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Home Uncategorized April 29, 2018 ~ The Ethiopian Eunuch ~ The Rev. Jeunee Godsey

April 29, 2018 ~ The Ethiopian Eunuch ~ The Rev. Jeunee Godsey

Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8; 

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”. This is what Jesus tells the disciples at the very end of the Gospel of Luke before he ascends into heaven.

Today, we are joined together in this combined service, so that we can all have a chance to be witnesses of God’s Goodness. Today we will move from Worship to Witness as move from this service of praise and thanksgiving to the service of packing meals for Rise Against Hunger.

You and I are called to continue to be witnesses in the world, just as Jesus’ first followers were so long ago.

Many of you have been reading through the Book of Acts this Easter season with the Good Book Club. Others of you know the stories of the early church through your own study. Luke and Acts, both written by the same author, tell the story of Jesus, and then the story of Jesus’ followers and the spread of the church.

After Jesus’ ascension and the day of Pentecost, the apostles, led by Peter and John, begin their ministry by preaching and performing miracles in Jerusalem. The church shared all they had in common and provided for those who were in need.

As the church grew, Deacons were appointed to specifically help serve the needs of the poor, and provide meals for widows in the community. The deacons enabled the church, the followers of Jesus, to share their resources equitably.

We know that at least two of these deacons, Stephen and Philip, were strong evangelists. In chapter 7 of Acts, we hear about Stephen’s powerful ministry, and how, even as he was being stoned to death, with Saul looking on approvingly, he witnessed to the power of God through Christ.

The time of persecution that followed Stephen’s martyrdom meant that, as Jesus’ followers scattered, so did their message. Some of the followers head out beyond Jerusalem to Judea, and Philip heads to Samaria, proclaiming the Good News of Jesus, healing the crippled and casting out demons.

Then, The Holy Spirit gives Philip a new travel itinerary, to go on the wilderness road toward Gaza, where he meets up with the Ethiopian Eunuch, who will soon be baptized, and become a witness in his homeland.

“You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

You will be my witnesses….

What does it mean to be a witness? What are we being witnesses to?

A witness is one who shares the story of what they have experienced or seen with others. A Christian witness is sharing, from our own experience, the Good News of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done for us, and for those we know.

I think the Story of Philip and the Ethiopian can help us see what a wonderfully radical and inclusive message of Love that God is asking us to witness to.

Let’s put ourselves in the story for a moment. Notice first, that Philip is not moving under his own agenda. He is guided by the Holy Spirit. We too, are called to witness according to where God’s spirit places us, and who God puts in our path. On the wilderness road, he comes across the Ethiopian Eunuch, riding in his chariot reading a scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Supposedly he was reading aloud, as was the custom in those days.

You can just imagine Philip, jogging along beside the chariot, “Hey there! What are you reading?” At which point the Eunach invites Philip into the chariot. Think for a minute what a strange two-some this is. The Ethiopian Eunuch is a foreigner from Africa. He’s likely not a Jew, but rather a non-jewish God Fearer. The Jewish God had been known in Ethiopia since the Queen of Sheba had visited King Solomon back in the day, and there were people who had become proselytes, full converts to Judaisim, from other lands.

Even though we know this Ethiopian was returning from Jerusalem where he had been worshipping, it is unlikely that he was a Proselyte, a full convert, but likely rather a God-fearer, a genitle who believes in God. The reason scholars believe this is because of his sexual status. He was a Eunuch. In ancient times a eunuch was a castrated male servant who was trusted to perform social functions for royalty. Ideally they were castrated before puberty; therefore they were deemed safe to serve among women of the royal household.

But because he was a Eunuch, according to Jewish custom and the old testament teachings, he would have been deemed impure and unable to worship in the temple.

That the Holy Spirit sends Philip to the Ethiopian Eunuch shows the wide expanse of God’s inclusive Love. This good news is for everyone.

But the inclusivity moves both ways. This Eunuch is rich, or at least entrusted with much wealth. He is traveling by himself by Chariot. He owns his own scroll of the Hebrew Scriptures… a rare thing in those days.  He has the freedom to travel. He takes the pedestrian Philip into his fine chariot.

For a modern parallel, imagine a diplomat in Washington, D.C., inviting a street preacher to join him in his late model Lexus for a little Bible study.

As a good witness, Philip meets him where he is, dealing with the Questions he has about the reading from Isaiah, a reading which had for a long time been associated with the coming Messiah, and who Philip showed was ultimately fulfilled through the life death and resurrection of Jesus.

As witnesses to God’s word, we are often called to interpret scripture in community. It is all very good to read the bible on your own, and God will speak to you there, but the Spirit works a special way as we come together and study scripture in community.

When they come upon some water – an amazing thing in this desert landscape – the Ethiopian asks, “What’s to prevent me from being baptized?”

Actually, quite a lot, if we were following all the old rules of who’s in and who’s out. His Foreign ethnicity and sexual status were obvious barriers to those beholden to ancient custom. … but not so according to the Holy Spirit. The Eunuch is baptized and worships God in praise, before returning to his native county as a witness and evangelist.

It’s rather amazing to think that the first non-Jew to come to faith and baptism in Luke’s great story is a black man from Africa.

The reason we’ve combined our worship services today is to enable us, as a community, to move from worship to witness.  We are called to witness to a God who knows no borders and puts up no walls.

We gather as God’s people, offering God our praise, and finding strength, hope, and sustenance through Word and Table, then we are sent into the world as witnesses to God’s love. Today we will do that as we pack 10,000 meals to be sent to those in need.

Our move from Worship to Witness ties to the other readings we heard today.

From the Gospel of John: Jesus said, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing…. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

From the 1st Letter of John: “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. We love because he first loved us. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

We abide in the vine in worship, and are therefore enabled to love others, to bear much fruit as disciples. We cannot do the work cut off from the source of our power.

At the end of each of our worship services, our post-communion prayers summarize this move from worship to witness.

In our Rite I service we say,  “Almighty and everliving God, we most heartily thank thee for that thou dost feed us,…with the spiritual food of the most precious Body and Blood of they Son our Savior Jesus Christ;… And we humbly beseech thee, so to assist us with thy grace… that we may do all such good works as thou has prepared for us to walk in through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

At the end of our service today we will say,

Eternal God, … you have fed us with spiritual food
in the Sacrament of his Body and Blood.
Send us now into the world in peace,
and grant us strength and courage
to love and serve you
with gladness and singleness of heart;

There’s another post-communion prayer we use in Rite II which makes the connection from Worship to Witness even stronger: It goes like this:

“Almighty and Everliving God, We thank you…. for assuring us in these holy mysteries that we are living members of the Body of your Son….

And now, Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do,
to love and serve you as faithful witnesses of Christ our Lord
.

Lord, send us out – Let this worship empower us to be your witnesses in the world.  Amen.