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                     of Almelund, Minnesota

         

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The Ethiopian Eunuch: God’s Story, Our Story

Pastor Marla Amborn

Immanuel Lutheran Church

May 7, 2017

Acts 8: 26-39 and Matthew 28: 16-20

 

I always like a good story. How about you? Today’s Bible story, from the book of Acts, may not be too familiar, but it has all the elements of a good story – intriguing characters, a well-developed plot with unexpected twists and turns, set in an interesting context that draws us in. Let’s take a closer look at this story.

 

There are three main characters: Philip, the Eunuch, and God. What brings them together on the dusty, Jerusalem road?

 

Philip is a follower of Christ. He is part of the worshipping community in Jerusalem. At this point, they weren’t even called Christians yet. He is a Jewish man who is part of a new movement called “The Way.” He and others in The Way had come to realize that Jesus is the Way the Truth and The Life, the long-promised Messiah. They are spreading the message of God’s love and salvation made possible through Jesus’ death and resurrection. Their numbers have grown to the point that they are experiencing growing pains.

 

Jesus’ original disciples like Peter, James, and John are being pulled away from their roles as faith leaders because of many demands. They are being called to tend to the needs of the widows and the poor. Very legitimate needs, but more than they can handle. So, in chapter 6 of the book of Acts, they designate seven lay people to take on this responsibility. Philip is one of the seven who is given the job of deacon. He is to oversee a food distribution program to ensure that the widows and the poor are fed.

 

The Ethiopian Eunuch is an interesting character. Our scripture tells us he is an official in the court of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, and he oversees her treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship. King Solomon first brought the message of God’s love to Ethiopia centuries before. So even though we may not think of Ethiopians as Jews, a Jewish community had been worshipping there for centuries.

 

This Ethiopian Eunuch has a lot of power. As the person in charge of the treasury, he is entrusted with significant responsibilities. That may explain why he is a Eunuch. Because of worries about people trying to seize power from the king or queen in a coup, there was a practice of castrating some of the people in the royal court. Since a king or queen needed to produce heirs to the throne, if a person was unable to do that, they were not seen as a threat. So, this Ethiopian Eunuch was in a trusted role high in the government of Ethiopia.

 

He is riding in a chariot, which was a luxury most people couldn’t afford. He could read, which set him apart as more educated than most people of that day. He is reading a scroll of Isaiah. Scrolls were hand-made at that time, long before the printing press. It took scribes many hours to copy a scroll. As a result, they were very expensive. As treasurer, he may have purchased this scroll to bring back to the temple in Ethiopia. He likely never read it before, so as he is traveling back home, he is eager to see what it says. He is reading aloud to share this scripture with those who are part of his entourage.  

 

The other main character in our story is God. The Holy Spirit has been at work, orchestrating this encounter between Philip and the Eunuch. He has told Philip to head toward Gaza by way of the Jerusalem road and talk with this Eunuch. And Philip obeys.

 

When Philip encounters the chariot, the Eunuch is reading aloud the Isaiah text that most directly points to Jesus: "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" (Isaiah 53:7-8).

 

Philip runs up to the chariot and boldly asks the Eunuch if he understands what he is reading. The Eunuch admits he has questions. So, he invites Philip to hop into the chariot with him and asks “Who is this passage referring to?” It is the perfect opening for Philip to tell him about Jesus.

 

For those who were here last week, it may be reminiscent of another story of people having the scriptures opened to them as they traveled along the road from Jerusalem to Emmaus. As Jesus opened the scriptures to Cleopas along the Emmaus road Philip opens the scriptures to the Eunuch along their journey. He shows how the scriptures point to Jesus as God’s Son, sent to save the world from its sin.

 

Through Philip’s Bible study and testimony, the Eunuch believes in Jesus. When they came to water, the Eunuch asks “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” Nothing! So, he is baptized. He is marked by the sign of the cross and sealed as one of God’s beloved child forever. His story joins with the story of God’s people.

 

This morning, Henry and Jamis were baptized at our font. They, too, were marked with the sign of the cross and sealed as God’s beloved children forever. Their stories join with the ongoing story of God’s people. Their baptism helps fulfill what Jesus commanded his disciples to do – “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you…”

 

If Ethiopia seemed far away from Jerusalem, just think how far away Almelund is! It may have been a very long journey, but the Eunuch traveled by chariot between Ethiopia and Jerusalem. That wouldn’t work from here!

 

But thanks to faithful disciples over the generations, the saving message of God’s love come down in the person of Jesus Christ, has made it all the way to Almelund. Because people like Philip opened his mouth and shared his faith with others, the gospel message is lived out here in Almelund this morning. We are beneficiaries of those who followed God’s command to make disciples of all nations, baptizing us in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We are beneficiaries of those who spread Jesus’ teachings and commandments outside Jerusalem, to the whole world, even to the far-away corner of Almelund.

 

For the last 130 years, the people of Almelund have been baptizing at this font. For the last 130 years, the people of Immanuel have been sharing that gospel story and teaching God’s message of love and salvation, and worshipping God.

We have an ongoing role to play in spreading that good news. We have an ongoing role to play in teaching and preaching the good news. We have an ongoing role to play in making disciples here and around the world. What can we learn from our text that might guide us in our efforts?

 

Philip was in tune with God’s voice. He heard God speaking to him. First an angel of the Lord, told him to go down the wilderness road. Did this angel have wings and a halo? Hard to know. Angels are messengers from God. We don’t have details about this angelic messenger, but we do know that when Philip heard the message, he got up and went.

 

He doesn’t raise objections like “This has nothing do to with feeding the poor,” or “It’s not in my job description as deacon.” He doesn’t say he’s too busy or doesn’t have time or energy to go running down the road. He does what he is told to do.

Later when he catches up with the chariot, the Spirit of the Lord tells him to go over to it and join it. That’s kind of an intimidating thing to do, don’t you think? It would seem hard for a lone person on foot to stop a royal chariot! But again, he recognizes God’s voice and obeys. He doesn’t let fear of not knowing what to say get in his way. He doesn’t let racial or national or class differences make him too uncomfortable to interact with this foreigner. He simply does what God tells him to do.   

 

As God’s disciples here at Almelund, we are in a similar position to Philip. We are people who believe in God and love Jesus. We care for those around us who are in need. We seek to know God’s will and do it. Are we open to witnessing to our faith? Are we open to sharing God’s message of love and salvation with those longing to hear it? If someone asked us to explain something of scripture to them, how would we respond?

 

I would hope we would respond with the faithfulness of Philip – That we’d hear what God asked of us and do it. That we wouldn’t make a bunch of excuses, but that we’d let God work through us and speak through us so that others might know his love.

 

Philip wasn’t a preacher like Peter. He was a lay person, just doing what he could to help the church. Yet God worked through him in powerful ways. God was able to do that because Philip was open to hearing God’s voice and following God’s command.

 

It is believed that the encounter between Philip and the Eunuch had significant consequences. This Eunuch brought the message of Jesus’ death and resurrection back to Ethiopia. In so doing, he was the first missionary to Africa. The Christian church in Africa got its start because of the testimony of this Eunuch. And the Eunuch was able to do this because Philip opened the scriptures to him along that Jerusalem road.

 

God has work for us to do. Each one of us has a role to play in making disciples of all nations and baptizing them in his name. This morning, each of us made promises as Jamis and Henry were baptized at our font. We promised to pray for them and support them in their lives of faith. We, as a congregation, have a role to play in putting scriptures into their hands, and opening the scriptures to them. We have a role to play in teaching them the Lord’s Prayer, the creeds, and the 10 Commandments, and helping them live Godly lives, working for justice and peace.

 

My prayer for us is that like Philip, we listen to God’s voice and obey it. I pray that we faithfully fulfill our part in spreading God’s message of love and salvation to the world. What an awesome responsibility! What a powerful thing to be part of! May God give us the courage and faithfulness to fully live into our role in his story here in Almelund. Amen!