Sermon for Easter 5, Year B April 29, 2017

Acts 8:26-40                        Psalm 22: 24-30                                                 1 John 4:7-21                         John 15:1-8

Our reading this morning from the Acts of the Apostles is one that says so much more than we might realize reading it in the world as it is today.  Male servants to the queen, had been castrated at an early age so that they could be trusted to serve the women in the royal household.  By Jewish Law, such a man, a eunuch, was not considered whole.  He was defective and not permitted to fully participate in the practice of their faith.  So, for Philip to be sent to him, to spend time with him interpreting the scriptures, and to baptize him is a big deal – a really big deal!

In the gospel of Matthew, before Jesus ascends into heaven, he says, “Go . . . and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and the Holy Spirit.”   This is what Philip is doing, and like Jesus, he is doing so with a person who is not fully accepted as a member of the Jewish faith, a person who lives in the margins of society.  By baptizing this man, Philip is making him a disciple, just as we were made disciples of Christ at our baptism.

This story is a message about inclusion.  The angel, who appears at its beginning, is part of this story for a reason.  It is the angel who appears to Philip and directs him to go to where he meets this man.  This tells us that Philip was sent by God to offer the Good News to those whom others might ignore or reject.  God does not intend for anyone to be excluded.

Note, that this man was reading from one of the suffering servant passages in Isaiah.  Isaiah is the prophet who offers hope to those who live in the margins of society and to those who are oppressed, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,” Isaiah writes “and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.” Philip uses this scripture to teach the Eunuch about Jesus and how Jesus allowed himself to be lead to the cross.

When they come to the water, the eunuch asks to be baptized, and Philip baptizes him.  We say of our ritual of baptism it is full initialization into the body of Christ, and I believe that when Philip baptizes the eunuch, we are to understand that this man is now fully a part of part of what our presiding bishop calls, “the Jesus Movement.”

By his actions that day, Philip is calling into question, rejecting actually, the practice of limiting who are included as members of our community of faith.  Think about this for a moment.  What would our church look like if we limited entry into our church to only those who are pure of heart.  The church would be empty.  We come here to receive God’s grace and Christ welcomes us with open arms, regardless of our differences and imperfections.

I do want to be clear, the story of the eunuch is not about Christ accepting imperfect people into his fold – it is about God calling us, as a church, to accept our differences and accept people as they are.  Churches today are still struggling with this.  Whether it has to do with a person’s sexuality gender or political beliefs, some people feel that to be faithful is to be the same, and to share our same beliefs.  Our church does not accept this belief, even though many of us find it difficult, at times, to fully accept our differences.

In our reading from 1st John, we are told, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  I recently visited with someone who told me she liked to keep her theology simple – and this does.  It teaches us that love is God, and to know God, we simply need to love.  I, too, like to keep things simple and when John writes, “if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us,” we need to note that it says nothing about loving people who are like us.

Love, is of God and is to be shared freely with abundance.  Last week I spoke of the simplicity of Christ’s message – to love God and love our neighbor AS ourselves.  I spoke of how this can be a challenge when we do not love ourselves.  The message found here in 1st John does not have to be complicated, it is simple and easy to follow – if we donot  focus on our differences, and see instead the image of God in others.  This may be more difficult to do with some people than it is with others – but I think it is easier to love than to hate.  It takes a lot less energy and it is so much more fulfilling.

John reminds us that it is NOT possible to love God and hate our brothers and sisters, “for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.”  To say we love God, but not our brothers and sisters, is nothing more than being in love with the idea of love.

Many people enter into marriage because they love the idea of being married, only to then discover the person they marry does not buy into their idea of what it means to be married.  Likewise, many people are Christians because they love the idea of being a Christian, but they do not understand what these passages are saying.  To love God, to truly love God, is to love God’s creation – which includes our brothers and sisters and our neighbors – all of them, not just the ones who are like us.

Today’s readings are about including and loving others.  For, to love is to know God.  In the gospel, when Jesus speaks of himself as the vine and us as the branches, he, too, is saying that if we allow ourselves to be nourished by the love of Christ, we will bear the fruit of that love and know what it means to abide in Christ, and to have Christ abide in us.  To love others IS to know God – it doesn’t get much simpler than that.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, help us to know you, that we might go forth as Philip did, taking your message of love to those who live in the margins.  Help us to open our arms to them as Christ has opened his arms to receive us.  We offer our prayers in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and the of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.