Tuesday, 1 May 2018

Can't make it to church - Sunday 29th April 2018

One of the joys Easter Season (outside of Jesus being risen that is) is the fact that every Sunday we read from the Book of Acts; a real source of inspiration and insight as we watch the Church empowered and expanding.

Today we read of obedience as Philip finds himself called to go on the road to Gaza where he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch. He was what was called a ‘God-fearer’- a Gentile who recognised and respected YHWH – but he’d never be able to convert because of his emasculation (Deu 23). In the book of Acts we see shocking conversions as Saul and Samaritans (Yes, even them) are added to the Church, but an African eunuch?. This is BIG news indeed!

So Phillip, having done what he was commanded to do encounters the man on his way back home to Ethiopia where he is a high ranking official of the Queen. He open the words of the Isiah passage (53) which begins with the words, “Who has believed our message and to who has the arm of the Lord been revealed?” It’s a passage about Jesus, but he didn’t understand it. Phillip explains the passage before them (using the kerygma (ker-ugh-ma), an explanation of who Jesus is and how He fulfils Scripture) and such is the eunuch’s response to the Gospel that, seeing water, he demands to be baptised there and then. He is, and Phillip is immediately taken away leaving the eunuch wet, included in the company of believers and rejoicing.

There’s more to tell here, but let the other passages join in with their witness before we continue.

Our 1 John passage talks about love. Agape (ag-a-pay) love – selfless serving, preferring and enabling love that builds up, enables and makes real Jesus in the lives of others(and us) - isn’t this what Phillip has just shown in his obedience and admission of the eunuch.

This is the love that wins souls and builds the Church of the most unlikely candidates.
This is the love that sees before us the image of the invisible God made visible and responds to them accordingly. The love that makes Christ real all creation. That love which proclaims the love of God to those far off and in us.

It’s not philo (brotherly love) and it’s not eros (sexual love) – it’s agape love. That Godly, Jesus, life-giving love.

It is important in today’s wonderful example of inclusion that we hear this, for some male ‘love’ fuzzy and confuse the meaning and the church’s response to it in their well meaning attempts at being inclusive.

We are indeed inclusive (but not permissive) and we welcome all regardless (coming as they are but leaving changed). When you look at people, think of the inclusive love that brings Saul, Samaritans and Eunuchs into the kingdom.

But let’s look at the Gospel: the last of the seven ‘I AM’ passages - I am the true vine.

Just as the Eunuch heard that Jesus was the Messiah (God’s Holy, chosen and anointed one) and found that He could live in him; this is the message for us all here today. We are called to ‘abide’ in Jesus – that is to be part of the whole that is joined to Jesus, bearing His DNA and bearing fruit be sustained by Him and in Him and with Him. We are never alone because we are joined together and part of the whole.

Can you imagine what that meant to the eunuch who had never been anything but alone? It’s not what he could or couldn’t do (and I’m led to believe by someone who works in this area, that sex was not off the menu) but that they could not father children. This makes the offering of being part of the family, being part of the vine -the one true vine – irresistible and restoring.

Abiding isn’t ‘where we live’ but it is how we live and with whom and the way that relationship is worked out. Heaven and the many dwelling places of Jn 14 (a familiar funeral passage) are part of this interconnectedness and joined together that this passage speaks of. In heaven the connectedness and being joined will make sense in a way we can’t clearly see now. When He comes we will be joined together in Him they way this passage of talks of -and yet for now, in this world of sim, we work to be one with Him, to be succoured by God’s Holy Spirit and to bear fruit.

Just as Phillip did at the beginning of our journey today.

So what have we to take away from today?

  1. The most unlikely people can be added to the kingdom: The invitation is for all.
  2. We cannot live as believers without seeing our God made visible in the people before us and acting accordingly with that great agape love.
  3. We are relational – joined to the one true vine - succoured by that same Holy Spirit – called to bear fruit.
  4. When we are obedient to the call of God in our lives – wonderful things happen to those around us, and to us as we make Christ known and bear fruit in ourselves and in the growing of His kingdom.

Acts 8:26-40
An angel of the Lord spoke to Philip. “Go south to the desert road,” he said. “It’s the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So Philip started out. On his way he met an Ethiopian official. The man had an important position in charge of all the wealth of the Kandake. Kandake means queen of Ethiopia. This official had gone to Jerusalem to worship. On his way home he was sitting in his chariot. He was reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Holy Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot. Stay near it.”

So Philip ran up to the chariot. He heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you’re reading?” Philip asked.

“How can I?” he said. “I need someone to explain it to me.” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

Here is the part of Scripture the official was reading. It says,
“He was led like a sheep to be killed.
 Just as lambs are silent while their wool is being cut off,
 he did not open his mouth.
When he was treated badly, he was refused a fair trial.
 Who can say anything about his children?
 His life was cut off from the earth.” (Isaiah 53:7,8)

The official said to Philip, “Tell me, please. Who is the prophet talking about? Himself, or someone else?” Then Philip began with that same part of Scripture. He told him the good news about Jesus.
As they traveled along the road, they came to some water. The official said, “Look! Here is water! What can stop me from being baptized?” He gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the official went down into the water. Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away. The official did not see him again. He went on his way full of joy. Philip was seen next at Azotus. From there he traveled all around. He preached the good news in all the towns. Finally he arrived in Caesarea.

1 John 4:7 - 21
Dear friends, let us love one another, because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has become a child of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

Here is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only Son into the world. He sent him so we could receive life through him. Here is what love is. It is not that we loved God. It is that he loved us and sent his Son to give his life to pay for our sins. Dear friends, since God loved us this much, we should also love one another. No one has ever seen God. But if we love one another, God lives in us. His love is made complete in us.

Here’s how we know that we are joined to him and he to us. He has given us his Holy Spirit. The Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. We have seen it and are witnesses to it. God lives in anyone who agrees that Jesus is the Son of God. This kind of person remains joined to God. So we know that God loves us. We depend on it.

God is love. Anyone who leads a life of love is joined to God. And God is joined to them. Suppose love is fulfilled among us. Then we can be without fear on the day God judges the
world. Love is fulfilled among us when in this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. Instead, perfect love drives away fear. That’s because fear has to do with being punished. The one who fears does not have perfect love.

We love because he loved us first. Suppose someone claims to love God but hates a brother or sister. Then they are a liar. They don’t love their brother or sister, whom they have seen. So they can’t love God, whom they haven’t seen. Here is the command God has given us. Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.

John 15:1-8
“I am the true vine. My Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch joined to me that does not bear fruit. He trims every branch that does bear fruit. Then it will bear even more fruit. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain joined to me, just as I also remain joined to you. No branch can bear fruit by itself. It must remain joined to the vine. In the same way, you can’t bear fruit unless you remain joined to me.

“I am the vine. You are the branches. If you remain joined to me, and I to you, you will bear a lot of fruit. You can’t do anything without me. If you don’t remain joined to me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and dries up. Branches like those are picked up. They are thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain joined to me and my words remain in you, ask for anything you wish. And it will be done for you. When you bear a lot of fruit, it brings glory to my Father. It shows that you are my disciples.”

The Collect
Risen Christ,
your wounds declare your love for the world and the wonder of your risen life: give us compassion and courage to risk ourselves for those we serve, to the glory of God the Father.

Post Communion Prayer
Eternal God, whose Son Jesus Christ is the way, the truth, and the life:
grant us to walk in his way, to rejoice in his truth, and to share his risen life;
who is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.

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