Acts 8: 26 – 40   Heaven’s Hitchhikers  Sunday, April 25th, 2021


Heaven’s Hitchhikers

Acts 8: 26 – 40

 (preached on April 25, 2021)

 In our passage from Acts for today, we find two men, each of whom takes a risk.  One is a foreigner from an exotic land.  One is an apostle, on fire with the love of God in Jesus.  Each of them is open to an experience that will change their lives, willing to take a risk for the sake of the gospel.

Philip the apostle has been called by the Spirit to hit the road, a wilderness road.  There he sees a very impressive sight: an exotic looking man, dressed in fine robes, riding in a chariot.  Most likely, he’s riding in comfort, reclining on cushions, protected from the sun by a canopy.  This man is a foreigner, from Ethiopia.  He’s an official in the court of the queen, in charge of her entire treasury.  He would have been a wealthy man, a highly educated man.  He’s not the kind of person you generally see on this wilderness road.

Philip is dressed very simply and his sandals are dusty and worn, but he’s not intimidated by the sight of this wealthy man, riding in comfort and style in his chariot.  Philip is inspired by the Spirit’s whisper, urging him to go up alongside the chariot.  As he nears the chariot he’s surprised by what he hears.  The Ethiopian is reading aloud.  He’s reading from the prophet Isaiah.  His accent is strange, but Philip isn’t put off by the unfamiliar tones.  He calls up to the Ethiopian, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”

Who is this Ethiopian exactly?  He’s a man of learning and wealth, but he’s also a eunuch, a man who’s been emasculated, a man who can’t father children.  This may seem odd to you and me, but in the ancient Near East it was common for officials of a royal court to be eunuchs.  This was because kings and queens didn’t want their court officials to be having kids.  Kings and queens wanted to make sure their officials didn’t get any ideas about starting a family.  Any children born to an official would be a threat to the monarchy.  They might try to take over the throne and start a new dynasty.

The Ethiopian may be a man of wealth and power, but he’s lacking something very important: he can’t be a father.  He’s different from most men.  He may be a member of the court, but ordinary family life is off limits for him.  In that sense, he’s an outsider.  He’s looking for a sense of belonging, for acceptance.  Most likely he’s been to Jerusalem on a religious pilgrimage.  He’s drawn to the God of the Hebrew Scriptures and he badly wants to know more.

When the Ethiopian hears Philip’s question, he’s willing to take a risk.  He’s a man of learning, but here he freely admits that he doesn’t understand.  He freely admits that he doesn’t have a clue about what Isaiah is saying.

The Ethiopian takes a risk by admitting his ignorance.   Philip, as he climbs into the chariot, is also taking a risk.  He doesn’t know the Ethiopian.  For all he knows, the Ethiopian might want to kidnap him.  He’s a strong, healthy male, relatively young.  If he were kidnapped and sold into slavery, he would fetch a good price.  Philip and the Ethiopian are strangers to each other.  They barely speak the same language.  They come from very different backgrounds.  But both are willing to take a risk.  Both of them know that Philip has something to offer.  Both of them know that the Ethiopian, in spite of his wealth, is in need.  And both men are open to an experience that could change their lives.

What about you?  Are you willing to take a risk?  Or is something stopping you?  The risk might not be a physical risk, like bungee jumping.  It might be an emotional risk.  It might be the risk of a new relationship.  It might be a financial risk, like using some of your retirement fund to take that trip you’ve been dreaming about.  Is something stopping you from moving out of your comfort zone, doing something that might change your life for the better?  Is fear stopping you, fear that your friends and maybe even your family will laugh at you?  Is it fear of failure?  Is it fear that if you do take a risk, you’ll wind up falling on your face?

It can be scary to take a risk, but if you always play it safe, I think you have to ask yourself what that says about who God is for you.  If you always play it safe, are you saying that you don’t really think God will be there to catch you if you fall?  Are you saying that you don’t really think you can rely on God to get you through?  You don’t really think God will get you through whatever might happen when you take that risk?  I don’t know what kind of God that is, but it’s not the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.

The Ethiopian is powerfully drawn to the God who comes to us in Jesus Christ.  As Philip talks with him about Isaiah’s words, he hears about a God who loves the world so much, that God comes into human life as a baby, a vulnerable baby.  Philip tells him of a Savior who’s willing to sacrifice his life, to show the world that nothing can separate us from God’s love.

The Ethiopian has been an outsider for his entire adult life.  For all his wealth and power, he has never felt he belonged.  Now he begins to realize that he can belong, to the community of those who follow Jesus.  He realizes he is welcome in God’s family.  Full of joy, he wants to be baptized immediately.  When they come to some water, he says to Philip, “Hey, here is water!  What’s to prevent me from being baptized?”   Why don’t I take the plunge, here and now, take the plunge into the waters of new life?  He and Philip don’t hesitate.  They halt the chariot.  Then and there, bubbling over with joy, Philip baptizes him.  Then the Ethiopian goes on his way rejoicing.

Once in a while, something comes along that can change your life.  It might be a new project.  It might be a new relationship.  It might be a new beginning in a new home.  You might hesitate to take the risk, to plunge into that opportunity.  You might be fearful of the unknown, fearful of getting hurt, fearful of running out of money.

When that fear kicks in, and your stomach begins to churn, ask yourself who God is for you.  Do you believe in a God who will catch you if you fall?  Do you believe in a God you can rely on?  A God who will get you through whatever might happen when you take that risk?  Could you, like the Ethiopian, take Philip at his word, that God’s love is for all of us?  Could you take the plunge, knowing that God will be with you no matter what?

Rev. Elva Merry Pawle

Easter 4


“His Eye is in the Sparrow”

Maria Ferrante, Soprano

Patrick Chatham, Cellist

Joyce Carpenter-Henderson, Pianist