Bible Tuesday for Easter 5, 2018
Acts 8: 26-40
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is the 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. Philip asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now 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. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” The Ethiopian asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does this 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 Ethiopian said, “Look! Here is water. What is to prevent me from being baptized?!” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both men went down into the water and Philip baptized the man. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away, and 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.
It is after Easter and Ascension and the apostles are disseminating from Jerusalem. Philip is called by the Holy Spirit to head west toward the Mediterranean to Gaza. (Yup, the same Gaza strip that is still fought over by Israelis and Palestinians.) Philip sees a foreign dignitary being born home in a chariot and feels compelled to speak to approach. Setting aside all religious, social, and sociological barriers, Philip strikes up a conversation with the man.
Eunuch – Yes, the men who served in the courts of ancient kingdoms, especially those who served wives and concubines, were regularly castrated so as to be made “safe” for women. In some ancient cultures, the term translated here as “eunuch” came to mean both men who were castrated and men who held certain positions in royal courts, since holding those positions meant being castrated, at least at one time. Therefore, the Ethiopian in this story may have actually been castrated, or may have been referred to as a eunuch because he held his court position. Sexual mutilation of this type was abhorrent to Jews and forbidden by the Law of Moses.
What is a guy from Ethiopia doing with a scroll of Isaiah? Most ancient Jews didn’t have their own scrolls of any book of the Bible, so what was this foreigner doing with his own scroll? And why was the guy reading Isaiah? First, the spread of the Jewish religion isn’t nearly as clean as we tend to think of it. Archeologists have found evidence of Semitic peoples spreading out from Egypt throughout the time of the ancient Jews. In addition, since Israel was ideally located along the trade route between India and China to the northeast and Egypt and African to the south and west, merchants from all of those cultures were exposed to Jewish religion as they traveled through Israel. Even though the ancient Jews were inconsistent with their welcome of and intermarriage with “aliens” and “immigrants”, the Holy Spirit still spread the love of God through the Jewish religion to those who passed through Canaan.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord. May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him.
For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.
To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord,
and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.
This psalm is always read on Maundy Thursday as the altar is being stripped. It is the psalm Jesus quotes from the cross: “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabbachthani?” The above verses are at the end of the psalm. The psalmist begins in agony, pouring his heart and soul out to God. Complete despair is a breath away, yet After his is cried out, words of gratitude and praise to God flow from his wounded heart. This transformation can only come by faith, given by the Holy Spirit.
The psalmist commands that all should praise God, the soon to die and the already dead (defying the belief of the Sadducees that there was no life after death), the nation of Israel and all the peoples of the world. Why? Because “all dominion belongs to the Lord.” No matter what religions people practice, God created all that is and God is still God over all people, whether they recognize God or not.
1 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. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 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. 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. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
And we have seen and do testify that the Father has sent his Son as the Savior of the world. God abides in those who confess that Jesus is the Son of God, and they abide in God. 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.
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. 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. We love because he first loved us. 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. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.
Love: The English word “love” is the translation for six different Greek words: “eros” or sexual intimacy, “philia” deep friendship, “ludus” or playful love such as the affection small children show to dogs, cats, favorite toys, “agape” or selfless love, “pragma” or long lasting love such as love between husband and wife of 60 years, “philautia” healthy love of self, as opposed to narcissism.
The love that Jesus commands and that this reading explains is “agape” or selfless love. God’s completely selfless love for humans and all creation is exemplified by God’s complete self sacrifice. God gave up being God to become one of us, knowing that he would be completely rejected and abandoned by all, even is friends/disciples. God’s pure, selfless love seeks to makes it home in us and seeks to flow through us to all. God desires that we live in harmony with his love flowing through and around us.
“Fear has to do with punishment” – Generally fear has to do with pain, whether from punishment or from rejection, etc. Faith in God’s love for us grows and replaces fear. We know that because God loves us, we have no reason to fear God.
”I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide 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. I 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. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.
In Greek, both prune and cleanse have the same root.
Christianity has taught in various forms throughout the centuries, that God tests his children, tries them with fire. Verses such as those in the above First John passage are used to support such beliefs. But in these gospel verses, the metaphor is not God causes disease or temptation to attack the vine and test it. Rather, in this metaphor, God prunes away the little dried up shoots and starts that will not grow into anything. God prunes away bad habits from which we must turn, and warped or self centered ideas which we find hard to shake off.
Abide: As Christians, we are not to march off on our own and proclaim our certain view of the gospel. That would be the opposite of abiding. Rather, we stay attached to Jesus and be a branch through which his love flows and flowers. How do we abide in Jesus and not warp into our own self centered views of who God is and what we want God to do for us? We must stay in community where the Holy Spirit can speak through each of us to one another. Martin Luther called this “the mutual conversation and consolation of the brothers and sisters.” Our time in community must include time for us to sit quietly and allow our whole selves to listen to God, whether during the silences in worship services, or through prayer groups. Abiding with God, ALWAYS listening to God, is not meant to be a way in which God robs us of our own identity and makes us codependents with him. Rather, abiding in God is the most peaceful, most self actualizing, most healthy, most whole way of living human life. Life our own way, ignoring the source of our life and our joy, can be compared to a steady diet of fast food burgers and fries ate alone in a booth or while driving to our next spending spree. Whereas, life abiding in God can be compared to family feasts where the table is huge, the food plentiful, the talk playful but loving, seats for family, friends, neighbors, and even strangers. Those whose family meals were never like this may struggle to comprehend this metaphor. Abiding in God is knowing God as the grounding of our very being. (Tillich)