April 29, 2021, Thursday in the Fourth Week of Easter
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
Christ is made the sure foundation, Christ the head and cornerstone,
chosen of the Lord and precious, binding all the church in one;
holy Zion’s help forever, and our confidence alone.
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So 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 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now 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. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As 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?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 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. But 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.
The Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Meditation “. . . the eunuch . . . went on his way rejoicing.”
There are two characters in the story just read. One has a name, that disciple of Jesus named “Philip.” No name is given to the other character; he’s just called the “Ethiopian eunuch.” This fascinating incident takes place some weeks or months after the death and resurrection of Jesus. His disciples, one of whom is the Philip of this story, were at first confused and timid. But soon they find themselves filled with Spirit. They become bold and confident, and begin to tell the story of Jesus Christ to anyone and everyone, not just fellow Jews mind you, but to all description of strange foreigners – Samaritans, Greeks, Romans, “Gentiles in general.” In this particular story, it’s the strangest foreigner imaginable, an Ethiopian eunuch of all things.
Besides being an Ethiopian and a eunuch, there are other things that are extraordinary about the guy. First of all, he’s clearly privileged. He’s not walking, which it how 99 percent of the population got around in those days. He’s traveling in some sort of a conveyance; the Book of Acts names it a “chariot.” Whatever it was, only the ancient 1 percent went around in chariots. Today, he would be getting around in a – I don’t know – a Bentley limo, maybe. And he actually has a book in his hands, a scroll to be exact. In the ancient world, only the very privileged had their own personal books. Books were all done by hand of course, and were nosebleed expensive. But given who he is, it’s no surprise that the guy has a chariot and a book. Acts tells us that he’s the man in charge of the Ethiopian treasury – the “Secretary of the Treasury of Ethiopia,” no less. Remember, Ethiopia was an advanced and prosperous country at the time.
So… this guy’s got it all, but… though he’s got it all, he’s looking for something deeper. He’s been to Jerusalem on a spiritual quest. He’s reading the Old Testament Book of Isaiah as his chariot lumbers along. The guy’s got it all, but still longs for something higher and deeper. Like him, you and I are privileged in many ways in comparison to many people in the world today. And like him, we’re looking for something deeper. I don’t suppose we’d be in church on a Sunday morning if we didn’t have in us some longing for something more.
Besides being privileged and hungry for more than privilege can offer, the Ethiopian eunuch was also the consummate outsider. With his dark skin, he looked different. He doubtless spoke Greek or Aramaic with the strange accents of ancient Coptic or Geez. And then there was the very awkward business of him being a eunuch. His bizarre sexual status made him even more of an outsider. Eunuchs were actually forbidden to even enter the Temple in Jerusalem. They were considered ritually impure; all in all, they were simply not “one of us.” Yet, without batting an eye, God – working through Philip – reaches out to this consummate outsider, embraces him, and accepts him as he is for who he is. When Philip baptizes him in the nearest water, the outsider becomes an insider. There’s not one of us here, who’s not felt like the outsider at some point in life – not smart enough, not pretty or handsome enough, not hanging with the in-est of the in groups, not successful enough, not at the exact right school, not in the very top job. All of us, in one way or another, sometimes feel like we’re the outsider looking in. But just as with that ancient outsider, that Ethiopian eunuch, God could not care less. The good news is that God accepts us, God embraces us, God includes us for exactly who we are – insider, outsider, any-sider – doesn’t matter with God.
After being “welcomed in” by baptism, the Ethiopian eunuch went “on his way.” “On his way” meant back to Ethiopia of course. And once home, he would probably be the only Christian in the whole country. That was not going to be easy. It is challenging sometimes to self-identify as a Christian —- with others, even sometimes with other members of our family, and with friends. Faith is something that people ridicule, at least reject —- as in “You don’t really believe in all that God stuff?” It was going to take courage for that eunuch to go home to Ethiopia bearing the name of Christ in a non-Christian world. And it can take courage for you and me to bear the name of Christ sometimes, even here in Tazewell County.
Finally, note how the Ethiopian eunuch went home; “he went on his way rejoicing.” He went on his way rejoicing, because his privilege had not shielded him from his deep longing for God. He went on his way rejoicing, because in spite of being an outsider, he had been included, accepted by God for who he was. He went on his way rejoicing, because God would give him the courage he’d need to be a lonely voice of faith in his land. We can rejoice for the exact same reasons. You can go your way rejoicing. You can rejoice, because the Spirit has quickened an ache for God in you. You can rejoice, because God has included and accepted you as you are for who you are, even when you have felt like an outside. You can rejoice, because you can trust that God will give you courage to bravely bear the name of God you have come to confess and trust.
Living Lord, I will rejoice. I will go on my way rejoicing. Thank you for planting a deep longing for you inside me. Thank you for accepting me for who I am. Thank you also for your sustaining presence which gives me courage to bear your name. Lead me this day by your Spirit, as you led Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. . . .
“He went on his way rejoicing.”