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We Join the Outsiders (Acts Chapter 8:26-39)

posted Jun 2, 2018, 7:05 PM by Bowmansville UMC

Recently Discipleship Ministries adopted a new campaign slogan, “See All the People”


I appreciate many things about this campaign: the catchiness of this phrase, drawn from a simple children’s rhyme, the call upon disciples in the United Methodist Church to see those in need, those who might look different, those whom some have rejected.

The encouragement to move our ministries outside the walls of our churches and into the places in our communities where people gather.

The campaign is about doing more than seeing all the people.

It is about calling upon disciples, like Philip, to jump into the heart of whatever situation we find people. Jump in there, even if it is messy. Jump in there, even if it is dangerous. Jump in there, even if it is costly to us. Jump in there, even if some might judge it to be irreverent or unholy.

Get in there with the lost, the lonely, the forgotten people of the world.

Go physically into the places and spaces people who don’t yet know the saving love of Christ inhabit and share the good news!

Christians in Gaza

One of the things people who have not traveled to the Holy Land may not realize is that if you are a Christian living in what we call the lands of Israel and Palestine, you are most likely of Palestinian descent. Most Christians in Palestine live in the West Bank today. But a small number of Christians live in the Gaza Strip as well. On my recent trip to the Holy Land this last winter with Bishop Mark, I was there this last winter and seen much of this personally for three days! We talked with many living there.

Today there are about 1300 Christians living in the Gaza Strip

We’ve heard the Scripture story read, (see Acts 8:26-39) but let’s take a moment to review it this Easter Season, for there are clear on the issues at stake for Philip. (Note that this is not Philip the Apostle. This is Philip the Evangelist, who was chosen along with Stephen and the rest of the “seven” to care for the poor in Jerusalem.)

An angel of the Lord directs Philip to leave Jerusalem and go to Gaza. Yes, THAT Gaza, which dislocated in the part of the Palestinian Territories known today as the Gaza Strip. So Philip headed out. On the road to Gaza he came upon an Ethiopian eunuch who happened to be the treasurer of the queen’s court who was returning from a visit to the temple in Jerusalem.

This eunuch is Jewish, a product of the strong Jewish community in his home country of Ethiopia (a faith community that continues to thrive to this day). This is why he is reading the book of Isaiah.

Now this in itself is worth pondering. He is clearly an educated man. Not only is he in charge of the entire treasury of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, but he is literate and he possesses a personal copy of the Hebrew Scriptures.

But as a eunuch, this would have been a person who was ritually unclean and therefore prohibited from entering the Temple. Please note that this man a eunuch must have been a man of great faith, to have gone all this way to visit the temple where he could not go in. No one would have talked to him there because he was unclean.

This is the scenario, then, in which Philip, at the Spirit’s prompting, stops his journey in order to ask if the eunuch understood what he was reading in the book of Isaiah, and the eunuch invited him to climb into the chariot to join him in an impromptu Bible study.

I don’t have all the answers. I have the one true hope. I have the promises of Jesus.

I have faith that the Holy Spirit connects us in mysterious ways, and that this connection continues into the life that is to come. That is our HOPE as Christians it is just FAITH in the promise of JESUS.

Is it okay to say that as a pastor? Is it okay to admit we don’t have all the answers BUT we have FAITH!

BUT we have the strong hope in Jesus the Christ who was our substitute in death for us all….and HE conquered death for us all!

It is perhaps more helpful to just engage in the questions people have right where they are?

Can we try to be open and listen as people reach to find their own answers?

The fact that we have Philip reaching how to respond to the eunuch, who is an unclean man, is radical.

And the fact that Philip not only talks to him, but climbs into the chariot with him, is an act of radical discipleship. He risks his own ritual cleanliness by putting himself in close proximity to the eunuch. It is through this act of radical outreach with no concern for what it might cost him that the eunuch is transformed.

Being available for impromptu Bible studies is a witness to the faith.

Being willing to climb into the chariot with the “unclean,” the confused, the different, the lost, the hurt, the doubters, the cast-off, the angry, the needy, the scared, the dying, and indeed, any person who looks or feels or believes or acts differently from the way we do is a very real and present need in our communities. And it is a witness to the faith.

How often do we do this? How frequently do we risk putting our bodies, our reputations, our health and well-being, our time, our faith, our own long-held beliefs on the line in order to respond to the need of another?

The Spirit leads Philip to assume the posture of Jesus. He gets into the chariot with the guy.

He sees him. He touches him. He engages the questions he has about the scriptures.

He doesn’t reject him, as all the others have done, probably all his life.

He accepts him, listens to him, and offers himself in loving response without a specific purpose or agenda, other than to share his thoughts and his personal experience. As Philip and the eunuch study the passage together, Philip is able to open the scriptures to the eunuch in a new way, through the lens of his own faith experience through Jesus Christ.

We too have to be willing to join the Spirit in its work, going where the Spirit leads us and listening deeply with not our own ears, but Christ’s. The sign of God is when we are led where we did not plan to go.

Bold discipleship means puts ourselves at the disposal of the Holy Spirit for as long as we are needed, only to be snatched away to another part of our journey when this same Spirit leads us to serve somewhere else.

Say the name. See the person.

Befriend the marginalized. Welcome the unclean.

Embrace those whom society has rejected for whatever reason.

That’s the power of the Spirit of Christ we see here.

Who are we refusing to touch, see, embrace, love, accept, welcome?

Who is the world rejecting that we can, in the power of the Spirit, reach towards?

How can we, like Philip, offer the Good News of salvation in Jesus Christ (however it is understood) to those who come to us seeking to study and have conversation about the challenges of life in all the ways they present themselves?

Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is the one true church, apostolic and universal, whose holy faith let us now declare...

In HIS name, Jesus the Christ,

Pastor Jim