Look! Here is water! Those words, spoken by an Ethiopian eunuch from the passage of scripture that you’re going to hear in a few minutes, kept ringing in my ears this week!
Look, here is water! Nova Scotia has 7400 km of coastline. No matter where you are in NS, you are never more than about 60k from the ocean. I can see if from the top of my street. The harbour is only a few hundred yards from the church.We take if for granted. From the rocky and rugged shorelines of Cape Breton and the south shore, to the sandy warm waters of the Northumberland Strait, to the highest tides in the Bay of Fundy, we are almost surrounded by water. It’s a constant backdrop to our life. I bet if I asked, each one of you could tell me of a special or significant event that happened by the water.
But in the middle east, where our scriptures are written embedded in the multicultural political, geographic, economic, ethnic, familial systems of that time, water is not so plentiful. And in this reading, it’s a cause for celebration! Let’s listen to the encounter between a high ranking Ethiopian official and Philip, one of missionaries spreading the Good News of Jesus. It’s written in Acts 8:26-39:
26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27 So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30 So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31 He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34 The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35 Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36 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 baptized?’ 38 He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 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. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
The book of Acts is the story of the church’s expansion; expansion and inclusion. It’s a story of inclusion, you see as a eunuch, even though Jewish, he would have been excluded from the temple.
Three things stood out for me in this reading.
- Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.)
- Philip proclaimed to the Ethiopian the good news about Jesus.
- The Ethiopian responds with, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
And then I’m going to circle back to my opening sentence, “Look, here is water!”
Angels of the Lord so often say GO!
In this case, go to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza, a wilderness road. Unfamiliar territory. Out beyond the temple, out beyond Jerusalem. Out beyond the comfortable and familiar. Where is the angel telling us to go? Where is the Spirit inviting us to attend to? What people and places are unfamiliar to us in a 10-15 block radius around our church? Who haven’t heard our message of Faith, Love and Community?
Philip told the Ethiopian about Jesus.
Do you have a way of telling anyone about your faith? If we were in person, I’d be able to see you squirm. 😉 I believe that the biggest crisis of the United Church is not dwindling congregations, it’s not buildings that are too big for our present needs, it’s not a lack of resources, it’s a lack of ability or willingness to tell the story of Jesus in a way that is engaging and inviting. It’s a lack of conviction that our faith matters to those outside our walls.
Philip has no such compunction though. And when Philip tells the unnamed Ethiopian about Jesus, he says, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He wants to be part of that life and ministry. But remember in the story, they go their separate ways, Philip continues to share the Good News. And the eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. He didn’t join the local temple. He probably went back to Queen Candace’s court, where he was in charge of the treasury. We don’t know anything more about him.
Look, here is water! This reminded me of the story of the woman at the well in John’s gospel. The one where Jesus asks an unnamed woman for a drink and then says that he has living water to offer her.
Look, here is water! Water as a metaphor for the new life that Jesus offers us. Waters of baptism. But the water’s not inside! It’s outside! It surrounds us! There are so many opportunities to share in God’s mission, if we can stop thinking that God’s mission is to fill the church on Sunday morning. That’s not what it’s about folks. Yes, it’s good to gather, I love to lead worship, I love to worship. I love listening to good sermon, I love to sing in community, I love to learn and grow together. But it doesn’t end there, and for some people it doesn’t start there and for some, it will never be there.
You folks have brainstormed some great ideas for getting out into the community.There are so many organizations in north Dartmouth that we can partner with in doing God’s work, not just other churches. As we are seeking to connect with our neighbours, I thought of a minister I know who has done an amazing job of that, so asked if I could have a Zoom conversation with her. The Rev. Alexa Gilmour is the minister at Windemere United Church; they were just featured in Broadview.
Here’s an excerpt from an article from Broadview, I included it in Thursday Thoughts, but just in case you didn’t read that… Ten years ago, we did not know our neighbours. Now, still deeply rooted in faith, we are also a community hub for anyone who feels moved to mend God’s world with us. Since 2012, our staff hours have doubled, income and congregational givings have increased 90 percent, and rental income is up 80 percent. The congregation size doubled, church membership increased 50 percent and the leadership has been renewed. Interestingly, the only thing that has stayed the same is the Sunday worship attendance numbers. And we’re fine with that. (Alexa told me that worship attendance pre-pandemic was between 30-40 people). You can read the full article here.)
Churches became so accustomed to measuring their ‘success’ by their worship attendance that we forgot to measure it by the impact on our community. Yes, it’s more challenging connecting to our neighbours in Covid and even more so again now. I loved that earlier statement from Rev. Gilmour, “Now, still deeply rooted in faith, we are also a community hub for anyone who feels moved to mend God’s world with us.”
Look, here is water! Living water! Jesus is here. Jesus is out there!
Listen to the scripture again, this time written with a contemporary twist.
Then an angel of the Lord said to Ryan, ‘Get up and go along Albro Lake Road, this may be unfamiliar territory for you. So he got up and went. Now there was a transgender person, sitting on a bench, reading from a church pamphlet that had been left there. He read words that promised welcome, promised a place of faith, love and community, following in the footsteps of the ministry of Jesus Christ. The spirit of the Lord told Ryan to go and join him on the bench. The transgender person had been in and out of places of worship their entire life, but too often heard words of condemnation and judgement. Ryan asked him, “What are you reading?” The transgender person showed him. Ryan said, “Ah yes, I know this place. I can tell you I have found Jesus in this place.” The man said, “Can you tell me more about this place?” Ryan said, “Of course! Let’s go for a walk. And Ryan told him of the welcome Jesus’s followers had given him. They came to the lake itself and the transgender person said, “Look, here is water! Is there anything to prevent me from being baptized?” Ryan and the transgender person went down into the water and Ryan baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit led Ryan in another direction and the transgender person saw him no more, but went on his way rejoicing. Ryan found himself in Victoria Gardens and proclaimed the Good New there too.
Where is the Spirit leading us?
Thanks be to God for the challenge and the opportunity of following Jesus. Amen.
April 25, 2021 – SMUC