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Visions from The Catacombs, Week Before May 3, 2015

Acts 8:26-40

26Then 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.) 27So 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 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now 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. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As 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?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When 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. 40But 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.

What I Am Learning:

Philip is out in the public. He has not confined himself to a church building or his house. He still has a place of worship – the Temple in Jerusalem. He still has a house – we don’t know where that was. But he doesn’t just stay there. He is out and about and available to interact with many different people.

He is out and about because the Spirit is calling him, through a messenger or angel, to be there. Biblically, this is the same spirit

  • that moves over the face of the waters in creation
  • the breath that gives life and consciousness to every person and animal
  • the wind that created a path for the People to escape slavery,
  • the wind that empowered the prophet’s to speak difficult truths
  • the wind that took scared disciples locked in a room and sent them into the streets.

That is one busy Spirit!

Philip goes out but the angel didn’t tell him why. The angel didn’t tell him who he would meet. But Philip goes anyway. Likewise, we don’t always know the why, what, or who of what we are called to do. We get to discover these things. That is a part of what makes life and the baptized life so amazing.

There was Ethiopian eunuch, a very important official of the government there. He had been on a journey of his own. He had gone to Jerusalem to worship and was going home when Philip walked up to the caravan.

The text doesn’t say if he was able to worship in Jerusalem or not. But it is quite likely that he would not be welcome in the Temple. Men were not allowed to worship if their penis or testicles were cut off or crushed. While the prophet Isaiah (probably a series of prophets) did not agree with this policy Isaiah’s viewpoint did not win the day.

Yet the Ethiopian Eunuch, despite being turned away, was still reading the scripture! Despite being turned away he was still thirsty for the meaning and community promised in it.

So Philip and he began a conversation about the text. Without going into the long version, I believe Philip was talking about Jesus as a non-violent leader based on the Suffering Servant in Isaiah.

The Eunuch said, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” After his experience of being excluded from the Temple, you can almost hear the desire, hope and fear in this sentence! But what faith this question represents!

To have been rejected as unclean and half-a-human male and to ask again requires a great and stubborn trust.

Philip and the Eunuch went to the water and Philip baptized him there.

Then Philip was snatched away by the Spirit.

This sounds a bit farfetched to us. Scottie beam me up!

But listen to what the story is trying to say:

The Ethiopian Eunuch had been on a long journey to faith. He had been formed for along time. He had all that he needed.

In this story Philip crossed two boundaries: A sexual boundary and a racial one.

One of the key values of scripture is that God is always seeking to include people who were formerly excluded.

Today in the Supreme Court arguments are being made about whether to say that marriage is a status that should be extended to gay and lesbian people. There will be many arguments about how “tradition has not allowed this in the past.”

But this forgets the part of our tradition in which the tradition itself has been questioned and challenged when it falls short of love, and falls short of love for everyone.

This is the deeper part of our tradition.

Love and love for everyone.

May we hear and respond to this deeper part of the tradition, as Philip did in the wilderness between Jerusalem and Gaza!