On our way, rejoicing.

“The Royal Procession of the Ethiopian Eunuch” by Julian Van Dyke
“The Royal Procession of the Ethiopian Eunuch” by Julian Van Dyke

Rooke Chapel, Bucknell University,
Sunday 9/6/2020

 Acts 8: 26-38
If you have a certain kind of bible,
it’s likely that there are headings,
listed above certain stories.

These headings (and the numbers and chapters for that matter)
are a much later addition to our text.
They are commentary.

And some of it is quite influential.
You may know the phrase,
“God forth and make disciples of all nations”
as the “Great Commission”
when in fact the phrase “great commission”
is nowhere to be found,
in scripture itself.
Only in commentary.
And it is a great commission,
but so too is “love others as I have loved you.”
and “whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

Commentary matters.
And it’s possible that if you were to open up your bible,
to today’s passage,
that it will say something like “Philip converts the Ethiopian Eunuch.”
And while this is certainly the traditional reading of this text.
I’m not entirely sure it’s true,
and I’m absolutely sure it’s incomplete.

Indulge me in an ever-so-brief moment of biblical history, please:
The book of Acts,
is our best collection of stories,
about the early followers after Jesus’ death and ascension.
It is the story –
along with Paul’s letters –
of the earliest church.
And the church had two big problems:
1. They kept getting killed by empire (both political and religious.)
and 2. they were fighting among themselves about a core issue:
do you have to be a good, law-abiding, circumcised Jew,
in order to follow Jesus.
Who was, of course,
a good, law-abiding, circumcised Jew.

Or, was this meant to be a message for all people,
all nations,
all circumcision statuses.
Philip – the seeming star of today’s story –
was one of those who became a standard bearer of the,
“everybody come along” camp.
As he’s sent out to do the work in Samaria.
Which is a biblical way of saying “over there somewhere.”

But not without, it would seem,
a little prodding from the Spirit.
“get up and go to the south”
down the wilderness road,
sounds a little like the time-tested,
and Pandemic-approved parental advice,
“go play outside.”
get yourself out of bed,
and down the road,
young Philip.
You’ve things to do and people to meet.
And meet someone he does.
And the someone – in case you zoned out,
while we read our scripture  –
is pretty fascinating.
An Ethiopian Eunuch,
a court official,
Presumably in a pretty fancy chariot.
who is reading from the prophet Isaiah,
out loud,
while they are headed down the road from Jerusalem.
Now I’m led to believe that the last of these,
reading scripture out loud,
was not as weird – in the first century.
– as it might seem today,
But it all seems pretty wild.
A person,
of a different skin hue.
of a different culture.
with pretty fabulous wealth,
and pretty significant influence.
like an African Alexander Hamilton.
or a Nubian Steve Mnuchin.
a Black Petyr Baelish
(that’s the sum total of treasury secretaries I can bring to mind.)
riding down the road,
reading scripture,
loud enough,
that Philip would recognize it from across the way.
and none of those things,
is the most interest,
the operative detail,
which becomes this person’s title and identity,
is “eunuch.”
how, we might wonder for a moment,
did Philip know this was a Eunuch?
this was,
a pretty broad category of folks,
in those days.
Who – through any number of medical issues, genetic conditions,
or ancient practices of mutilation – simply didn’t fit the gender mold.
And that mattered,
especially in this moment,
because as any good reader of the Book of Acts would have known in those days,
Eunuchs would not have been allowed to enter the assembly of God. (see, Deuteronomy 21)
on account of their gender, their sex, their gender expression.
And yet,
this person,
was riding home from worship in Jerusalem.
And yet,
this person was reading scripture aloud,
on the road
Even though they weren’t fully welcome.
Even though they weren’t fully part of the community.
Even so,
Philip needs another push from the Spirit.
“Go join them.”
“Go ask if they want to be friends.”

And Philip – the master conversationalist –
goes, “do you understand what you’re reading.”
and the Eunuch replies, “How could I?”
Come up here into my fancy chariot and let’s talk.
And Philip hops up and says,
“actually this is all about Jesus.  Want to learn about what that guy said and did?
all the people he interacted with,
all the walls he tore down,
all the boundaries he traversed.
And the Eunuch goes, “oh yeah I want to learn about that guy.”
And they talk,
and it goes really well.
And they come to a stream or a pond by the road,
and the Eunuch says, “Look, water! Let’s do this right now.
What’s to stop us?”
And this, I think,
is the moment.
“what’s to stop us?”
and Philip pauses,
and thinks for a minute,
and realizes the answer is, “nothing.”
Not one single thing is to stop them.
Not cultural difference or racial difference,
not gender. or language.
or power imbalance.
and he baptizes the Eunuch,
washing them of sin,
and declaring them a beloved child of God.
and they never see each other again.
And go on their ways rejoicing.
And I’m sure the Eunuch was changed.
They met Jesus, through Philip,
and recognized that they weren’t on the margin,
of this religious community.
But right in the center of it.
What a gift.
But I’m even more sure that Philip was changed.
who goes out,
without the Spirit nagging him in quite the same way,
to bring the good word all over the region.
Philip, I think,
recognized one of the most significant,
and most wonderful things,
about this gift of the grace of God,
through Jesus Christ.
That grace isn’t something we own.
something we earn.
and sanitize and package,
and give away.
It is an expansive,
ever-growing gift,
which we continue to receive,
especially as we encounter it,
out on the wilderness road.
I imagine most of us came up in churches,
that are wrestling with gender.
and wrestling with sexuality.
And I know we are coming up in a church,
that is wrestling afresh with race,
and justice.
And it can feel hard and complicated,
and there are many of us who have been arguing for a long time,
about how we can and need to make our church more inclusive.
And once in a while we might feel a little sting of pride,
when we do so.
but I think we’ve probably missed the point,
for all our good intentions.
Which is that we don’t own something we need to include others in.
We are part of something which,
is bigger and more expansive than we can possibly imagine.
we find grace,
on the wilderness road.
Especially when we meet those,
who have been praising God from the edges of our community,
because of their race, or their homelessness, or their HIV status,
or their gender or sexuality or their questions.
And even so,
have found voices,
and places,
and leadership.
They are stewards of what Peter called,
the manifold grace of God (1 Peter 4:10).
I count myself lucky,
to have encountered many such people,
on many such wilderness roads.
Sometimes in the most seeming mundane places.
And they,
taught me about grace.
they brought me into the church.
And what better time,
for us,
than this season of walllessness,
in which we are worshiping in 2 countries,
and 4-5 states,
and many living rooms,
and this little grove in central PA.
To give thanks,
for that grace.
It’s God’s grace, not ours.
It’s not our church,
it’s God’s church.
And it’s full of weirdos.
In a moment we’ll celebrate a weird version of communion,
with prepackaged communion cups.
But the important thing,
is that it’s not our table,
it’s Christ’s table.
And he’s here,
and everyone, everyone is invited to taste and see.
Grace holds us in our season of worry and anxiety.
Grace challenges in our seasons of complacency.
And Grace whispers to us,
that we are ever, unbelievably loved.
That there is nothing, nothing, nothing that can separate us from the love of God,
in Christ Jesus. 

Leave a Reply