Sermon for Easter 5, Year B, May 2, 2021

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

          In our reading from Acts, Philip is told by an angel to go where he encounters a eunuch in a chariot reading a passage from Isaiah.  Philip asks if he understands the passage and the man replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?”  the man, an Ethiopian official invites Philip to get in the chariot and join him, and  Philip does.  Philips proceeds to guide him through the lesson and proclaims the good news of Jesus.  They come upon some water and the man says, “Look, here is water!  What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 

          The answer to his question is prejudice.  According to Torah, a eunuch is not permitted to enter the temple.  A eunuch is considered inferior.  A male could be a eunuch from birth, injury, or from mutilation designed to make him a safe servant for royal women.  Unable to produce offspring, the eunuch is “blemished” and is thus excluded from serving as a priest and from even entering the temple. 

Philip, who helps guide the eunuch through the passage from Isaiah does not; however, base his faith and beliefs on the Torah alone.  He is a follower of Jesus, Jesus who routinely included those excluded by others.  Jesus knew the scriptures and did not to limit his understanding of God’s desire for us to the Torah.  Not in the Torah, but in other sacred scriptures, we find in the 56th Chapter of Isaiah, where Isaiah says, “For thus says the Lord: To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”  Eunuchs and others who are different from us are not cut off from the love and acceptance of our God.

Philip learned from Jesus and understands the scriptures as well, and Philip does not hesitate to baptize this man.  Limiting participation in the church because of race, sexual orientation, and gender identity have no place in Christianity – not in our life together.  To limit someone’s involvement in our life together because they are different is a form of cutting them off from the love of God.  The Lord; however, says, “To the eunuchs . . . who . . . hold fast my covenant, I will give . . . a monument and a name better than sons and daughters.” 

This passage where those, who others consider inferior, will be exalted by God reminds me of what Jesus says in the Gospel of Luke: “Blessed are you who are poor for yours is the kingdom of God.  Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled.  Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”  People who are different or who struggle in this life have a special place in God’s kingdom.

In 1st John, our reading begins, “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  It goes on to say, “God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”  Jesus, in today’s gospel lesson, says, “Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”

          The focus of our scriptures today is love, the love which fills our hearts and souls and gives us life.  It is the love which bears the fruit of acceptance and inclusion of others – not judgment and exclusion.  God is the source of this love.

          In the Gospel of John, we have the verse that many hear as meaning God’s love is limited to those who seek God through Jesus.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”  Many believe those who do not profess a belief in Jesus as their savior will be excluded from the kingdom of God.  But in 1st John, we are told, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.”  The key to understanding God and God’s love for us is to love.  Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, as he says in the scriptures, his way is to love others as God loves us.  God’s love is not limited to people of a particular belief or denomination. God’s love is for everyone, without exclusion. 

          When Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches, we can think of the vine as that which feeds us, the branches, with love.  It is the love that produces the fruit of acceptance and inclusion of people who are different.  Our presiding bishop, Bishop Curry, speaks of Jesus teaching us the “Way of Love.”  With love as our guide, we can abide in God and God can abide in us.

          “There is no fear in love,” John writes, “but perfect love casts out fear, for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.”

          We may be able to share instances when in our lives we have experienced “perfect love,” but we are easily distracted from these encounters with God and fear can seep into our lives causing us to judge ourselves or others as less than or inferior.   This is when we most need to open our eyes, our minds, and our hearts that we might understand and see everyone as a beloved child of God.  Seeing ourselves and others as beloved in what enables us to walk the way of love Jesus teaches. 

Let us pray.

          Loving God, we pray that you will open our hearts and fill us with your Spirit that we might abide in you and you in us.  Help us to love all our neighbors and include them in our lives, that we might live our lives in your kingdom producing the fruits of love, charity, and inclusion.  We offer our prayer in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  Amen.