Posts Tagged 'Philip'

For Jan. 13, 2013: 1 Epiphany, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 43:1-7

Chapters 40 to 55 of the book of Isaiah most probably date from the time of exile in Babylon in the sixth century B.C. After long silence, the Holy One speaks again, calling Israel back out of exile, declaring love, and announcing willingness to redeem all God’s people, no matter how high the price and no matter where they are.

The Response            Psalm 29

The Second Reading            Acts 8:14-17

Our second reading today is from the book of Acts. Jesus’ command to go to all nations combines with rising persecution in Jerusalem to propel Philip on mission to Samaria, where joyful crowds of both men and women accept baptism. The apostles decide to investigate.

The Gospel            Luke 3:15-17, 21-22


Further thoughts

The constant in the readings for the first Sunday in Epiphany is change. In Isaiah, God calls Israel to transition from exile in Babylon back to freedom in Jerusalem—though, as it turned out, life in Jerusalem wasn’t what the Israelites expected it to be. The reading from Acts shows the church transitioning—whether it liked the idea or not—from a local concern for a subset of Jewish men to a movement that was intertribal, intergender, and indeed en route to being international—though the apostles seem to have experienced some cognitive dissonance over the possibility that the despised Samaritans should provide the welcome to the Word that one might have expected of God’s own Israelites. Luke shows us Jesus transitioning into his earthly ministry, with an astonishing sign following a good deal of wondering and speculation on the part of others.

Human beings tend not to find transitions easy, one way or another. As we come today to the end of the ministry of Lark Diaz among us, it occurs to me first that it is very human not to be comfortable with transition.

This discomfort may well have been shared by Jesus. For we believe that Jesus is true God—the true God of today’s psalm, whose voice makes stolid oak trees writhe like eels, whose power is limitless, who sits enthroned for ever. But this God voluntarily was born into our world of change and loss, and went through all the transitions of life: birth, then the challenges of toddlerhood, middle childhood, the considerable trials of adolescence (can anyone imagine Jesus not having a God-sized case of adolescent angst?), adulthood, and finally the loss of status and dignity in the trials and suffering followed by death. Unless Jesus retained no memory at all of being God, all of this earthly transition must have been incredibly jarring.

But, say Isaiah and the psalmist, God is the constant through all of our transitioning. Whatever the disasters, God loves us forever and is prepared to make good on that love, though in ways we often can’t imagine. Even though a transition involves grief and even humiliation, and though the final transition for us is our extinction, God is with us, and God has walked this path.

But what if the God of eternity is also the God of eternal change?

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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