Bible Tuesday for the 5th Sunday of Easter, 2015
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.) 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.
33 In 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.
After Stephen was stoned by Jewish authorities outside of Jerusalem, “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria.” (Acts 8:1) This exile of many followers of Jesus forced them out of Jerusalem into gentile lands. If these followers were going to faithfully live out Jesus’ teachings and commandments: “Love one another as I have loved you,” “Go therefore into all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey my commandments,” You shall be my witnesses in Judea, and Samaria, and the ends of the earth,” they had to evangelize to the unchurched, unJewish Gentiles. Philip headed out to Samaria, teaching, preaching, and healing the Samaritans and Gentiles he encountered. The above text picks up Philip’s story at this point.
Remember, “angel of the Lord” does not mean a being with Favio hair, giant bird wings, and skirted garments. This phrase may well refer to a person who offhandedly remarks to Philip, “You outta’ head out to Gaza.” Angels are, by definition, messengers, and nothing more. Throughout ancient Hebrew history, and even now, the Gaza strip was occupied by enemies of the Israelites. Therefore, this angel of the Lord is telling Philip to go into enemy territory and proclaim the gospel. And Philip obeys! Even today there are precious few faithful Jews who feel called by God to know, love, and work with the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip. They very seldom make the news.
“How can I unless someone guides me?” What would have happened to this Ethiopian eunuch if some fundamental, self righteous, prosperity gospel preaching Christian was walking along the road instead of Philip? What would have happen to the eunuch if the person walking along the road was you?
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters;[a]
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him;
stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he did not despise or abhor
the affliction of the afflicted;
he did not hide his face from me,[b] but heard when I[c] cried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great congregation;
my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
“The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” the psalmist writes. I have had many confirmands ask my why they are supposed to be afraid of God. Humans fear the unknown, and for good reason. We fear lions out of their zoo enclosures because we don’t know what the lion will do. Will that lion lay still and watch us, ignore us entirely, or chase us, attack us, kill us? We simultaneously admire and fear the lion because of its strength, power, and mystery. How very much more so with God? While there is unsurpassing intimacy with God, there is also unsurpassing mystery. For this we praise, respect, pray to, and struggle with God.
I John 4:7-21
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9 God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In 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. 11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.
13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. 14 And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. 15 God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 16 So 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.17 Love 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. 18 There 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. 19 We love[a] because he first loved us. 20 Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters,[b]are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister[c] whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. 21 The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters[d] also.
“Those 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.” What a conviction of us as individuals! As a society! It is an echo of Jesus’ own words, “Forgive us our sins/debts, as we forgive our debtors/those who sin against us.” It is not that God’s love for us is predicated upon our activity, but rather our ability to absorb/abide in God’s love is limited by our the hardness and grudge holding of our own hearts.
I realize that all of you who are reading this are probably familiar with the three kinds of Love in the Greek/Roman culture and the way those three types of Love find their way into New Testament scriptures, but let’s review for the sake of clearer reading of the above passage.
Eros-Erotic love. does not appear in the New Testament
Philos- love of brothers and sisters, both physical and spiritual. When questioned by the Jewish authorities as to “Who is my brother?” Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan teaching that any human being is your brother and sister.
Agape-in the Hebrew Scriptures, this word refers to “a spontaneous feeling which impels to self-giving, to grasping that which causes it, or to pleasurable activity. It involves the inner person. Since it has a sexual basis, it is directed supremely to persons: love for things or acts has a metaphorical aspect. God’s love is correlative to his personal nature, and love for God is love first for his person and only then for his word or law…In the secular sphere, love is for husband or wife, parents or children, friends, masters, servants, and social groups.” (Kittel, et al, 1985) When Jesus commands, “Love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as you love yourself,” Jesus uses “agape”.
While it may be helpful to have three different words to describe “love”, it is also quite difficult to sort out feelings and motivations, attempting to attribute them to these three types of Love.
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. 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.
Abide-to live with certain parameters, to obey, live peaceably with,
From the same root as “Abode”.
A strong theme in the gospel of John is that of God/Jesus/the Holy Spirit living among humans.
-“…the word was made flesh and dwelt (Greek: pitched his tent) among us.” John 1
-“If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love that one, and we will come to him and make our home with him.” John 14
-“If you have seen me, you have seen the Father. The Father and I are one.”
-“He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.” John 21
In this passage Jesus uses a common metaphor, that of the business of the vineyard, to describe what is a very difficult concept; that God abides with, even in us, and that we can abide with/in God. What a startling idea, that Jesus is a vine whom God prunes. Throughout the gospel of John, Jesus describes sin as death. Therefore, using this metaphor, what is dead on the vine is dead through sin. We know Jesus doesn’t sin, and yet he says there is pruning that God does on him. Is Jesus referring to the Garden of Gethsemane? Or is this pruning those branches that issue from Jesus which don’t bear fruit, or enough fruit, us?
Martin Luther taught that we can do no good on our own. The good that happens in this world is all product of the Holy Spirit. Luther says that this good is not worked only through Christians, but rather the Holy Spirit uses all to work good in the world for the glory of God. While humans can do no good on their own, they can stop resisting the Holy Spirit on their own. Then, the Holy Spirit can do even more good by teaching people to overcome themselves and succumb to the will of God. Perhaps Luther would call this succumbing, “abiding.”