May 2, 2021

Prayer of the Day

O God, you give us your Son as the vine apart from whom we cannot live. Nourish our life in his resurrection, that we may bear the fruit of love and know the fullness of your joy, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Acts 8:26-40

6An 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.) 27So 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 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now 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.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
  Who can describe his generation?
   For his life is taken away from the earth.”
34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As 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?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When 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. 40But 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.

Psalm 22:25-31

25From you comes my praise in the | great assembly;
  I will perform my vows in the sight of those who | fear the Lord.
26The poor shall eat | and be satisfied,
  Let those who seek the Lord give praise! May your hearts | live forever!
27All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn | to the Lord;
  all the families of nations shall bow | before God.
28For dominion belongs | to the Lord,
  who rules o- | ver the nations. 
29Indeed, all who sleep in the earth shall bow | down in worship;
  all who go down to the dust, though they be dead, shall kneel be- | fore the Lord.
30Their descendants shall | serve the Lord,
  whom they shall proclaim to genera- | tions to come.
31They shall proclaim God’s deliverance to a people | yet unborn,
  saying to them, “The | Lord has acted!” 

1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
  13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16So we have known and believe the love that God has for us. 
  God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them. 17Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. 18There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. 19We love because he first loved us. 20Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.

John 15:1-8

[Jesus said:] 1“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. 5I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. 6Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. 7If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.”

Sermon – Pastor Meggan Manlove

The Holy Spirit was on the loose in the early church.  The Book of the Acts of the Apostles could rightly be named, “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  Before his Ascension, Jesus tells his disciples “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  

Our story today has a whole lot to do with witnessing, pointing to the good news of Jesus Christ, to abundant life, to never ending love, to acceptance and belonging, to mercy every flowing. The Holy Spirit is present in the lives of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch and is present in our lives as well, often in the most surprising ways. 

I have loved the story of Philip and the eunuch for a long time. Growing up in the West, where distances are vast, I appreciate that the story takes place on a road, which is, as one scholar [WJ Jennings] says, a place of “survival, moving from one place to the next and searching for life possibilities or at least running from the forces of death. . . . This is a God who wills to be found on the road in order to transform it, collapsing near and far, domestic and foreign onto the body of the Son. There on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza, from the near and known to the distant and unknown, Philip will again witness a God whose love expands over every road and transgresses every bordered identity. The Spirit is Lord of the road.”

In a way, we have all been on a road this past year, from lock-down to the new normal. I know, as your pastor, that our members have been all sorts of other roads as well—the road of medical diagnosis, the road of grief, the road of my loved one is several states away and I feel helpless, the road of job searching, the road of coming-of-age. And, chances are, we all know someone who is on the road, searching, transforming, discovering. Can you picture those friends, neighbors, relatives in your mind this morning?

Bring those people along with you as we enter our story from Acts Chapter 8, a powerful story of witness, of pointing to a God of love, of providing hope, of interpreting Scripture. Philip demonstrates with his words and actions how one can make a passage of Scripture deeply relevant and meaningful to another person. 

But before we get to Philip’s witness, let’s pause for my favorite part of this story, the character of the eunuch himself. The Holy Spirit brings Philip to a road in the wilderness where he encounters an Ethiopian riding a chariot. He was well employed—a minister of Candace, the queen of Ethiopia. He is educated enough to be reading Greek. He has dark skin. And he had come to Jerusalem to pray. But he could never have gone into the inner temple. Deuteronomy 23 makes it plain that no eunuch could be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.

This is who Philip meets on the road. The encounter is what Gloria Anzaldúa “would call a borderland moment, where people of profound difference enter a new possibility of life together in a shared intimate space and a new shared identity.” His ethnicity, his blackness, and his sexuality made the eunuch an outsider. “This Ethiopian eunuch is the outer boundary of the possibility of Jewish existence, and there at that border God will bring that difference near, very near, to hearth of home in the Spirit.” 

According to another scholar [Jennings], “the eunuch asks of the passage from Isaiah, who is this person in pain and suffering, humiliation and shame? . . . It is a question that shadows every biblical text and every fledging interpreter, inviting us to see the One who would bind together exegesis of text to exegesis of life to illumination of new life in the midst of sorrow. . . . Now the body of God will be seen where no one would have imagined or dared to look, at the place of humiliation and pain and on a eunuch’s chariot.”

And then Philip preaches an intimate sermon in which he brings the eunuch “into a future promised especially for him, one in which he will not be in the shadows or at the margins of the people of God, but at a center held together with strong cords that capture our differences, never despising them but bring them to glorious light and life.”

“God has come for the eunuch precisely in his difference and exactly in the complexities of his life. He matters, not because he is close to worldly powers and thus a more appealing pawn. He simply matters, and he is being brought close.”

If the eunuch had only the written words of Scripture, wow can he know what is true? Is it Deuteronomy or Isaiah? Is he in or out? How can he understand unless someone guides him?  What he needs is someone who knows the God of Scripture.  He needs someone to teach him who has felt the embrace of God, who can read the cold ink on the page in the warm light of God’s Spirit.  He needs Philip and Philip needs the Holy Spirit.

Finally, the eunuch asks Philip, “What’s to prevent me from being baptized?”  Philip could have answered, “Everything!”  You are a foreigner, not from the land of Israel.  You are a eunuch, a violation of purity codes.  You’re a member of the queen’s cabinet, so you’re loyal to the wrong sovereign—wrong nation, wrong sexuality, and wrong job.

But Philip heard the Holy Spirit speak a different answer, “Absolutely nothing.”  So, the eunuch commanded the chariot to stop.  He was baptized on the spot.  Walls of prejudice and prohibition that had stood for generations came tumbling down, blown down by the breath of God’s Holy Spirit.

The story of the Holy Spirit, Philip, and the eunuch balanced well our beautiful readings this morning.  In John’s Gospel, Jesus introduced the metaphor of the vine and branches.  In First John we are told to love one another, because love is from God. What’s more?  God abides in us.  These passages paint a picture of what it means to be the church.

The story of Philip and the eunuch on the wilderness road reminds us that the church exists for people outside the church.  We live as an Easter people, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus Christ—knowing that we have new life, abundant life, here, now, today.  We come into the sanctuary, we gather around the table for bread and wine.  Here we are transformed to, as we say during the dismissal, “Go in Peace and Serve the Lord.”

We cannot tether the Holy Spirit.  Philip is a servant of the Spirit, not a gatekeeper.  Which role do we choose?  Philip was attuned to the Holy Spirit.  He was a great evangelist who got sent to the wilderness road.  But when the Spirit snatched him up he didn’t fight it.  And what fruit the encounter bore.  The Ethiopian eunuch goes on his way rejoicing.  

 We need the Spirit to empower us and guide us still today. It is the Spirit that will help us discern how we should be the church for the world in 2021. I am left to cling to the hope that it is the Spirit-filled church that does the work of God; to bring wholeness to our lives and break down the oppressive barriers that continue to subjugate people.

The Holy Spirit has always been the mover and shaker of ideas and action. The different ways in which we imagine the Holy Spirit can challenge some of our assumptions in Christianity. They can provide a liberating understanding of the Spirit that allows us to work for social justice.

The Spirit challenges the status quo. The work of the Holy Spirit that ceaselessly stirs us will also motivate us to work toward new kinships with God that are sustainable, just and whole. It will help our churches so that we can welcome everyone to the table to break bread.

Herbert Boeckl, Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, Angel’s Chapel, Seckau Abbey, Styria, Austria, 1952-60.

Prayers of Intercession (from Sundays and Seasons)

Alive in the risen Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, we bring our prayers before God who promises to hear us and answer in steadfast love.

God of all fruitfulness, you abide in your church and your church abides in you. Cleanse us by your word and give yourself to the whole church on earth so that it bears fruit and witnesses to your love. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You have created the heavens and the earth. As we wonder at the beauty of creation, may we seek vital connections among all that depends on the earth for life. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You rule the nations with justice and love. Give the leaders of the earth assurance of your abiding presence, that they lead not by fear but with love for those they are called to serve. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

You have loved us so that we can love others. We pray for all in need of your love: those who are poor, lowly, outcast, weak, or fearful. Provide for the needs of all, especially those suffering in India. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

Here other intercessions may be offered.You gather us with all the saints by the power of your Spirit (especially with Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria and those we name before you). With them, may our hearts live forever in your keeping. Hear us, O God.Your mercy is great.

In the hope of new life in Christ, we raise our prayers to you, trusting in your never-ending goodness and mercy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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