Teachers have wonderful stories to tell and I would just like to share two of them. One teacher wrote that a child in her pre-first grade class had been gone for several days because his grandfather had passed away. When he returned the teacher told him they had missed him. The boy responded, “I had to go to Iowa because my grandpa died and I had to be at the back and be a polar bear.” When the teacher called the mom to share that with her, the mother said to me that indeed, all the grandsons ages six to adult had been the pallbearers. The teacher is reminded of that story every time she goes to a funeral and it brings a smile to her.
A teacher was grading the students’ science homework papers for her fifth grade class. One of the questions was “Who developed the system of naming organisms?” or something like that. Anyway, the correct answer was supposed to be Carl Linnaeus. One of the students wrote ‘Adam’ for his answer. When she questioned him about it, he said he was referring to Adam in the Bible. He had learned in Sunday School that Adam had named all the animals in the Garden of Eden. Guess what? She counted his answer correct!
As I encountered our scripture readings for this Sunday, I was reminded that once again Jesus breaks though the barriers that keep us apart and unites us in bonds of love. It happened because two people were willing to having a conversation. A follower of Jesus, encouraged by the Spirit, initiated a discussion asking if that other person would like to better understand scripture. It reminds me that sometimes we are called to be the student and sometimes we are called to be the teacher. We often think about young people as being the ones who might misunderstand the meaning of something, but sometimes we as adults also misunderstand. We should always seek to learn something new. And we never know when a young person, perhaps a child, might teach us a truth that we have forgotten or missed, just like the boy who wrote about Adam naming all of the creatures.
Our first lesson today tells the story of Philip teaching a person from Ethiopia. Each of them provides us with inspiration. The Philip in today’s passage was first mentioned two chapters earlier in Acts. The Hellenists complained to the apostles that their widows were being neglected in the distribution of food. The apostles decided they needed some help. Stephen, the first martyr, was selected to help, along with six others including Philip. After Stephen was martyred, there was a great persecution and many people fled Jerusalem. Philip went to Samaria. His gifts went well beyond the distribution of food and he became an outstanding evangelist, converting many in Samaria. Soon after we encounter him on the road to Gaza.
We are told that the Spirit led Philip on this mission. An angel told Philip to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. It was the Spirit who told Philip to go to the chariot and speak with the Eunuch. Later, it was the Spirit of the Lord who snatched Philip away from the Eunuch and sent him off, most likely to continue his evangelism activities in a new city called Azotus. I think Philip was just one of the normal people. He started following Jesus after the resurrection. Through the love of Jesus and with the help of the Holy Spirit, Philip grew. As we learn in the gospel, he produced much fruit. Philip may not be much different from any of us. We are just normal people who have the opportunity to share the good news of Jesus with others. Philip’s actions encourage us to share the story of Jesus with others.
Scripture teaches us that God was active in the early church community, leading everyone who followed Jesus. We have not lost the Spirit. The Spirit is with us and helping us to find our way. The Spirit is encouraging us to share the good news of Jesus to all people. We might even ask where the Spirit is leading us now?
I think the Eunuch in our story is a complex person. We sometimes struggle with people who are different than we are. We can even look down upon them or think they are bad. We might try to avoid people who are different than we are. Because of his physical characteristics, people of that time may have shunned him. Yet, he held an important position and had access to a chariot. He was able to read and yet he may not have understood what he was reading. In some ways, the Eunuch was powerless and in other ways the Eunuch was powerful. I think people we don’t know may be complex just like the Eunuch. We shouldn’t judge them without seeking to understand them better. What is most important for us is that the Eunuch was a God-fearing person. He went to Jerusalem to worship. He may only have been allowed to enter the Court of the Gentiles when he went to the temple. Still, he believed in God and wanted to know more.
The Eunuch was in his own chariot, on his own ground when Philip came to share the story of Jesus. Perhaps we are called to meet people in their place of comfort, on their ground and that may be the best place for them to find Jesus. It may not come from a brilliant speaker in a large auditorium. Often it is a message given from just one person to another person. It may come in a backyard or in a car. We should always be ready.
The Eunuch is also an inspiration for our pursuit of the gospels. None of us are like the Eunuch. But we can be inspired by his commitment to worship God in Jerusalem despite the effort it took. We can follow his lead by being forever curious about what Scripture is teaching us. As I was browsing through the news highlights this morning, I saw an article about Kathy Ireland, a former model and now businesswoman. She wrote about how her mother had packed a bible in her suitcase when she went off to start her modeling career. It started her commitment to Jesus. She wore that sometimes things in the Bible were very clear but other things seemed at first reading to be mistakes. We may all be well educated but none of us knows everything about God. This passage encourages us to continue seeking knowledge, to read Scripture and perhaps to share our understanding of scripture with others.
The entire book of Acts is about the growth in the number of people who followed Jesus. The people who joined came from so many different places and so many different backgrounds. It all began with Peter converting people on the first Pentecost. But the word of Jesus spread to the very ends of the earth. Ethiopia might have been considered the end of the earth and that was where the Eunuch came from. We are reminded that the gospel of Jesus is meant for everyone in every place. When we hear about the Eunuch, he may have some unique characteristics, but he is not a stranger. He is just one of the people whom we are called to join us as part of the Jesus Movement. Commentator Matt Skinner wrote that we should not treat the Eunuch “as a portal to a strange world. Instead, we should recognize him as a mirror held up in front of the church, collectively. Whom do you see? Who’s missing? Why?” Our church is diverse in our religious backgrounds, in the parts of the country we come from, in our political views and even in the way we speak. But we are still missing people from this community who are different than we are. This lesson invites us to think of how we can encourage “the other” people to join us in this part of the Christian Community.
In the gospel, Jesus told us that he is the vine and we are the branches. He said that we have already been cleansed through his word. We are ready to serve as branches of the vine. He said, “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing”. What it means to bear fruit is not mentioned but it certainly includes witnessing to the gospel among all nations for that is mentioned in the twelfth chapter of John. As branches let us find our strength in Jesus. Let us allow his grace and mercy to flow through us and help us to produce good fruit. We receive strength when we seek to learn more and more about Jesus. Let us always be students of the word and share what we learn with others. Let us aways remember the love that Jesus has for us. May God’s grace be with us always and may the word and love of Jesus carry us when we think the days are long and our life is difficult. Amen.