In Sunday’s scripture passage from Acts, the Ethiopian eunuch was reading precisely these words from Isaiah when the Spirit instructed Philip to approach his chariot and engage him in conversation. The full name of this book is The Acts of the Apostles but it contains so much more than just that! In fact, the Philip in this story is not Philip the apostle, but rather Philip the evangelist, one of seven Greek-speaking Jewish Christians who were appointed to tend to the needs of others, especially to the widows in the Greek-speaking portion of the Christian community. This wonderful, Spirit-driven encounter reminds us of the ever-widening circle of inclusion that has always been at the heart of the gospel, way back when and all the way up to our here and now.
On Sunday, we’ll be exploring these themes as we ponder the words of this rather remarkable individual, an outsider on many levels, who asked, perhaps hesitantly or perhaps boldly, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” It’s a great question. What indeed? We’ll explore ways in which worldly forces, external and internal, might try to put up barriers for those who seek to enter fully into life with Christ, all the while mindful that the divine response to such questions is generally quite different and always grounded in radical grace. I invite you to consider carrying these words around with you this week to see if they might have some resonance in your life or any meaning for you. “What is to prevent me? What is to prevent me from taking the next step where God might be inviting me to go deeper into my life of faith?”
For those who haven’t yet heard, we’ll have two opportunities for 9:00 am worship this Sunday and each Sunday after. Part of our community will be gathered online and part of our community will be gathered (with COVID-19 precautions) in the Fellowship Hall to share the online service, but we will still be one body! Not only will we be connected theologically—in the Spirit—but we’ll be connected technologically—in the Live Chat—as well! (Did I ever think I would encourage people to take out their phones and look at them in worship? Nope! Not until now!) I hope you’ll join us for worship this Sunday as we offer our praise and thanks to God, as we connect with God’s love, community and call and as we explore our faith together. You are also invited to join the Wednesday Bible Study that reviews the scripture and sermon topic from the previous Sunday and reflects on the questions of the week. If you’re interested in joining us from 11:30 to 12:30 on Wednesdays, please notify the church office or Pastor Lori and we’ll send you the Zoom link. Drop-ins are welcome!
Acts 8:26-40 (NRSV)
Then 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.) So 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 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now 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.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As 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?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When 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. But 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.
Questions to consider:
- What portions of this encounter grab your attention? For what reason?
- Who does the larger church/the United Methodist church/PBUMC still struggle to fully include?
- What internal or external forces have been or are preventative for you when it comes to fully living into your life of faith?
- What is the invitation or word of grace for you in this text?