john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK



    Philip and the eunuch, abiding in Christ

    Good Shepherd Morning Prayer, 10/5/2009


    Acts 8.26-end, John 15.1-8


    A man is travelling out of town, a foreigner heading home, a devout man, who had been in town to worship.

    He's heading back home on what they called a wilderness road, a long journey through unknown territory. Home, for him, is a place quite far away.

    The man is sat in his carriage reading; reading out loud - which isn't unusual to him, it's normal in his culture for people to do that.

    He has open in his hands the Book of Isaiah. A book he may have been drawn to because it seemed to be talking about himself, his very own life.

    As a man who travels into Jerusalem to worship, he is a foreigner joined to the Lord. As a man who serves in the court of an Ethiopian queen he is a eunuch. Both of these things make life a little difficult for him in all sorts of ways. His foreignness and his unusual physical nature mean that the rest of the Lord's people cut him out of their society; cut him off.

    But when he reaches chapter 53 of Isaiah, he discovers some words of affirmation and hope which seem to be talking directly about him, his very own life; in awe and wonder and celebration he reads them out aloud:
    Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    'The Lord will surely separate me from his people';
    and do not let the eunuch say,
    'I am just a dry tree.'
    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. [Isaiah 56.3-5]
    The man finds great hope in these words; he feels a joy welling up inside him that the Lord who he worships values him so highly, promises him so much more than anything or anyone else in life ever can, or ever will.

    The man reads on. He wants to know more about this Lord who he worships. His journey is long so he reads a great deal. And as he reads on, questions come to him; about who the Lord is, what the Lord says, what the Lord does.

    Another man is travelling out of town, a devout man, who, since the events surrounding the death and resurrection of Jesus has devoted himself to following Jesus, to evangelising, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with others.

    He is travelling out of town partly for his own safety, for the followers of Jesus were being persecuted in Jerusalem. He is also travelling out of town because he believes that God has told him to - an angel told him to travel south on the wilderness road to Gaza. Why, he doesn't know. But he wants to follow God's promptings. He's aware, perhaps, of the words of Jesus to his followers, as recorded by John, when he said:
    Abide in me as I abide in you. ... 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. [John 15.4-5]
    The man - whose name is Philip - wants to do something for Jesus that day. The man - whose name is Philip - wants to respond to the promptings of God's Spirit as he travels that road. He wants his faith to bear fruit.

    And so he comes alongside another traveller, a man in a carriage heading south, reading aloud from the book of Isaiah as he goes. And he seems to feel God's Spirit in him prompting him to speak with the man, to strike up a conversation about the things that the man is reading.

    And so here is a meeting of hearts and minds. A meeting which God sets up, between a man full of questions about God, and a man keen to respond to the promptings of the Spirit of God.

    The rest of the story we know. Philip asked the man in the carriage, 'Do you understand what you are reading?' and the man replied, 'How can I, unless someone guides me?' He invited Philip to get in and sit beside him, and they talked over the passage about a sheep who was led to the slaughter, and Philip explained that this was about Jesus, and carried on sharing with the man the good news about Jesus.
    As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptised?' He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptised him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.
    Jesus said,
    Abide in me as I abide in you. ... 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.
    These two men were both abiding in Christ.

    Abiding in Christ means embracing the questions about him, taking an interest in who the Lord is, what the Lord says, what the Lord does. Asking questions. Exploring the scriptures. Expecting answers.

    And abiding in Christ means serving the Spirit, being willing and keen to respond to the promptings of God's Spirit through the journey of life. Expecting to be used by him in his service and for the blessing of others.

    So, today, we who have travelled here to worship, will we travel back now still keen to learn more about who the Lord is in our lives, still keen to read what the Lord says about who we are to him, still keen to consider what the Lord does to, for and with people like us?

    And today, we who have already had the baptism and already embraced the faith, will we keenly seek to follow the promptings of God's Spirit in our hearts, which may lead us to share our faith with others?

    A man has an accident at work. Loses a limb. And as a consequence loses his job. He can get by on disability living allowance but he feels cut off from his friends and colleagues, cut off from society. A bit like the eunuch in the time of Christ. But he has his faith, and that causes him to ask questions of God, to go to the scriptures in search of answers about the situation he is in. And when he reads the story of the eunuch and considers the words of Isaiah, joy fills his heart as these words seem to speak to him as they spoke to the eunuch on the road.
    Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
    'The Lord will surely separate me from his people';
    and do not let the eunuch say,
    'I am just a dry tree.'
    For thus says the Lord:
    To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths ...
    I will give ... a monument and a name better than sons and daughters;
    I will give them an everlasting name
    that shall not be cut off.
    A woman is full of the joy of the Lord and dearly wants to share her joy with others. She has been shopping in town and walking towards the bus stop which will take her home, she sees a bus coming which isn't her usual one - though it will get her home it goes a different way round, takes a strange road which she doesn't know.

    But the woman feels that she ought to get that bus, maybe it's God saying something to her. So she gets on the bus. And she sits down by a young woman who is reading a copy of the War Cry, open at a page with the banner headline, 'Who Is Jesus?'

    You can imagine the conversation which followed, because the woman who had got on the bus seeking the follow the promptings of God's Spirit, found God helping her to tell this young woman what Jesus meant in her life - and helping the young woman to begin to see what Jesus could mean to her; and before she got off the bus the young woman thanked the older woman for what she'd said. 'I want to get to know Jesus more,' she told her, 'and you've helped me so much.'

    Abiding in Christ means embracing the questions about him, taking an interest in who the Lord is, what the Lord says, what the Lord does. Asking questions. Exploring the scriptures. Expecting answers.

    And abiding in Christ means serving the Spirit, being willing and keen to respond to the promptings of God's Spirit through the journey of life. Expecting to be used by God in his service and for the blessing of others, day to day.

    Let us seek to know the joy of abiding in Christ this week.