June 21, 2022
TODAY’S SCRIPTURE REFERENCE:
“As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?‘ And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him.” (Acts 8.36-38)
Yesterday, I reflected on the rubric of accountability for what makes Church powerful as being “begging the question” by asking pointedly the important questions of faith, hope and love. It seems the modern Church has become too comfortable with a “social” gospel, that is, doing good works and providing an entertaining worship operating more by assumption than by proposition. In the attempt to establish relationships with others as the object or subject of contemporary religion (it is the religion of both church and state), the thrust of the gospel has been diluted. This is the difference between powerful and intentionally growing faith communities bound by “spirit and truth” and the current “mainlined” communities of faith. And by “mainlined,” I am speaking of “flatlined,” plateaued or dying faith communities of all faiths, sects and denominations. If relationship, even with Jesus, is our primary aim, then we have missed the mark established by Him when He shot straight with the people to whom the word was given. The most important relationship Jesus invoked was that of a reconciliation with the Father of Heaven and earth. Quite honestly, Jesus was so less concerned about establishing and maintaining relationships with people than modern practitioners of the Christian faith make out.
Why did He have such a band of followers then if he wasn’t concerned about human relationships as the first order of business? It was because He spoke the truth in love about seeking the Father who makes all the difference in the world. In Jesus, the people who had been seeking the higher purpose and greater connectedness for themselves found their greatest advocate. He was the “way, truth and life” that lead to the Father. God was the “higher power” and “greater reason” which defined the “ultimate purpose and meaning of life.” Deep down we are all seeking for that relationship and Jesus shows us how we can live that way. In order to share that good news, Jesus broadcast straight-shooting news to those who proposed a different and fraudulent “way, truth and life.” He confronted the Scribes, Pharisees, teachers of the Law and Prophets and the Sanhedrin itself. He confronted the ruling political authority with a similar intentionality. He even confronted His own family and said “Who is My mother? Who are my brothers and sisters?” He especially confronted His own disciples who seemed to be about as “dumb as rocks” instead of being a rock upon which Jesus would build His Church. But, in all those times of challenge, Jesus never lost sight nor would let anyone loose sight of His relationship with God the Father of Heaven and earth. Even in the wilderness sojourn for forty days after His baptism by His cousin in the Jordan, Jesus maintained His focus by embracing the Word of His Father and the relationship it bounded. Satan could not overcome it. The flock was protected by it just as He Himself was prospered by it. No, Jesus wasn’t proposing “relationship” as one’s true religion. Jesus proposed that relationships were reconciled, transformed and enhanced by knowing the relationship with God was not only possible but was unmistakably real and present. His very name, Immanuel, or God with us, demanded we pay attention to this truth.
So, it is little wonder why the affect of the early Church movement of Christ followers was so effective in their evangelism and fulfilling the Great Commission. They were not concerned about establishing a “working” relationship with the people they wanted to share the Good News with. People were already looking for “good news” and looking for God. They just didn’t know what it was they could find or would find. It is true even today. Rather, Jesus commissioned those who accepted the call to discipleship to go out to seek and redirect those who were struggling to find their relationship with the One True God. Matthew does this amazingly well because he confirms in his birth narrative how far the “Word” of God had spread and what impact it had made. You know what I am talking about, right? Sing with me, We three kings of orient are bearing gifts and have travelled from afar. Yes, the spread of God’s word by the Babylonian captivity, the Joseph captivity and merchant trader stories are just a few examples of all the places where the “good news” had been broadcast. So, for Matthew, it started with ancient civilizations being introduced to the Law and the Prophets and it concluded with “go out and teach them what the ‘Word’ they have heard means.” But, for Matthew, it wasn’t enough to just teach them how to understand the word that he heard Jesus give direction as the disciples’ commissioning. No, Jesus went a whole step further. Jesus commissioned them to be “re-birthers” of the faith which the people recognized, believed and received. He said “…and baptize them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”
John echoed this same understanding in the after dusk dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus. Nicodemus may have been more motivated to warn Jesus of the danger which loomed because of His ministry of teaching and works. But, Jesus knew there was more and “begged the question” with “You must be born again.” Nicodemus was perplexed. He asked “How can I enter my mother’s womb and be born a second time?” Preposterous!? Jesus redirected his literal thinking to spiritual truth. “You must be born of water and you must be born of spirit if you are to enter the Kingdom of God the Father.” You must be “rebirthed.”
Luke shares this emphasis in retelling the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. We must not forget that there was a Jewish community in Ethiopia. Their presence in that distant land is a product of God’s work through Solomon. Remember, Jerusalem was the center of the world. Why would there have been such desire by foreign empires to destroy Jerusalem and scatter its people if they were not the central focus. Well, the central focus was, in actuality, Immanuel. God was with them and continued to demonstrate His mighty power through them even in, especially in, their moments of weakness. Destroy the Temple, scatter the people, defeat the nation and eliminate their God. This has always been the battle plan of Satan. It happens today in the Old Jerusalem and in the Provisional Jerusalem- the Church. Why should we be so surprised? So, the Ethiopian had already been exposed to Word of God as from the Law and the Prophets. On the day of Philip’s appearance on the road heading out to the desert, the Ethiopian was reading from deutero-Isaiah where the Messianic promise was first revealed. There is little doubt he was attempting to make sense of the scriptures in light of the recent event concerning Jesus of Nazareth. He was there for both the Passover and Pentecost celebrations. The word had been spoken but now it was explained. The seeker was about to be found. And what happened? He got baptized and rebirthed. I have a feeling he was also commissioned then by spirit and truth to broadcast the good news in Ethiopia as well. Mission accomplished and not aborted. It wasn’t about establishing a relationship with the Ethiopian but being lead by the defining relationship established in the Holy Spirit with the Father’s directive: love the neighbor with the love of God. This is where the power of the Church’s religion is most effective: not waiting for someone to ask us the question but beg the question ourselves by speaking of the Good News which is for all people.
((Side note: I am thinking that if we truly want to turn the tide against the practice of abortion, we must proclaim, teach and bear witness to being “rebirthed” in spirit and in truth. Abortion comes because it is immersed in a worldly thinking that is broken truth. It is what Satan has given birth to. Beware of the Beast. Confront abortion with the “baptism of water and spirit” and let the healed truth of God’s love and purpose do its work in reconciling, saving and bringing the lost into new life and those threatened with death on earth to the Kingdom hope.))
OUR CALL TO PRAYER:
Father, we are born by water and the spirit. Your presence is in us and we dare not contain it. Let us be like founts of living water, glasses and pitchers overflowing and spilling out. May the Word of Your mercy, grace and love fill up the world and flood it with life. We see that the world wants to recreate the effect of the flood and purge it of all righteousness where You sought to purge it of all wickedness. Help us to stem the tide of evil with good. Blest be this tie that binds us to You in Jesus’ name. We will not abort the mission of broadcasting the good news. We press forward lead by Your Spirit to land where we are intended to be and do what we are intended to do. AMEN.