Church of Resurrection - Ethiopian Eunuch

Acts 8:26-40

Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch

26 An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.) 28 He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”

30 Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”

31 The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him.32 This was the passage of scripture he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
    and like a lamb before its shearer is silent
    so he didn’t open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.
    Who can tell the story of his descendants
        because his life was taken from the earth?

34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?” 35 Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. 36 As they went down the road, they came to some water.

The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?” 38 He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip found himself in Azotus. He traveled through that area, preaching the good news in all the cities until he reached Caesarea.

 

 

Thoughts on the passage:

Anyone who is feeling called to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church goes through something called the candidacy process. You go from being an exploring candidate to a declared candidate to a certified candidate. Each of those hoops involves meeting either with your pastor, the district superintendent, your local church, or the District Committee on Ordained Ministry. After all these steps you are ready to head off to seminary to get your three-year master’s degree before you are ready to apply for provisional membership and another round of interviews and a psychological assessment. Finally, after another two or three years in ministry you can apply for full membership and ordination as an elder or deacon in the United Methodist Church. I am sure that more than one candidate in the process has wished it was a lot more like the route the Ethiopian eunuch takes in getting baptized, quick and easy.

While it might be easy to make a distinction between a professional credentialing process like ordained ministry and baptism in the early church, it was not long before baptism began to have its own hurdles. In the early church, baptism was often the culmination of a yearlong process. It required careful study and discernment as well as sacrifice. Candidates for baptism were required to leave professions like serving in the Roman army that would create a conflict between allegiance to Caesar and loyalty to God. While baptism had a spontaneous nature in the story in Acts, it quickly became a much more structured and extensive process.

 There is a constant tension between the energy and nimbleness of a movement and the powerful staying force of an institution. In my opinion, the church is called to be both a movement and institution. We want to be a movement, moved by the Spirit and ready to follow God wherever we are called to go next. We also want to be an institution, a lasting force in the world that is positioned not just to have an impact today, or tomorrow, but for generations as we seek to bring about God’s kingdom on earth. We need to hold in tension the freeing power of the early church with the traditions and developed processes that have helped to raise up generations of leaders and disciples in the faith.

What we cannot forget, in our effort to be an institution, is the power of those first moments of faith when we learn the message of the Gospel and come to know that God is real. The eunuch is obviously familiar with the idea of God. He is reading Isaiah and seeking to understand what the prophet is saying about God. At the same time the eunuch might also feel like an outsider, wondering if he fits in. Eunuchs were one of many groups of people who were excluded from a full relationship with God. The rules of the day taught that their physical condition made them less loved and welcomed by God. Is it any wonder that this man is so excited to hear that he too is loved by Jesus? No wonder he is so anxious to receive baptism.

Being a church of resurrection means that we need to hold onto this energy and enthusiasm that many of us might have forgotten about over the years. Think back, if you can, to those few weeks after you began to believe in God? Is it hard to remember what that felt like? I know I first experienced God at Decision Hills church camp and I remember coming back to church afterward with a new approach to my faith. I remember trying to live into the excitement of those first few days when God was so real to me. What was that time like for you? If you have a hard time remembering that, think about the first time you fell in love. What was that like? Remember those early days when all you could do was think about this new person in your life and how amazing they were.

If we are to be a church of resurrection, we need to recapture that feeling. We need to hold onto it, and we need to think about how to share it. How do we help others to have that same experience of God that we have had? How do we help them to fall in love with Jesus the way we have? The eunuch wants to know more about Jesus, but he needs someone to help explain it to him. Our community is filled with people who need to learn more about Jesus, we need to be ready to help them.

I talked about the barriers and structures in place that made it hard to get baptized in the early church. We do not have those same barriers today. It is easy to get baptized, a simple conversation with the pastor and you can easily profess your faith and receive the sacrament. That being said, we still have barriers. It is still hard for a person to get baptized. Now the barriers are not requirements like time, or not serving in Caesar’s army. Instead, they are barriers that keep people from coming to our church in the first place. They are barriers that keep people from hearing the Gospel message at all because we are not willing to share it.

If we are going to be a church of resurrection, we need to get rid of those barriers. We want to be a church of open hearts, open minds, and open doors, but those doors swing both ways. The same doors we wish to open to welcome in the community are doors that lead us out into the world with the message of new life and resurrection that comes from Jesus. The barriers that keep people from knowing Christ are barriers of our own making.

In the United Methodist Church we have a sad legacy of putting up barriers to keep others from coming to know Jesus. Early in our history we put up barriers around race that kept African Americans from being welcomed in our churches. It took us years to remove the barriers around gender that kept women from full participation in the church both as lay people but especially as clergy. Now we are struggling with the barriers we have put up for people who identify as gay, lesbian, bi-sexual or transgender. Even beyond these groups, there are people who wonder if they belong because they look different or act different than us. They worry that their dress, their social class, their immigration status, their tattoos, or their love of rap music will make them unwelcome. Unlikely the eunuch, they do not have the courage to ask what is to keep them from being baptized. They see the differences and wonder if our doors, our hearts, or our minds are open to them.

We live in a community that is filled with people who are longing to know more about God. We live in a community that is filled with people who need a relationship with the risen Christ. Like the eunuch, all they lack is someone to share their faith. Are we ready to be a church that does that? Are we ready to be a church that reaches out to people who are lost, hurting, or alone, and share with them the message of Easter? Are we ready to be a church of resurrection? Amen

Questions to Ponder:

What does it mean to be a church of resurrection?

What do you remember about that first time that you believed?

What barriers do you feel keep people from being welcomed in the church or from learning about God?

Who is someone you know who needs to hear the gospel and how can you share that message with them?

Prayer:

God, you are the resurrection and the life. Thank you for walking along side us in the dark times of our lives. Fill us once more with the joy of the new life that is promised in Christ’s resurrection. Help us to be a church of resurrection that shares that joy and new life with others. Amen