Sunday, May 27, 2012


Acts 2
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. 2 Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them. 5 Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven. 6 When they heard this sound, a crowd came together in bewilderment, because each one heard their own language being spoken. 7 Utterly amazed, they asked: “Aren’t all these who are speaking Galileans? 8 Then how is it that each of us hears them in our native language?

Now that I’m attending Yale (on the internet), my entire worldview may need to change. And while I’m only listening to one class (on the internet), I take seriously the traditions of such a storied school.

First of all, I have to say “Go Bulldogs,” although I have no idea what that means. Then I casually mention that five presidents when to Yale, including such notables as George W. and George H.W. Next, I express my new dislike for hated rivals Harvard and Princeton, then suggest that I may join the Scull and Bones, a secret society for Yale people like me, also busy running the CIA. Finally, I’ll give Meryl Streep (class of ’75) a shout, because I think we now share a unique bond.

While attending History 210 (on the internet), Dr. Freedman shared a concept that describes both the goal of the Roman gentleman and those of us lucky enough to attend Yale: Leisure with dignity. Coined by Cicero, otium cum dignitate for you Latin speakers in the crowd, leisure with dignity began as a retirement strategy and eventually became a lifestyle in and of itself.

The Romans, it seems, did not like work. Manual labour, unless it involved fighting, was beneath them. And so for them, leisure with dignity meant a life of contemplation, perhaps some writing, and conversation over wine to discuss various Roman virtues and maybe the lives of dead Greeks. Only fools and slaves got their hands dirty.

Now that I have you imagining this life of leisure with dignity, maybe reclining in your toga in the late morning sun, I want to show you a different scene in antiquity, this one in Jerusalem, under the same morning sun:

Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3 They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. 4 All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues[a] as the Spirit enabled them.

There was no dignity at Pentecost. 3,000 gathered without a toga in sight. There was no contemplation, Horace was not quoted, no one reclined, and it certainly wasn’t quiet. The violent wind and varied tongues ensured that all the dignity in the occasion was burned up, consumed in dipping flame and excited utterance.

And there was no dignity in the crowd. These were not men of education or leisure. Jesus didn’t travel to Athens or Rome to call the disciples, he went to a fishing village on the edge of nowhere. These men had calloused hands, a bent backs, and very likely smelled of yesterday’s catch.

The Pentecost crowd would be those fools and slaves that got their hands dirty, along with tax collectors and prostitutes and every other kind of redeemed sinner who managed to befriend Jesus. They were decidedly foreign, and therefore suspect, unless you could quote Horace, which of course they could not.

And there was no dignity in the day either. Even the idea of a crowd would make the Roman gentleman uneasy, much less a crowd seized by the Holy Spirit and shouting in their native tongue and fighting gusts of many knots.

When we think of baptism we think of (sometimes) placid infants, in slippery sateen, with beaming parents and grandparents. Think again. While baptism at Central has a certain dignity, you won’t find any dignity when you baptize 3,000 people. Baptism on that day was messy, and chaotic, with shouts of thanksgiving and the tears of people reborn. When you die to self and emerge from the mud reborn in Christ, there is no dignity, and no leisure, only new life.

And what came next would certainly make Cicero spin in his grave:

44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people.

As if to prove to themselves and the world that they were not Roman gentlemen, or part of the leisured class, or even interested in themselves, they did the impossible in the world’s eyes: they shared what they had.

And while we can be certain that no one sold a villa or this year’s chariot, they did the messy and undignified act of self-sacrifice and mutual support that Jesus suggested, selling all that they had in able to truly follow. Maybe it was a second tunic, or a staff, or a store of dried fish: every little bit helped, according to Acts 2, something that would be lost on most.

And this lack of dignity--a lack of dignity in the world’s eyes--continues. Some dirty their hands in a neighbour’s garden, or sweeping up downstairs, or in the grease produced from 20 lb. of ground beef, or holding the sticky hands of a child. We have made a habit of doing the things that have no value in worldly terms, and for this we stand in a long tradition. Begun in chaos, and an apparent lack of dignity, may it always be so, thanks be to God, Amen.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Seventh Sunday of Easter

Acts 1
15 In those days Peter stood up among the believers* (together the crowd numbered about one hundred and twenty people) and said, 16‘Friends,* the scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit through David foretold concerning Judas, who became a guide for those who arrested Jesus— 17for he was numbered among us and was allotted his share in this ministry.’
21So one of the men who have accompanied us throughout the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, 22beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.’ 23So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias. 24Then they prayed and said, ‘Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen 25to take the place* in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.’ 26And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles.

Life would be much simpler around here if we just cast lots. Take up the offering? Cast Lots. Serve coffee? Cast lots. Preach the sermon? Cast lots. I think we’re on to something here. If we implemented this innovation beginning next week would we get more people or less?

Of course, there would inevitably be a suggestion that we cast lots for a door prize. And in the United Church, that would be uniquely shocking. You will recall that the United Church is only opposed to two things, nuclear war and gambling, and few of us have started a nuclear war. Let’s just leave it there.

So the tradition of casting lots never really took off, and it may be our own weakness that was the cause. I imagine that the urge to cast lots likely ended the day someone said “Picking another disciple? I’ll put five on Bob.”

Still and yet, the disciples cast lots. Judas was gone, graphically dispatched in the verses that the lectionary kindly omitted, and then there were eleven.

At first glance, this seems like a non-issue. Twelve is quite a few, especially if you are playing a game of bible trivia, and one less doesn’t seem so bad. Unless, of course, you are following the pattern whereby the disciples go out two by two (Mark 6), then you have a problem.

There is a second theory, since you asked, and that one is based on seldom recited Psalm 109. The psalm is more-or-less a collection of curses, and wouldn’t make a very good responsive psalm, but it does contain the following: “May the days [of the wicked man] be few, may another take his place.” Peter quotes this in the “M for Mature” section in the middle of the passage, and the group decides to follow it.

The next question, then, is why were only two nominated (among the 120 present)? There was a large pool to draw from, some were already well known to us, and apparently they had never heard of gender equality. And Peter, anticipating our question, gives the answer: Someone present throughout the time, from the baptism by John until he was taken up.

Clearly this is one of those passages that raises more questions than provides answers. They are looking for someone present throughout Jesus’ earthly ministry, fair enough, but beginning with his baptism? Looking again at the beginning of the Gospels, there seems to be nothing to indicate he had followers at such an early date. In each telling, he appears to John in the desert, accepts baptism, them proceeds to period of solitary temptation in the wilderness. The call of the disciples comes later. In these early stages, he seems very much alone.

The only way to solve this problem is to place our two nominees among the crowd that were following John the Baptist. He too had disciples, and they were present to him at the Jordan, and some would have been there the day that Jesus is baptized. Following John, transferred to Jesus, present for three years of ministry, even to the end. The number two begins to make sense, considering such a convoluted path of following.

So who were these rare birds? All we get are their names: ”So they proposed two, Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus, and Matthias.” Before I go further, I just want to highlight a concern about Joseph called Barsabbas, who was also known as Justus. Three names, really? And this guy expects to get elected? Having three names is downright fishy, and when the lot falls to the other guy (Matthias) I can hardly say I’m surprized.

What does surprize me is the remarkable lack of information we have about the nominees, and Matthias in particular, since he is selected to succeed Judas. Matthias is given no mention in the lead up to the passage, and is never mentioned again. So either he never really made a mark, or something else is going on.

Something else is clearly going on. You see, if someone selected for the highest office in the church, disciple of Jesus, comes out of nowhere, and goes about the business of being a disciple, but is never mentioned again, then really it could be anyone. Ignoring everything for a minute that we have said about the strict nomination requirements, the dynamic of coming out of nowhere and then blending into the office of disciple could describe anyone. Or any one of us. Matthias may be the first example of the most common type of believer down through the centuries: called to follow, chosen to lead, and labouring without fame or excited mention, just doing the important work of passing on the faith.

Now, maybe this idea doesn’t excite you as much as it excites me, but consider the context of faith transmission: at this moment in time there were only 120 people in this movement, and only 13 with a complete view of the faith. Accounting for falling away though doubt or conversion to some other tradition, or the frailty of life itself, the faith is in an extremely fragile state at this moment in time. One more or less can make all the difference in the world, and I am certain that the few who were present that day had a sense of the gravity of what they were doing.

So if Matthias is the prototype for the type of believer that will come to dominate the Christian tradition, then we do well to honour him and remain faithful to his calling. I’m seldom one for “last person on earth thinking,” but here is a case where the life of a tradition is fragile, and must be safeguarded. Maybe part of the call of Matthias is a call to find it within ourselves to represent the faith: to understand how we are redeemed through Jesus Christ, and what it means to follow in his way, and how the Christian faith is always one generation from being lost, unless we do our part.

Now that I’ve added all this pressure, and on a long weekend no less, let me add more. The other reason that the Baptism of John comes up (and for the second time in this chapter of Acts) may be that John’s baptismal message soon gets lost in all the excitement. You see, next week is Pentecost, and 3,000 will be baptized, and there will be wind and tongues and dipping flames, and all the nuance of the baptism goes out the window.

So many will be initiated into the church, and will be caught up in the newness and the crowd of believers, that John’s message may be forgotten: A baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. Choosing a new disciple among the very few who were present in the wilderness with John may be the only link to that message.

So we have twin responsibilities, based on the first chapter of Acts, not only to be a Matthias Christian, quietly living out the tradition that God so generously placed us in, but also reminding others that being baptized isn’t all glamour and travel to exotic places. It is remembering that our faith is about repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and about safeguarding a tradition, and about serving God, even in the most humble of ways, Amen.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sixth Sunday of Easter

John 15
9 “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. 15 I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.

The truth is, I’d rather be sailing. Not right at this minute, of course. I’d rather be here that anywhere else.

The definitive history of the bumper sticker has yet to be written, sadly, but I have some sense that “I’d rather be sailing” must be somewhere near the beginning of the bumper sticker story. It spawned imitators, of course, but somehow “I’d rather be yogaing” doesn’t have the same impact as “I’d rather be sailing.

I think it also speaks to the mindset of most sailors I’m aware of. I’m sure founding Cable News Network and inventing a whole new category of broadcasting was fun, but I know Ted Turner would rather be sailing. I’m sure founding Oracle and more-or-less inventing the database was engaging, but I’m certain Larry Ellison would rather be sailing. And I’m sure disgracing yourself through phone taps and influence peddling is fun, but I’m sure Rupert Murdoch would rather be sailing.

Actually, I’m not sure if Rupert Murdoch would rather be sailing. You see, in my list, rich guy number three lost an index finger sailing with rich guy number two (Sydney to Hobart) all in pursuit in the kind of prestige that rich guy number one (Turner) enjoys in the racing world, having personally helmed a winning America’s Cup race.

So why the obsessive interest in sailing? Have you looked outside? In fact, it relates to the Gospel reading today, or rather, it relates to what the Gospel reading is not.

Our schedule readings, commonly called the lectionary, sets up a familiar pattern year-by-year. It begins with Advent, awaiting the birth of Jesus, flies through Christmas, takes a turn through Egypt and the boy Jesus in the Temple, then suddenly, by the middle of January, he’s grown. It’s like those foam things they have for the kids, tiny tiny until you add some water and presto, full grown Jesus.

And where does he go? Sailing, of course. Like all good most-important-book-ever-written stories, it begins with sailing. He headed out among the fishermen of the Galilee (who were sailers first, or how would they get to the fish?) and started choosing disciples. He even does a little recreational walking on water, just to demonstrate that there is, in fact, only one superior mode of transportation across water, and that would be the Son of God walking on it.

So the disciples aret selected--we’re still in mid-January--and then there is a bunch of other stuff, then Lent and Easter, then still more stuff, and then John ends in a boat. You see, after Thomas is doubting, and after the disciples receive the Holy Spirit the first time, the remaining disciples do the only thing that helps them make sense of all that has happened, the only thing that gives them time to think through the implications of this death and new life, and that would be sailing (of course, the Gospel writer insists on calling it fishing, but we know what’s really going on).

But John 15, the passage for today, is everything that the sailing at the beginning and the sailing at the ending is not: hard lessons. Listening in, trying to understand the complexity and the implications of everything Jesus is trying to tell them, I’m sure the consensus around the campfire was “I’d rather be sailing.”

In fact, the difficult times begin for Jesus in the last part of John 11, when he must retreat from public ministry, already facing arrest and already marked for death. So what follows, chapters 12 through to very nearly the end, is an extended passion narrative, a story that the other Gospel writers compress, but John records in all its fulness.

John 15 comes under the general heading “Jesus comforts his disciples.” But this is more than just pastoral care, this is a restatement of all that he has said to them, and all that they will need to live into the time when Jesus no longer walks among them. These few verses, and the message they impart, will live in the imaginations of the disciples and eventually come down to us, that we can gain from this comfort too.

A word about the style of the verses Dr. Jim read. While they are clearly connected under the heading of love, and the love that Jesus shares through the love he knows from God, there is anm impression that no conversation could be this intense. There is an assembled quality to it, call it ‘nine verses on love,’ that John wants to share in a particular way. But this is not to diminish the passage--even as I say that it may not have been shared exactly like this--quite the opposite: what John presents makes the message more compelling.

It works like this: In a culture where important things are shared orally, passed from believer to believer before they were written down, you get passages like this. Imagine the campaign trail, were the journalists following the candidate hear the same stump speech over and over, day after day. So it was for the followers of Jesus. Not that he was running for anything, but he did go from town to town teaching people about the ways of God. That was his mission.

As he moved about, teaching anyone who would listen, he would inevitably repeat the same lessons, and the same stories, and point to the same objects, time and time again. This is how people start a movement, or in our modern example, campaign for high office. So we know that John and the others heard these love lessons repeated time and again. Therefore, when it came time to write down the Gospel, even years later, the familiar sayings and stories remain. Think of the oral history of your own family, of the favourite stories you like to share, and the way in which the telling remains constant even if the race time gets better or the other boats fall farther behind in the latest telling.

In what may be the longest introduction to a passage in the history of preaching, I’ve come to this spot to tell you that you can’t really preach John 15.9-17. These nine verse are at least nine sermons, maybe nine seasons of sermons, and cannot be preached as a whole. For all the reasons I have just shared they were not meant to preached in one go, rather you have to approach them in some other way. If we are going to use the one-verse-one-sermon approach, or even half a verse to get us to lunch before it’s too late, I guess I would begin with 16a.

16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit —fruit that will last.

If it turns out that you belong to the other school, the school of thought that says this passage can be preached as a whole, then you might summarize all that comes before verse 16a this way: Jesus says “my theme is love. Follow me, and you too must love, even unto death. You are a friend of God now, so love one another.”

And it is in the context of this friendship with God we hear verse 16a: “I chose you, chose you to go out and bear fruit that will last.”

The idea that we must bear fruit has a long and storied history, and looms large in the Christian imagination. Matthew, Luke and John record the story of the fig tree that produces no fruit. The first part of John 15 describes the vine and branches, and the task of producing fruit. And St. Paul uses the metaphor a few times, most notably in Romans and Colossians, insisting that we must bear fruit for God.

This is all well and good, of course, the knowledge that our faith should do something, have some tangible outcome, lead to a result. I concur that “faith without works in dead” as the Epistle of James said, but such statements contain a danger, and that danger is judgment.

Years ago I got caught in a conversation with someone far more conservative than I am, and we got on the topic of judging others. There was some mutual recognition that there is danger in judging others, since it inevitably turns back on you. The conversation led to something he said that turns out to be a quote from a long-ago evangelist who said “I’m not judging people, I’m just a fruit inspector.”

Ah, yes you are. But just now, as I think back on the conversation and the discomfort I felt with that particular turn of phrase I realize I am judging too, judging the judger who thought he was being clever but was doing the thing we all seem to excel at, judging others.
So how do believers seek to produce the fruit that will last without descending into the judgment that inevitably follows everytime we being to talk about the outcome of faith? How do we talk fruit without becoming fruit inspectors?

First of all, we begin with the assumption that only God can truly assess the fruit of our labour, only God gets to determine how effectively we have lived out our faith. Yes, we can usually spot a sinner a mile off, but that’s another sermon altogether. But fruit, meaning the betterment that follows faith quickly becomes a contest, something better left to the perfect discernment of God.

Second, the fruit is really God’s doing anyhow. One of the key learnings of the missiological movement on recent years is that God’s church doesn’t have a mission, rather God’s mission has a church. See what some clever person did there? It used to be form God’s church and find a mission, now it’s find God’s mission and be the church that serves it. In other words, a mission will not appear simply because believers gather, rather God sets out a mission and believers gather around it.

Whatever we achieve, and however we respond to that mission, it is always God’s work that needs hands, always the power of God to heal and transform that needs to be proclaimed to a weary world. This is good news, thanks be to God. Amen.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So 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 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now 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. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As 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?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When 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. 40But 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. (Acts 8)

Life can be confusing for a newly-minted minister.

We’ve entered the season of ordinations, and beginning in London Conference this weekend and following throughout the month, people will make vows and accept the blessing of the church.

Few will be as young as I was, although we have seen an increase in younger candidates. It seems the colleges discovered recruiting in the last few years, and as a result there are more new ministers of a tender age.

So imagine the confusion of begin told you have sudden, special tasks, even while becoming convinced that all are equal, clergy and lay, a priesthood of all believers. Baptism is one example, communion another. Some lay people are designated to do this, and they are a gift to the church. But generally, a couple of things are reserved for ministers.

So I’m a young man, it what now seems like some child-ordination program, and I wonder ‘if I splash someone in the pool, are they now baptized?’ Wouldn’t that be awesome! Swoosh, Christian! Splash, believer! What if I went swimming with some famous atheists, like Richard Dawkins? ‘Hey Richard, come here, okay, a little closer’ and splash! Gotcha!

Compounding my obvious delusion about swimming and baptism was a course or two in the practice of ministry where we were told that baptism required extensive training (for the parents, not the babies) and that ultimately it was up me to decide of the parents were worthy of having their kid baptized.

It was the 80’s, you see, and we still had it in our heads that so many people were trying to get into the church that we should be picky. Or, at least, we should make it challenging for people and not give away this special thing we have called baptism. Apparently we hadn’t been reading our bibles, but more on that in a moment.

The last thing in this journey of newly-minted discovery was the importance of something they did get right in ministers’ school, and that is the source of all that grace found at baptism. The grace is God’s, of course, but it is not transmitted through magic fingers or my super-skill at holding the most squirmy baby. The grace present at baptism is transmitted through you (and water) to the candidate before you, and I’m just the guy in stylish black at the front. And it has always been so.

It’s kind of like the scene in “It’s a Wonderful Life” when George explains that the money is not actually in the bank, but it’s in Joe’s house, and Fred’s house next door. “Don’t you see, all that grace in baptism is not up here, it’s in you, and you, and even you!” And even in Mr. Potter, if he went to church.


Acts 8 has everything: angel voices, visitors from the court of a foreign queen, chariots, apostles, bible study, sudden baptism, and even teleportation. He starts on the wilderness road that runs south to Gaza and suddenly finds himself in Ashdod, a seaside town in the north. How cool is that? But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

We can begin by saying that Philip is profoundly open to the Holy Spirit. It’s a rare thing, then and now, to set aside whatever you are doing simply because that still, small voice says “travel south 50 metres on the wilderness road, and stand by for further instruction. Think of it as spiritual GPS, and Philip was willing to follow.

Maybe he did this often, or at least you might think so, based on the casual way Luke describes what happens next: Just then he happens upon an Ethiopian eunich, a high official in the service of Queen Candice, sitting alone in his chariot. At this point I’m wondering if Mrs. St. Philip will believe him when he gets home tonight. ‘Sure Philip, a eunich, in a chariot, from Ethiopia. Why don’t you just admit you were off playing the ponies?’

But the story gets better: A eunuch, in a chariot, from Ethiopia, reading aloud, from Isaiah. Just as an aside, at least one commentator said that at this point in history, silent reading hadn’t been invented yet. Imagine how noisy the library would be if no one knew how to read to themselves. Isn’t history fun?

And as a further aside, just because I know you like history, isn’t it interesting that a high court official from Ethiopia could take a holiday in the Holy Land and no one seems to suggest this is unusual? It seems the royal house of Ethiopia or Kush as it was then known was allied with Rome, and trade and travel followed. Tourism and foreign travel was nearly as safe in Roman times as it is now, and religious diversity was not only tolerated but encouraged, especially if the religion was old. Jews were even given a special allowance through most emperors to avoid types of homage they found troublesome, again, owing to the fact that the religion was ancient and Romans respected that.

Okay, back in the chariot. Philip is astounded to hear Isaiah read aloud on the wilderness road south to Gaza, and even more astounded to see this high court official doing the reading. The Spirit says ‘join him’ and Philip does. Again, open to the Spirit. Hearing familiar words (for Philip, at least), the apostle can’t help but ask ‘do you understand what you are reading, friend?’ And the reply: ‘How can I, unless someone helps me?’
Again, the Spirit speaks, this time through the eunuch reading aloud, and the study begins:

“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”

And the obvious question, for the Ethiopian eunuch at least, is who is he? He, as in the prophet Isaiah, or someone else? And Philip begins. For Philip and the generations of readers that follow, the silent lamb, the lamb before the shearer found in Isaiah 53 is Jesus the Christ. Philip can then describe the life of his Lord, the events that led the lamb of God to the cross of Calvary, and new community that is baptized his name.

Now, we are not given the rest of the bible study. Surely there was more back and forth, more questions that tie and ancient faith to this emerging faith in Jesus Christ. But this is not recorded. Instead, we are given more action, since the Acts of the Apostles is all about action:

36As 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?”

The answer: nothing. There is nothing to prevent this new believer from being baptized because there is desire, and belief, and a willingness to extend the fellowship of the church without hesitation or reservation. Philip is not only profoundly open to the Spirit, but is profoundly open to the community around him. He (and the church he represents) have yet to become gatekeepers, yet to imagine that faith is Jesus Christ is something to be protected from those outside or something that has to be done right if it is going to be done at all.