptize the Ethiopian eunuch. No questions asked. No coursework to brush up on prior to baptism.  No nothing other than welcome and water.

There are churches in the world that are in all three options above. Some refuse to baptize or welcome strangers simply because they're different.  Maybe their skin is darker or lighter. Maybe they're from another country.  Maybe just because they're different is reason enough not to welcome them into the body of Christ. We know of churches like this, don't we?

Some churches baptize only after learning - catechesis.  Catechism.  Entering the body of Christ through the waters of baptism requires intensive study and preparation, so we can't just "jump in". We've got to be prepared.  We've got to know the theology of our church.  Know churches like this?

And finally, other churches (and when I say "churches", I mostly mean denominations, more so than individual congregations) welcome the stranger, the outsider, the "other", without regard to politics, ethnicity, knowledge of Christian theology, and the like.

So in this story of this encounter between Philip the zealot for Jesus, and this Ethiopian eunuch, who represents the wider world out there, when we zoom out to the 30,000 ft. level, does it really matter who the person is, or what their background is, if they want to enter the body of Christ?  

Our gospel from John for Sunday is Jesus talking about him being the true vine, and everyone else represents the branches.  The body of Christ is built up by including others. Outsiders.  Those presently not in the "sheepfold" so to speak.  The Acts story is one of inclusion and welcome into the body of Christ, despite one coming from "a different world" if you will. And in the midst of it all, the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit.  Nudging Philip to engage with this "other". And lo and behold, the body of Christ expands by one!  Thanks be to God.

Isn't this how the church is supposed to work?  In the power of the Holy Spirit, we are invited and encouraged to find the Ethiopian eunuchs in our midst - those who may not be like us, and to invite them to hear the old, old story, of Jesus and his love. Maybe you have someone like this in your life. Someone who's curious. Someone who's seeking something more.  Pray on it. Find an opening to invite them to church. To engage in Scripture. To show them the good news of Jesus.  You can do it!  Amen? Amen.

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