Sermon for Easter 5

Listen to a sermon for Easter 5, Sunday 2 May 2021, reflecting on Acts 8.26-40

Philip asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ The Ethiopian eunuch replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’

Throughout much of the last year I have been writing daily reflections on the passages from the gospels that are set for each day. In those reflections I have shared my thoughts on how each reading connects with our daily lives. Some have focused on the strange times we have been passing through since March 2020, others have been more general. Each has attempted to offer some sort of context to, sometimes, very familiar words.

It has been interesting to hear the feedback I have received on those reflections. People whom I know to have a daily commitment to reading the scriptures have spoken of hearing passages they had forgotten, or hearing passages they never knew existed, or hearing familiar passages in a new way.

Whatever words have been expressed, the last year’s journey through the scriptures has given us all the opportunity to travel with the Ethiopian eunuch in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles … to have our eyes, our minds and our hearts opened as we have allowed scripture to speak to us anew.

The account of the Ethiopian eunuch is another one of those passages with which many of us are familiar, but how often have we pondered what it might be saying to us?

Like us, the Ethiopian eunuch had a copy of the scriptures … although I might ask how many of us would pass the time on a long journey by opening and reading those scriptures?

He was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah … a core text for all who would want to engage with the prophecies of God’s promised Messiah.

Then … like many of us … he realized that he was just reading the words, there was no true understanding!

In our reading we hear of Philip being prompted by the Spirit to meet and engage with that important Ethiopian official. There is no sense of Philip knowing why he should do this, he was simply called by the Spirit … and he followed that prompting in faith and trust.

How many of us have ever done that? We have known that God is calling us to do something in his name, and we have responded without either question or hesitation? I suspect the true answer to that question is: None of us!

So, there is the first thing for us to take from today’s reading … We are all called to emulate Philip and follow where God leads!

As Philip approaches the Ethiopian he hears him reading from the prophet Isaiah.

There is another lesson for us … Are we that familiar with our Bibles that we could spot where someone was reading or quoting from?

Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch: Do you understand what you are reading?

Yet another question for us … How often do we share our faith with those who are seeking answers? How often do we pluck up the courage to say let me travel with you, and help you to come closer to God?

The Ethiopian responds with a plea for help: How can I [understand] unless someone guides me?

And that is where we also fit into this moment from scripture …

We are a community of faith … We are called to journey together, in order that we might find the strength to answer God’s call in our lives … and to share the faith we claim to hold so dear.

Philip shares his understanding of the scriptures with the Ethiopian eunuch, that trusted official of the queen of the Ethiopians, and he brings about a profound transformation.

Philip helps that searching soul to realize God’s call in his life.

Philip does not keep his faith as though it were a private treasure, rather he shares it and brings others into the community of believers.

Yet another question for us … How often do we share our faith with enthusiasm and joy – so much enthusiasm and joy that those others (whether they are strangers or not) want to travel further along that path of faith?

Today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles is familiar to most of us.

Today’s reading about the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is one of the great ‘success’ stories of the early Church.

BUT … today’s reading is also a challenge for each and every one of us … In fact, it is a whole series of fundamental challenges to the way we live out our own lives of faith …

  • How do we respond to God’s call in our lives?
  • How often do we come together to share and enhance our faith through a careful and prayerful engagement with scripture?
  • How often do we help those who are seeking a relationship with God?
  • How often do we express our faith with such enthusiasm and joy that others become infected with our commitment to Christ?

In the last year there has been much talk of the R number, and the spread of the Covid virus.

Let us commit ourselves in the coming year to getting the Faith and Commitment number as high as we can, as we play our part in spreading the Christian faith anywhere and everywhere.   Amen.