Fifth Sunday of Easter 2021
May 02, 2021 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: Acts 8:26-40
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There we go. Well, I don't know how to start this, I'm not quite sure what the rule on movie spoilers is. It was a it was a world famous movie, it was like five, maybe six years ago, "The Last Jedi." Right? A great movie. Well, 50 percent say it's a terrible movie, but I am one of the 50 that says this great. And it really got me thinking, this idea of force projection. For those of you that don't know, in Star Wars, there's this force, this thing that people can tap into that is connects all of life together. And the Jedi and the Sith, these two opposing bodies have found a way to tap into the force as a source of strength or a source of power, depending on which side you're on. And they can do really neat stuff like make things float. Although Luke would say that's not what it's about. But Luke harnesses this power that he can even project an image of himself across the galaxy and make the enemy believe that it is really him -- it serves as a great distraction to get the Resistance out of there in time. And so now I finally understand what it means in this scripture. When it says that the Spirit snatched Phillip away and the eunuch saw him no more.
*That was a joke that fell completely on its face!*
But I am going to focus on this Act's passage, I think it's absolutely fascinating, this idea of this Ethiopian eunuch that is driving through, reading scripture and learning more about who Jesus is. And in the moment, seeing that Jesus is the Savior, "what's to prevent me from being baptized?" A eunuch is something that we don't really talk about. I'm guessing no one in here could raise their hand, you know, do you know a eunuch close to you? Probably not. It's served a pragmatic purpose for those in power. Eunuchs would often be in charge of guarding a harem, overseeing key things in the royal court, maybe a son that is in line, but not in line of succession necessarily, but could take over and create a new line. And so what they would do is whether voluntarily or involuntarily, as Jesus says elsewhere, they were castrated. So that, you know, the harem guard can't harass the harem. The ones in line -- they make sure that there's only one true heir. And the people serving in very prestigious places in the royal court have no reason to overthrow the government because in the culture, only your offspring could succeed you in the royal line. And so these eunuchs had a prominent place in the royal court and they often served these important functions.
But at the cost of not being able to fully experience this life in certain ways. They were cut short, pun intended. At least we got some laughs out of that one. And I think, you know, sometimes we read this, and we read Ethiopian eunuch and I think our cultural biases set in, and I don't think the text helps when it says, 'how can I understand this unless someone explains it to me or unless someone guides me.' And I think we kind of just have in the back of our minds the just kind of of more of a Neanderthal type. Right? An unthinking uncultured, uneducated person. But that's not the case here. If you're in the royal court, you are often educated, you are often in the know, and if this person is already being depicted as reading, we know that this is a very educated person in that society. And as a royal official of Kandace, Queen of the Ethiopians, the piece that is missing is not overall understanding and confusion of the passage. But coming from Ethiopia, you probably wouldn't have heard yet of who Jesus is and what happened in Jerusalem. So Phillip has this opportunity. Has this opportunity to hop into the cart with this Ethiopian eunuch, share the gospel. Connected to the passage that this eunuch was reading. And immediately, this eunuch understood.
This opportunity to enter into full life. Through baptism. Into this wonderful gospel message. Into the wonderful reality of what Jesus has done. For everyone through the cross and resurrection. What is to prevent me from being baptized. I think the neat thing about this interplay between Phillip, a Jew from Galilee and the Eunuch, is that they really had no business with each other. But for Jesus Christ, they probably never would have spoken to one another. And yet, because of this gospel message, Phillip sees the connection that he has to this Ethiopian eunuch as a brother in Christ. And it gets me thinking about how we see our connections to other people.
I don't know about you in this pandemic we've really gotten used to, at our house, watching certain series of shows. Because there wasn't much to do otherwise. Thank goodness, it's nice out again! But I would say Tricia and I have seen an inordinate amount of Survivor. And for those of you that aren't aware of what that show is, Survivor is a game show, reality show where you are marooned on an island for 39 days. And over the course of these 39 days, you are fending for yourself. You're building your own shelter, you're hunting for your own food. They give you a basic minimum amount of rice to make sure that you stay alive and that they don't have to worry about getting sued. But then in this process, you are competing in challenges. You get divided into two groups and then you compete in challenges against one another, and the losing team then has to go to what's called Tribal Council, where they vote one of their members off of the tribe and out of the game. The winner of this game makes a million dollars for surviving. It's an interesting concept and it's a very interesting psychological phenomenon to watch at the same time. Because immediately what happens because they know that if they lose, they're going to have to vote somebody out. So they start forming their own little tribes within the tribe. Right? And it is so amazing how the pattern just repeats itself. That people that are similar, find people that are similar. And sometimes there's a men's alliance, sometimes there's a women's alliance, sometimes the when the tribe split up and they actually refocus their tribes, the old tribe for no other reason than that, was their original tribe becomes an alliance within the new one. And they form these little factions within each other based on simple things that have nothing to do with who people actually are and how people are actually connected. It's an amazing phenomenon to watch because it is something that we do every day in our lives as well, we are naturally attracted to those who are like us.
We are naturally bound to our families within our own family structure. And it becomes more of an effort to look outside of that, more of an effort to see beyond our immediate tribes. Right? So here comes the Spirit. Upsetting this balance, getting Phillip out of his comfort zone. Go talk to this Ethiopian eunuch. And Phillip does. And because Phillip does this Ethiopian eunuch got to see God in a brand new way. It's even possible that this eunuch was already Jewish based on a lot of scholars opinions of of what was going on in Ethiopia at the time. And so to be able to see that revealed, who Jesus is, what Jesus has done, how we are loved and forgiven and promised life eternal. In this beautiful message. It took Phillip coming out of his comfort zone for that. It took the Ethiopian eunuch to be curious and not embarrassed to ask the question for that. As Jesus says, we are connected, we are branches on the vine. Grafted in, not because of what we have done, but because of who God is. And the task has always been -- how do we see ourselves within that? Are we just looking at the branches closest to us? Or do we truly see ourselves connected across the entire vine? Can we get out of our comfort zones? And truly be Christ to one another?
To those that need it the most, to those that don't think they need it at all, to those that we think are the least deserving. Can we be empowered? Through the abiding in Christ. To truly do the hard thing. To answer the call of the Spirit. To proclaim this message in word and deed to people who are not like us. Can we truly see them as brothers and sisters in Christ. Phillip was able to explain this in a way that the Ethiopian heard. And immediately, here is water, what is to prevent ME from being baptized?
We have the opportunity each and every day to enter into our full life, a fully realized life in Jesus Christ. Knowing the power of forgiveness, knowing the hope of the future. In many ways, we are like this eunuch. Castrated. Cut off from realizing that full, beautiful life with Christ. But we are connected. We are connected to one another through the vine. And we are able to lift one another up. For the sake of this beautiful message. You are loved, you are forgiven. You are abiding in Christ as Christ abides in you. May you continue to trust that. So that you may reach out and your love may grow through the love that grows in you. Amen.