The Ethiopian What?

May 7, 2017 – Acts 8

Have you ever had the experience of being in the right place at the right time against all odds? Perhaps you end up in a place you never go, or it was a change of plans or a cancelled flight that put you in just the position to meet that person, to have that experience, to have your life changed in a way that might not have happened otherwise?

That is the makeup of our story today. The circumstances appear to be orchestrated by God through God’s messengers in order for Philip and the EE to meet. It’s a weird little story, isn’t it? It is!

What is one question you have about today’s reading? This story has 3 important questions that center the story. 2 minutes.

[Video All That We Share ]

“What is to prevent me from being baptized?” is the heart of today’s story. It’s the question that points to the beating heart of the Gospel.

Or, the question could be asked this way, in light of the video we just saw: “What is to prevent me from trusting a person who seems different from me?”  Do you know how our world answers that question? What is to prevent me? EVERYTHING! Let me count the ways we put up barriers to prevent us from reaching out to others. Reputation, tattoos and sexual orientation and age and weight and occupation and money.

One of our main characters from today’s story is named by who he is according to society. The Ethiopian eunuch. It’s like calling someone “the Minnesotan depressed” or “the Hutchinson high school drop out.”

Just think of the offensive titles we give each other. We love to define by what we see as another’s limitation. Divorced, alcoholic, bully, bankrupt, irresponsible, a gossip. Certainly, we know each other’s names and call each other by those given names. But we also categorize and separate, just as the video showed.

But instead of criticizing the author of Acts for using such a thoughtless, clunky title, I think it’s an important literary move. My guess is the author did this on purpose. It’s important that he is from Ethiopia, because to the earliest readers of Acts, that would have meant to the “ends of the earth” which is where Jesus commanded they bring the good news earlier in Acts.  To meet someone from Ethiopia meant the Good News of Jesus Christ was well beyond Jerusalem and into lands they never dreamed of. And for him to be identified as a eunuch would offend the earliest readers of Acts, for they would have nothing but scorn for a eunuch. He was an outcast, an outsider.

[Video: “We Dine Together”]

What is to prevent me from being baptized? It’s the question that comes to life when 2 people engage in conversation about Jesus, about the Good News. We can reframe the question: “What is to prevent me from eating alone?” This video answers that question for us: We can prevent it. It shows us that we are part of bringing the gospel to life. That it’s not meant to be a solitary thing.

Philip has been a busy disciple, spreading the Gospel. And in his wake there is joy. Today’s account ends with 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.

Rejoicing! In another account just before this one, Philip left that community awash with joy.

This is the great gift of baptism! We are freed in these waters. We die to ourselves, we die with Christ to be raised again to new life. And it’s a free gift that we are sent out to share with others. It’s a free gift of unending love.

It’s a free gift of God’s faithfulness to us in all times and all places.

So I ask you. What does this gift of baptism do to your life? Does it fill you with joy? Does it inspire you to have conversations you’d never have otherwise? Does it make you reach out to people you’d never reach for otherwise? We’re freed to do this. And we’re gonna get rejected and we’re gonna have experiences that make us question God’s timing and the circumstances of our lives and how those 2 things intersect.

But when we start to make our lists of EVERYTHING that keeps us away from each other, God’s answer to us is that God is bigger than everything. Every excuse, every offense. All of it. Our everything is nothing when it comes to the power of God’s love through Jesus Christ given to us in the gift of baptism. There ain’t nuthin’ we can do to make God love us more or less. And that’s a promise.