For Sunday, May 6, 2012: 5 Easter, Year B

The Reading            Acts 8:26-40

The readings from Acts after Easter tell of the spread of the church by Israelites in Israel. Today’s reading broadens the scope: Philip (whose name is Greek), having just witnessed in Samaria, is sent by God to a highly placed Ethiopian eunuch (who is not only African but less than a man, and therefore someone who was not welcome at the Temple). Thus the Good News begins to come to the Gentiles.

The Response            Psalm 22:24-30

The Epistle            1 John 4:7-21

The first letter of John continues on the theme of love.  We are to love others because God commands it and because Jesus gives us that example, and because loving others is a way to thank God for loving us first. When we love God and our brothers and sisters fully, then we are no longer bound by fear before God.

The Gospel            John 15:1-8

Further thoughts

The passages from Acts and the first letter of John and the gospel of John speak to us of reaching out, belonging, and discipline. In the reading from Acts, Philip the somewhat marginalized Greek follows the Spirit’s prompting to go walk a wilderness road that heads south from Jerusalem into Africa. On this road he catches up with a chariot. We never learn the VIP passenger’s name, but we do learn details: he’s Ethiopian and a eunuch—that is, castrated, and probably as a boy so he wouldn’t develop a man’s build, beard, voice, and sex drive. Castration, by rendering him safe in the queen and court of Ethiopia, has opened doors for him: he can choose to journey hundreds of miles to Jerusalem to worship. But it has also definitely closed to him the door of the Temple. So he’s on his way home, and passing the time by reading from the book of Isaiah. Philip would discern this because, from the invention of writing up until at least the late sixth century AD, “to read” meant “to read out loud”. Philip responds to this foreign freak factotum neither by shutting his mouth in fear or respect nor by turning up his nose in revulsion or scorn. It reminds me of a wry and grateful line from Operating Instructions: of the church that lovingly welcomed her in spite of her substance abuse and, later, her out-of-wedlock pregnancy Anne Lamott remarks, “These people were so confused, they thought I was a child of God.” Even so.

As the first letter of John points out, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do, and our model in showing love is the love that God shows us by sending Jesus to bear our sins and be our brother. We testify to God’s love when we love one another: through loving one another we show the world what God is like, and through loving each other we show that we belong to God’s family. As God’s children we need not fear, and it is our love that will help us not have to hide from God.

The gospel also tells us that we belong and are to reach out, though it uses the imagery of the grapevine and adds an element of discipline. We can count on being shaped and sometimes even redirected by God, directly or through the people and influences with which we surround ourselves. It won’t always be fun, though the pruned branch not only survives but thrives. If we abide in Jesus—if we remain habitually belonging to Jesus—we will, like the branch, have the life of the vine flowing through us and making us fruitful.

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