All through the Easter Season as we reflect on the meaning of the resurrection, the Church invites us to read the book of Acts as our first reading. The intention of this decision is to focus on what happened in the early church after Jesus was raised to life. The book of Acts is a sequel to Luke’s first book – the Gospel of Luke – and his intention is to show how the church grew from tiny, fragile beginnings into a world-wide movement. Beginning in Jerusalem the Book of Acts shows how quickly the Holy fire of Pentecost spreads first to the surrounding region of Judea, then to the most hostile territory of Samaria and on eventually to the centre of the political universe at the time, Rome.
Along the way we are given personal stories and accounts of people coming to faith through the work of ordinary people. The most dramatic and most remembered is the conversion of Saul who goes on to become the most productive of all the apostles in planting churches throughout the Mediterranean. However we are given other stories apart from Paul and the one we are looking at this Sunday is about an Ethiopian Eunuch charged with the authority of Queen Candice to act as her treasurer. So he is an important official in his own country but nonetheless an outsider who would never be fully accepted in the Jewish faith at the time because of his gender. And yet he’s a very interesting character because he is drawn to the stories and traditions of Israel and today we find him in his chariot reading the book of the Prophet Isaiah. That shows him to be an educated man. However he is puzzled by the book and cannot fathom what it’s all about.
Its at this point in the story that Luke introduces Philip. Philip has been chosen to be one of the deacons of the early church, responsible for caring for people, helping to provide for their material needs. So he’s a practical, down to earth person chosen for those skills in helping people. However, when we look at what he actually does we find him getting alongside this stranger and outsider and acting as a spiritual guide who leads the Ethiopian to faith in Jesus.
Luke wants to show how the Holy Spirit uses every opportunity to spread the message of God’s love, including using people who we might not at first imagine in that role. Is Luke suggesting that you and I could also be used in that way by the Spirit of God?
Repeatedly throughout the book of Acts we see the Holy Spirit breaking down the barriers starting from the day of Pentecost. The account of the Ethiopian Eunuch coming to faith and being baptised also has a deep dimension because he is now fully accepted, welcomed and made a full and active member of the Body of Christ. Of course we are only given a glimpse into this story, and that glimpse is about a new beginning; a starting point.
Have you ever wondered what happened to that man after he was baptised, after he returned to Ethiopia to the court of Queen Candice? Well we will never know the full story, but what we do know is that one of the oldest Christian Churches in the world alongside the Armenian Church is the Ethiopian Orthodox Church who look back to that Ethiopian Eunuch as the spark that lit the fire of faith in their country – a faith that has flourished ever since.
The book of Acts with its racing pace and lively stories of the adventures of Paul tells of how the fire of the spirit spread across the Mediterranean and beyond bringing the warmth and welcome of God’s love to many, and as such it holds out to us an invitation and a challenge to share that adventure as a people who have ourselves been warmed and welcomed by the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord.