Sunday, 07 May 2017

May 7, 2017

Philip and the Ethiopian - Easter 4

Philip & the Ethiopian – Easter 4

May 7, 2017

Acts 8:26-39


As most of you know, Pastor Stuart and I both have Facebook accounts.  We find them helpful because we can learn things we should know about members we otherwise might not find out.  (Please, however, don’t believe that putting something on Facebook will guarantee we’ll find out things you think we should know. Talk to us, or call us, or Email us when you have something important to share.)  We also find out things about members we’d rather not know.  (Also keep that in mind when you post things on Facebook or other social media.)


There is also other information non-personal information shared on Facebook, some helpful and some distressing.  One example: a recipe for “bacon wrapped lasagna”.  It’s probably delicious, but it may also lead to instant heart disease.


Last week I saw a posting about the proper way to wash your hair.  If I remember correctly, it had something like eleven steps. I remember thinking that it would take me about half an hour to properly wash my hair.  It would even take Pastor Stuart at least ten minutes to watch his hair with the recommended method. 


I tried to find the post about hair washing, but I failed.  So I tried a Google search.  I found out there almost 18 million posts on how to wash your hair and very few of them were alike.  How does a person decide how best to wash his or her hair when there are so many options?


Then this week I saw a posting on Facebook for a new way to tie your shoes.  Really?  My current way is not good enough?  My shoes stay tied.  I taught my son to tie his shoes my way, but he always used the “Uncle Tim method” instead. That method was developed by my brother.  You tie your shoes so the laces are really loose and all your shoes become loafers. 


Given that today’s lesson involves baptism, I decided to Google “preparation and procedures for baptism”.  There were 946,000 results.  Some were for baptizing infants and some were for baptizing adults.  The posts I read were almost all different in some way.  None of them matched the preparation and procedure that took place in today’s lesson.


In the lesson today there were no preparation classes.  There are no mentors assigned.  There was no baptism candle and they didn’t wait until the Easter vigil.  The man who was baptized didn’t repent.  Many people, by the standards they have set, would say that the baptism was not legitimate.


The whole story does seem a bit strange.  The Philip in the story is not Philip the disciple, one of the 12 chosen by Jesus.  This Philip is the Deacon, one of the guys mentioned in last week’s lesson.  Like Stephen, this Philip was chosen when the disciples were overwhelmed with the needs of all the new members of the newly formed Christian Church. 

And Philip had gone right to work.  Before today’s lesson, Philip had gone to Samaria and preached the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to the Samaritans, people who many believed were outside the boundary of God’s love and acceptance.


In the lesson today, Philip is prompted by an angel to head south to a road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza, a wilderness road.  He meets a rather unusual man.  He was a wealthy man, or at least he had connections with someone who was wealthy.  He had a chariot and in those day that would have been considered a luxury vehicle.  He was reading a scroll that contained the book of Isaiah.   Only rich people would have been able to own a scroll like that.


It turns out he was the treasurer of the nation of Ethiopia.  He was the right hand man of the Queen.  Oh, and he was a eunuch.  That meant that he had male parts removed to keep him from doing things that might tempt him to be less than loyal and committed to the queen and his job.  It also marked him as someone who was considered something less than human.


The Ethiopian had gone to Jerusalem to worship.  He had somehow become interested in the Jewish faith.  We don’t know how he was received there.  As a black man, there would have been some racism involved in deciding whether he could or could not enter the temple, especially the holiest parts. And, as a eunuch, well there are verses in Deuteronomy and Leviticus that would prohibit him to being fully involved in temple worship . . . or perhaps with God at all.


When Philip found him, the Ethiopian was reading the scroll and he had questions about the writings of Isaiah.  He was reading what we now call the “suffering servant” portion of the book. It tells about a servant of God who is rejected and killed.  It tells about a servant who suffers and dies to do God’s work of saving people from sin and death.


Philip tells the Ethiopian about Jesus. He tells him about the amazing things Jesus did. He tells the man that Jesus was killed and then raised from the dead.  He tells him that Jesus is our way to forgiveness, eternal life and the assurance of God’s love.  Philip also must have said something about the connection to Jesus that comes through baptism. 


They came to a place where there was water.  The Ethiopian wanted to know if there was anything that prevented him from being baptized.  The answer was no, there was not.


I want to point out that verse 37 is missing in the reading today.  There is a verse 37 in some Bibles.  It says something like this:  “And Philip said, ‘If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.’”


Most of the newer translations leave the verse out because it is now believed that verse 37 was added much later by someone who had something of an agenda.  Someone or some people wanted to tell us that a confession of faith had to be made before baptism could take place.  There was something people had to do in order to deserve baptism. The real story tells us that baptism and the connection to Jesus it gives is a gift of grace, a gift of unearned love.

Some churches will tell you that you have to make a decision to accept God before he accepts you.  They say that infant baptism is illegitimate because babies can’t decide to accept God. But here’s what is important.  God can accept babies.  Do you think God does not love babies?  Do you think God does not want babies to grow up knowing that God loves them now and forever?  Isn’t that what the gift of Jesus is really all about?


I Googled the name of a man named Christopher this week.  I had baptized him on a rainy March afternoon more than 30 years ago. He and a friend were from Chicago where traveling through the area.  They entered the little church building in Pell Lake where I was the pastor.  They had a favor to ask.  The friend had been telling Christopher about Jesus and Christopher wanted to be baptized.  Would I do it? Would there be anything that would stop me from doing it? There was not.  Christopher was baptized that afternoon.


In the Bible story today, Philip baptized the Ethiopian and then Philip disappeared. That afternoon I baptized Christopher and then he and his friend disappeared.  I never heard from again.  And I can’t find him online.  I don’t know where he is. But God does.  I know God does. That’s all I really need to know, that and that Christopher is now and forever in God’s loving care.


Many people would say that Philip should probably set the bar a little higher when it came to the baptism requirements in the lesson today.  But the lesson today makes a huge statement.  Nothing should ever come between people and knowing they are loved by God.  NOTHING!  AMEN