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Easter 5B

In God’s Name Why Not?
(Acts 8: 26-40)

by Rev Elisabeth R Jones

“Once upon a time, long ago and far away”…..
We know from the first 4 words we’re about to hear
a bedtime Fairy Story snuggled with a sleepy toddler!
We know that when we hear
“Did you hear the one about the …..?”
there’s a joke on the tip of the tongue.

But what about this one?
“Just then an Angel of the Lord appeared….”
Knowing it’s Scripture doesn’t guarantee a uniform response;
– some of us are steeling ourselves for the likelihood of an unbelievable miracle,
– others are openly intrigued, curious
– many are just plain discombobulated:
how am I supposed to react to
“An angel of the lord appeared”?

Neither a joke, nor a fairy story, though it has elements of both,
this ‘apparating’ Angel is what we have today,
getting us ready for another Easter story,
where God again gate-crashes barriers
to grace the world with new possibility, new life, hope.
And, as best we can on a hard pew,
we’re invited to snuggle in for a tale of deep wonder,
and timeless truths, seasoned with holy humour.

The Divine comedy begins with Philip.
Philip was one of those bright-as-a-button, shiny young people
whose vim and vitality and enthusiasm for Life in the Lord
makes those of us in our later decades tired to watch!

Philip had risen fast. He started out waiting tables
and mopping floors as a deacon in the new church
in the back alley of wrong-side Jerusalem.
A few short months later,
he has top-billing on the preaching circuit in Samaria.
The blogosphere is touting him as the successor to
old Fisherman Peter.

Where next for this young firebrand preacher,
will it be Athens, Rome?….

A potholed dirt track to Gaza? The one no-one travels unless they’re high-tailing out of Dodge in search of scorpions, swamps and sunstroke.

His story, later, was “An Angel told me to go.”
And given what happened, let’s hope he’s right because he broke every rule in the book that day.
(God be thanked)

He says he saw a chariot and ran up to – after it.
People in chariots are not Jews, they’re soldiers, or politicians,
they belong to the oppressive classes, the other side, the side that kills Messiahs,
and you want to stay away from both.

But no, according to Philip, the Freewheeling Spirit of God
told him to chase that consular car, with its flags waving in the desert breeze, down.
He scampers up to it like a monkey in a safari park, taps on the shaded bulletproof window.

The joke’s not done yet…
Philip sees white teeth smiling against ebony skin.
Greetings are exchanged, the dark man’s voice betrays, put delicately, his sexually compromised condition – the occupational hazard of working for the Queen of Ethiopia.
The chariot slows to a horse walk, Philip trotting alongside,
a scroll is examined,
words in a common language are exchanged in this bicultural encounter,
and Philip hops in.

For a man known for his preaching skills,
Philip gives precious few details.
No name.
Next to nothing of the conversation they had.

My guess is that it was one of those
holy encounters, pray God we all get,
at least once in our lifetime:
because they change our lives.
Where soul meets soul,
seekers after truth find common purpose, common song.
Discovery, insight, pregnant hope, mystery, mystical experience
season a conversation where time is irrelevant, and hours pass in an instant.

And for the life of us, we cannot retell a word of it!
Except the crucial detail:
“My life was changed by that encounter!”
“The world will never look the same from here on in.”

From the distance of two thousand years we can be forgiven if we don’t quite see that the reading of a few verses of Isaiah,and a splattering of puddle-water are enough to change a world, but they were, and they are.

The unnamed Eunuch was reading a text that could have been about him — and about so many other people then and since — a text about a scarred, humiliated victim,
justice denied, wounded by open and hidden hurts,
until callously removed from the earth.
How many people struggle
with hidden brokenness that longs for healing,
with the lies that beg for truth,
unfairness that gasps to be understood?
Worldwide is the classism, ageism, racism, sexism, egotism,
that disbars too many from the bare essentials,
let alone the abundance of life God Dreams for us.

Philip of course, saw in that text not only his chariot mate, but his Lord, Jesus.
Weaving the story of the man from Nazareth with the man from Ethiopia, with our own stories,
the truth dawns: on them, on us.
God walks this vale of tears with us,
healing it with resurrection.
In all the “heartaches and the natural shocks that human flesh is heir to” (Hamlet III.i)
God is with us, we are not alone.
Thanks be to God!

What happens next, hilarious though it was, is no joke.
Philip took the book of human religiosity and threw it out the chariot window.
For when the unnamed, foreign eunuch,
carrying in his flesh all the barriers to inclusion
that are possible for humans to impose when we set limits
to God’s grace unlimited,
when he asked
“ What is to prevent me from being baptized?
What is to prevent me from living my life
with God-in-Christ by my side?
What is to prevent me from coming to God
in the depth of my need?
What is to prevent me finding my heart’s desiring,
finding my home, my purpose,
my belonging within God’s Dream?
the expected, humanly constructed,
religiously faithful answer was
“Everything.”

But for the life of him,
Philip, for the first time,
knew different.
In God’s name, in God’s Dream,
in God’s way, shown in Jesus,
the true answer, appearing as suddenly as an Angel,
escaped from his lips and changed the world.
“Nothing”
Absolutely nothing!
Nothing can separate you from the Love of God? –
except maybe some water?”

And lo, and behold, there in the wilderness, water!
A puddle, perhaps, maybe brackish marsh water,
but why can’t we join in the joke, and imagine enough water
for Philip and this Eunuch to leap out of the chariot,
kick off sandals and clothes
and run like 8 year olds into fresh, sweet, running water?!

“Baptize me Philip, let me be part of God’s Story, God’s people, God’s Dream!”
And Philip said,
“In God’s Name, why not?!”

So he did!

To which we can all say, THANKS BE TO GOD!!

© Rev Elisabeth R Jones Fifth Sunday of Easter May 6, 2012

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