Tuesday 28 April 2015

Of Eunuch's and hope.

I love the question that Philip asks the Ethiopian Eunuch,

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

It’s a great question.  It is a confronting question. 

“Do you get it? Can you make a connection between what you are reading and your own life?”

I think it is the kind of question that is constantly before us; not simply when we read the Bible but when we engage with any reading or have experience from which we can learn.  For so often we read or experience something and we don’t learn, we don’t listen, we just keep on doing things the same old way.

So the question for us today is “Do we get it?”

I mean do we understand why this story is in the Bible at all. 

And even if we do, how does that relate to who we are and where we are going?

If we travelled back into those first early years of the Church there must have been hundreds, even thousands, of stories about people coming to faith.  What’s so important about this one?  Why is it included and why at this point of Luke’s recounting of the Acts of the Apostles? What was Luke trying to tell the early Christians? And of course even more importantly “What’s in it for me and for you?”

Hopefully by the time you leave today you will have at least some insight as to how this particular story fits with the good news of Jesus Christ and also with your own life’s story.

So let’s set the scene.  Jesus has ascended into heaven.  The Holy Spirit has been poured out on the disciples. The apostles had begun their ministry in Jerusalem; sharing the story of Jesus with anyone who would listen and performing many miracles.  

Despite their enthusiasm the reception they received was mixed to say the least.  In the previous Chapter of Acts we hear of the stoning of Stephen by the Jewish leaders, whilst the beginning of Chapter 8 speaks of the persecution of the first Christians in Jerusalem.

They scattered and Philip went proclaiming the good news in the city of Samaria, with great success.  From here an angel of the Lord directs Philip to head out on the road, the road that ran between Gaza and Jerusalem and it is here our story takes place.

As Philip travels along the road along comes a carriage containing an Ethiopian Eunuch returning from worshipping at the Temple.  Now in terms of why this story is included at this point I suspect some of it has to do with the witness to God’s faithfulness. 

The path had been a rocky one for the apostles in Jerusalem but God had promised to build the Church to the ends of the earth and whilst Philip had some success in Samaria the character of the Eunuch adds another dimension.  God reaches out through Philip and, as we shall see, the Eunuch responds and is baptised.

Now eunuchs did have a place within the people of God, despite being mutilated and having restricted access to the Temple

As well as being a Eunuch this guy was a Diaspora Jew, which basically means a Jew who had been living outside of Israel.  The Jews had been dispersed in the 6th century BC after the Babylonians had conquered the Israelites.  As a Jew this Eunuch must have been quite faithful as well, not only visiting the Temple but reading the scroll of Isaiah on his journey home.

He was also a man of power and of wealth. He was a court official of the Queen of Ethiopia, in charge of her entire treasury.  The fact that he could read and that he had a scroll are clear indicators of his position.

So Philip gets a prompt to approach the carriage and the scene becomes somewhat comical as he runs along beside the carriage and strikes up the conversation.

What is interesting here is that the Ethiopian recognises Philip has something to offer in terms of bring some light to the scriptures and invites him into the carriage alongside him.

After some discussion around the Isaiah passage and Philip’s explanation of whom Jesus was the Eunuch sees some water and exclaims, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?”

I have little doubt that Luke records this question especially because this is a loaded question.   What is to prevent anyone from being baptised?  Can wealth, race, sexual status, piety, understanding and so on and so forth?  The good news is for all and all are invited to share in the fullness of life with God and each other!

This is part of the essence of the good news in Jesus God breaks down barriers to include all people in God’s family.  The response of the eunuch to the message is automatic – baptise me!  God is at work!

The story was recorded because it was meant to inspire hope that the message of Jesus was going forth into the world as promised, even in the face of persecution and difficulties.

And we can find hope from this as well for our story connects with the same God who spoke in the desert to Philip and through him to the Ethiopian Eunuch.

It is hope that we experience in our story as a community of faith in the face of our own adversities.  Let me give you a concrete example of this hope. It would be easy for us as a congregation to look around Sunday by Sunday and be despondent – too many empty pews, too many elderly faces, not enough energy.  Yet to focus on these things is to forget God’s faithfulness to us as God’s people – new members who have joined and come to commitment in recent years; new opportunities in ministry opening up; new relationships emerging through our university relationships.  God’s faithfulness is ever present to us.

It is a hope we can see that unfolds in the compassion of the world around us.  Last week we heard the news of the terrible earthquake in Nepal.  And once again this week we have seen the capacity of people to respond: communities countries and individuals donating money, sending people and supplies.  Not wearied by the constancy of need after storms in NSW, cyclones in the Pacific, Ebola in Africa and refugees on the borders of Syria - once again people respond when the need is great.

It is hope that we can see in our own lives and our own encounters with God in others. Take a few moments to reflect on the last few days and consider where have you seen acts of kindness, where have you come to understanding or seen others being enlightened, where have you see reconciliation achieved.  How do you make sense of these things in light of your faith?  How have you been able to help others to see those connections?

“Do you understand what you are reading?” It’s a great question for all of us because sometimes we fail to make the connections that we should be.  We need Philip to come trotting alongside our chariots to help us to understand. 

Yet I believe more importantly for many of us who already follow Jesus we are called to be the Philips of this world, opening up people’s eyes to God’s faithfulness and work among us.  Joining the dots of what people read and experience and their own lives – in other words sharing our faith - being fishers of people!  

Take a few moments to consider when have been the times a person like Philip has helped open your eyes and also to consider whether or not you are taking the opportunity to be like Philip and help others know God by sharing your faith.

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