Two Rivers Pastoral Charge
Sunday May 2, 2021 – 5th Sunday of Easter
Scripture Reading: Acts 8:26-40
I love it when a service when we get to celebrate a baptism lines up with a reading that includes a baptism! In the 3-year cycle of readings that we follow on Sunday mornings, it just happened that the week that T. and T. chose for J.’s baptism – after we had to postpone from January due to the Covid situation – it just happened that the week for J.’s baptism falls on a week where the assigned reading is a baptism story.
The book of Acts is filled with great stories, but I think that the story that we read today is one of my favourites. The full name for the book in the bible is the Acts of the Apostles, but last year as we read this book as a congregation, I joked that a better title for it might be the Acts of the Holy Spirit, Working through the Apostles. It is a book about the very earliest church in the years and decades after Jesus’s death and resurrection. It is a book that tells us how the Holy Spirit was working in that early church, spreading the net of God’s love wider and wider.
And I think that today’s story is a perfect example of this. Philip, one of the early church leaders, was doing his thing up north in Samaria, when God sends him south, into the desert wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza. And along this deserted desert road, he encounters an unnamed Ethiopian Eunuch driving home in his chariot.
Even though he isn’t named, this Ethiopian Eunuch is an interesting person. He is in a position of power, in charge of the queen’s entire treasury. He is from northern Africa, so he is a long way from home, but he has been in Jerusalem to worship in the Jewish temple. He is obviously a devout person, having made such a long pilgrimage for his faith, and he is reading from the prophet Isaiah as he travels. We are given snippets of information about his background, but there are still so many gaps in his story. We don’t know how, living so far away from Jerusalem, he came to share in the faith of the God of the Jewish people. Did he have a Jewish ancestor? Or maybe he had conversations with Jewish traders and came to faith in that way. We don’t know how he came to be in such a position of power. We don’t even know his name.
We also don’t know how he came to be a eunuch. It is possible that he was castrated at some point in time, which is the meaning of eunuch that usually pops to mind first. But the term “eunuch” had a much more broad meaning in the past. It is also possible that he is someone who didn’t participate in sexual relationships in the way that his culture named as normal. It is possible that he was someone who, if he lived in the 21st Century, might have identified himself as gay or asexual or transgender.
And so at the heart of this story is an encounter between someone in a position of authority within the church and someone who is so far on the margins that he is practically on the outside. And when a spring of water appears in front of them, there in the middle of the desert, the one on the margins asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” And the one in the centre replies, “Nothing. There is nothing to prevent you from joining God’s family. You in your beloved foreignness; you in your beloved Blackness; you in your beloved queerness; you are a beloved member of God’s family. There is no statement of faith that you need to sign, there are no conditions that you need to agree to. You don’t need to move into the centre of the circle, instead the circle expands so that you are already in the centre. God loves you right where you are.” And there in the middle of the desert Philip and the unnamed Ethiopian went down into the spring, and God’s love was made real and tangible in the water there.
The question that I invite you to ponder is, do you identify more with the Ethiopian Eunuch or with Philip in this story? Do you feel more like someone who was on the outside who has been invited in to experience God’s love? Or do you feel more like someone who has been called to always draw the circle of God’s love wider and wider? Or maybe you identify with both of them, both the recipient of God’s limitless love, and called to share this love with others.
We don’t know what happens after the end of today’s story. Well, that’s not quite true, we do get more of Philip’s story in other parts of the bible. But we don’t know what happens to the Ethiopian Eunuch after he goes on his way, rejoicing. I wonder what happened to him after he got home to Ethiopia. I wonder if his friends saw a difference in him when he got home – did they notice a stronger joy or a deeper peace in their friend when he got home? I wonder if he told his friends about what had happened to him there on the road, how he went under the water and felt the full love of God dripping down his forehead and running over his shoulders. I wonder if his friends also wanted to experience this newfound joy and peace. I wonder if this unnamed Ethiopian Eunuch went on to baptize others, calling them to travel the Way of Jesus with him, growing and expanding the circle of faith even wider still.
For God’s love is without limits, and reaches to all people and all places and all times. And ours is the work of making this love known and tangible. Thanks be to God for this love and for this calling. Amen.
“What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
(Photo Credit: Kate Jones)