The Fifth Sunday of Easter
Readings – Acts 8: 26-40; Psalm 22: 24 – 30; I John 4: 7 – 21; John 15: 1-8
Let’s begin with our Psalm for today, verses 24 – 30 of Psalm 22. Now Psalm 22 should sound familiar. Just a little more than five weeks ago, on a Friday we heard the beginning of this Psalm spoken by a man hanging on a cross, crucified and dying. He cried out –
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
And are so far off from my cry, and from the words of my distress?
Yet by the conclusion of this psalm, we recited today we hear –
My soul shall live for him;
My descendants shall serve him;
They shall be known as the Lord God’s for ever.
In the midst of this psalm that pleads for God’s strength, that strength arrives, and the struggling voice declares in verse 22 –
Praise the Lord God, you that fear him….
All you of Jacob’s line, give glory.
A transformation of heart breaks forth, even in the midst of struggle. And we know well the psalm that immediately follows, Psalm 23.
The Lord is my shepherd….
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I shall fear no evil…
Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life …
The pleading voice is transformed into the rejoicing voice. Faith in God turned the speaker around.
From the Epistle of 1 John we continue to hear of the transforming power of love. The author wrote …” let us love one another because love is from God…” It is simple to say, “Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another”. It is not so simple to live that love, even in a community of the beloved. We are not to be like the rest of the world; we are to be transformed by God’s love for us into loving each other. God’s love turns us around.
Talk about love being transformative, about turning things around, the passage about Philip and the Ethiopian is powerful even to this day. In the midst of controversy in the earliest church about whether one had to become a Jew first in order to be a follower of Jesus, an angel instructed Philip, one of the original twelve, to “get up and go”. It reminds me of a John Lewis statement, “when you pray, move your feet”. When you pray get ready to move and do something. So, Philip “got up and went”. Philip found himself running beside the chariot of the chief financial officer of the Queen of Ethiopia who was traveling home from Jerusalem. The encounter was so “out of bounds” for Philip, and for the earliest church. The occupant of the chariot was a man of color; he was a non-Jew; he was a eunuch; he was a man of worldly power; he was a man of wealth. Nevertheless, Philip engaged him fully, he got into the chariot and sat beside this total stranger, and began to share his experience of the crucified and resurrected Son of God. And then was posed the crucial question for the earliest church about who could follow Jesus, “what is to prevent me [the Ethiopian] from being baptized?” The applied answer was NOTHING! Not color, not wealth, not position, not power, not sexuality. In the retelling of that baptism by Philip, all the potential barriers to following Jesus were swept away. With the baptism of the Ethiopian by Philip, the doors of the church were thrown open for all, for ever. The band of Jewish men was opened to all. Then, ”the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away…” like it was no big deal, and Philip was guided to another venue to spread the goodness and the good news of Jesus.
The final reading for today is the well-known passage from the Gospel according to St. John. It uses the ancient image of Israel as the vine tended by God, the vine grower. The People of God, Israel, know times of drought and struggle. The People of God knew times of gentle rain and fruitfulness. The People of God, Israel, knew times of rapid growth, and they knew times of careful pruning for future growth. This reading when combined with the other readings for today point to a new act of God, the act of grafting into the vine of faith. The branches to be grafted could be so different, like the Ethiopian in our reading from Acts. Diverse branches could be grafted by God into the community of Jesus, and they, too, could grow the fruit of God’s Kingdom here on earth. They, too, could be transformed into the people God created them to be. They, too, could be baptized members of the Beloved Community of the Church.
Today’s readings are about the earliest Church’s struggle to embrace the entire world as Jesus embraced them. I believe the same challenge is still before us, to embrace the world as Jesus embraces us. The better angels, like the one who invited Philip to “get up and go” are still inviting people in our own day to “get up and go”, and to sit beside others, who may be so very different from ourselves, to share the goodness and the good news of God. Perhaps you have heard such a voice speaking in your heart. Be of courage for the Spirit of God will strengthen you. Philip was transformed; he ran up to a moving chariot and assisted a man struggling to understand.
While we no longer have horse-drawn chariots on our roads, we still have many who don’t understand that Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Opportunities abound to sit beside others and to share the goodness and the good news so that their lives will be enriched and transformed. “Get up and go”; be prepared to sit with others and share with them that God so loves them and so loves the world that He sent his only Son to prove it.