In our first reading in the book of Acts we see the Evangelist Philip meeting up with an Ethiopian Eunuch outside of Jerusalem who is a court official of the Candace. Candace is an official name like Pharaoh. The Candace was known as “women warrior leaders” from the land of Cush or what we would refer to as Ethiopia. Ethiopia at that time included Ethiopia, Sudan and Southern Egypt. The Candace’s, “Ethiopian warrior queens also waged wars, leading warriors into battle that included male and female.”
This government official was 1500 miles from home, and we do not know what he was doing in Jerusalem. However, we do know from history that Rome was a trading party to the Ethiopians, and they in turn exported and imported to the southern regions of Africa. Neither do we know if this Ethiopian leader was Gentile or Jewish. Jerusalem did business with Ethiopia as well, and because the man was reading out of the scroll of Isaiah when Philip met him, he was probably either of Jewish descent or a “converted Jew.”
Philip used this opportunity to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today there are over 20 million Christians in Ethiopia. We know that there are close to 400 million professing Christians in Africa today. In Nigeria alone, there are 18 million Anglicans, compared to 2.5 million Episcopalians in the US. The Episcopal Church is part of the Anglican Communion.
I don’t think we can give Philip all the credit for the evangelism of Africa, but this passage is an important message to us about the transition of the early Church, spreading from Jerusalem to all parts of the world.
How are we to promote the “good news of the Gospel”; the message of Easter? We are told in our second reading today in 1 John that the vehicle of communication is the love of God.
It’s a practical application of God’s love; reaching out and helping other people; listening to other people. Having empathy for those around you is a big part of caring. Understating others is also the first step to being understood yourself.
The Bible is a book. It contains words and thoughts about God. But, Jesus Christ is the Word of God, the Living Word. Faith is active. It’s an active verb. It’s built on a relationship with God. It’s built on an understanding and a knowing that we are not our own. Someone greater; someone greater and beyond our comprehension exists, and we are told to accept by faith that this God dwells in us and we live in Him. It’s a relationship that everyone has always struggled to understand and explain.
Paul struggled with his ability to point others to Christ. He said: You know what I am telling you, is that I have been to the mountain top. I’ve been to the mountain top, just as Moses did. And, the grandeur, the beauty and the wonderfulness of God…and he said struggling: You know I’m trying to communicate with you all, but what I have experienced and what I have seen and envisioned is beyond words. A relationship with a Supreme Being is greater than, more than any words can capture. That’s what we are talking about.
That’s what Philip is talking about in our reading in Acts. The passage shows an example of evangelism played out by Philip and the Ethiopian official. The Ethiopian says, here are the words in Isaiah. Please explain this to me. And Philip says: Jesus Christ is the Word. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Word. Jesus is the reality. I want to introduce you to Jesus… Here you are just reading it in a book. “Its’ pointing you to something greater than what is in the book. It’s pointing you to Jesus. It’s like someone standing on the corner of the street pointing their arm in the direction you should go. “Go this way.” This is the way to go.
That’s what the passage in Isaiah does that Philip and the Ethiopian official looked at together. Isaiah points to a relationship with the Living Word. That’s also what Philip does. He points the Ethiopian official to Jesus, and he is baptized. His life is changed. And, he in turn goes back to Ethiopia to share his good news, to point others to a loving relationship with Jesus Christ.
That’s what we do in church. In everything we do, we point others to Jesus. When we baptize children and adults, we are introducing them to Jesus, to a new life in the Spirit. When we have communion around the table today, the Spirit is introducing us into that deeper relationship with God. Living a Christian life is all about relationship. It’s not about do’s, and don’ts and restrictions. It’s about being directed to a right relationship with Jesus and pointing others to Jesus.
Sharing the good news of Easter is pointing others to Jesus. That’s the Great Commission. If someone asks you to give you a definition of the Great Commission, tell them this: The Great Commission is telling and pointing others to the Living Word as described in the Gospels, Jesus Christ. Christianity is built on a loving relationship with Jesus, and how that relationship is evidenced in the way we live our lives with others.
That’s what I see when I look around in this church. I see the love of God being expressed in and through your lives in the way that you are reacting to the presence of Christ inside of you and living that life out every day.
I see it in so many areas in this church where people have found and are finding a niche; people who are living out their Christian lives in the best way they can; experiencing that love and being responsible in pointing others to Christ by your actions and the way you live, by the way you act out your beliefs, by the varied ministries in so many different areas of this church.
And, in your ministry and the way you live out your life, will attract other people into the church. And, we are seeing new people come into the church.
They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love. We will walk with other we will walk hand in hand. We will walk with each other; we will walk hand in hand. And together we will spread the news that God is in our land. Yes they’ll know we are Christians by our love, by our love. Yes, they’ll know we are Christians by our love.
The Reverend Dr. David Madsen