Acts 8:26-31, 36-40
I John 4:7-12, 18-21
Today’s readings could easily turn into three sermons, or an hour lecture. But, that might be a bit much for any of us to handle. They chart a theological adventure lived out in everyday life. They tell us of God’s nearness, and presence in ordinary acts of love.
In the glory days of the early church, anything was possible. Signs and wonders abounded, miracles occurred and walls were broken down. The distinctions of race and ethnicity, and language and economics, were overcome in the spirit of Pentecost, where people of all races could speak the truth in love.
Philip’s encounter with the Ethiopian eunuch is paranormal and mystical. Philip receives angelic guidance to show up on the road to Gaza, where he synchronously encounters an Ethiopian eunuch, a man neutered as a sign of his loyalty to the Queen. After all, if he has no legal heirs, he is no threat to the empire!
The African is a seeker, like so many today, and he’s looking for spiritual meaning in his life. Despite his sexuality, he is a person of wealth and privilege and recognizes that there’s something more to life than possession and power. He’s looking for salvation, for meaning, for something to live for, something to bring joy to his life. Philip reaches out to him, despite the differences of race, religious orientation, and sexuality.
Philip models a style of evangelism that speaks to this seeker – he doesn’t come with ready-made, one size fits all, answers; he listens! He responds to the seeker’s questions, and then says “yes” when the seeker asks to be baptized. He lets his companion lead the way, responding to his needs and not a prescribed doctrinal or behavioral standard.
Every seeker is already sought by God. This is at the heart of our congregation’s vision of service and hospitality. We are not looking down upon or separating ourselves from those who are experiencing poverty or prejudice based on ethnicity, economics, race, language, or sexuality. We are all in this together. We want to see the world from their viewpoint as well as our own. Everyone has been touched by God – everyone is connected to the vine, and our awareness of God just needs to be unblocked so that divine healing energy and creativity can flow from us to them and back to us. When I say “everyone,” I mean everyone, including people in our families with whom we are estranged or who have taken dangerous pathways or turned their backs on the faith we affirm.
Jesus says that “I am the vine and you are the branches, connected to me, you will bear great fruit.” We are intended to be lively and fruitful at every stage of life. We are intended to bless others at every stage of life. Yet, when we are disconnected, we lose energy, vitality, direction, and guidance; we wither on the vine.
The Letter of John responds to the question – “How do we get connected to the vine?” with the affirmation that connection comes through love! We experience connection by acts of mercy and open-eyed prayers that join us with all creation.
When we love, we abide in God, and God abides in us, and we can live abundantly. Dorotheos of Gaza, who lived some 1600 years ago, once described God in terms of the relationship between the circumference and center of a circle. Dorotheos counseled:
Suppose we were to take a compass and insert the point and draw an outline of a circle. The center point is the same distance from any point on the circumference…Let us consider that this circle is the world and that God is the center; the straight lines drawn from the circumference to the center are the lives of people. To the extent that the saints enter into the things of the spirit, they desire to come near to God; and in proportion to their progress in the things of the spirit, they do indeed come close to God and to their neighbor. The closer they are to God, the closer they become to one another; and the closer they are to one another the closer they become to God.
It’s all connected – this is the very nature of love – Dorotheos
The more we are turned away from and do not love God, the greater the distance that separates us from our neighbor. If we were to love God more, we should be closer to God, and through love of him we should be more united in love to our neighbor; and the more we are united to our neighbor the more we are united to God.
At the end of the day, it’s about love, it’s about connection, it’s about sharing one another’s burdens and joys. Abundant life is found in our love of our neighbor and our love of God. Confident in God’s love for us, we can have courage even when we feel afraid. We can feel fear and trembling and still go forth, doing the right thing, speaking the truth, helping the weak, and sharing God’s good news.
Connected to the vine through love and prayer, God’s wisdom and energy flows through us, and then on to others. Connected with that wondrous vine of love, we can experience God’s grace and receive graces, even in challenge, that are more than we can ask or imagine.