Jesus Christ calls us to be a joyful community that celebrates God's love, transforms lives, and is a force for justice in the world.

Faces of Our Faith: The Ethiopian Eunuch

The Rev. Bart Smith
All Saints’ Day (November 4, 2018)
Acts 8:26-40

An angel from the Lord spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.) He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage. The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.”

Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?”

The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him. This was the passage of scripture he was reading:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent
so he didn’t open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was taken away from him.
Who can tell the story of his descendants
because his life was taken from the earth?

The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, about whom does the prophet say this? Is he talking about himself or someone else?” Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. As they went down the road, they came to some water.

The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?” He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. Philip found himself in Azotus. He traveled through that area, preaching the good news in all the cities until he reached Caesarea.


Outline

There are three characters in this story: Philip, the Ethiopian Eunuch, and the Holy Spirit. The Book of Acts is sometimes called “the gospel of the Holy Spirit” because it tells the story of how the Holy Spirit drew the circle of the church wider and wider, from Jerusalem to Judea to Samaria to the ends of the earth.

This is a highly unusual encounter; as Barbara Brown Taylor put it, “For a modern parallel, imagine a diplomat in Washington, D.C., inviting a street preacher to join him in his late model Lexus for a little Bible study. The inclusion in this story runs both ways.”

1. There is a wall between the two men. What are the “bricks” in the wall between them?

a.  Religion
b.  Wealth
c.  Culture
d.  Sexual status

2.  The Spirit works in both of their hearts to transcend the walls between them. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” the Ethiopian asks Philip. Suddenly, they stop, find some water, and he is baptized. He finally finds what he’s been looking for: full participation in the people of God. The Spirit also creates a space of hospitality for them to receive one another.

3.  The Holy Spirit led us into a similar space a few weeks ago with our temporary shelter with Guatemalan families.

4.  The Holy Spirit led me into a similar space last week at Maranatha Baptist Church in Plains, Georgia last week (story of meeting Jimmy Carter).

5.  The Spirit calls us to that same place of openness to “the other.” But what characterizes that is what Greg Boyle calls “exquisite mutuality.” Our encounters have to be mutual, reciprocal, and on the same level. That’s how God works with us, subverting the normal order of things to gather us into one people in Christ. What is more urgent and necessary in this chaotic age where strangers are met with suspicion and contempt and where polarization causes us to fear one another?