‘At the Crossroads of life and faith’ – 2nd May 2021 – 5th Sunday of Easter

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21 05 02 5th Sunday of Easter Eucharist

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The Readings

Acts 8:26-end
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.) 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. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 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.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 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?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 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. 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.

John 15: 1-8

Jesus said:
‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask for whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit and become my disciples.


Scripture quotations are from:
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

The Sermon
By Catherine, a Reader at St. Mary's

He was a distinguished man: an official of the queen's court in Ethiopia, in charge of the treasury. He was an admirer of Israel and Israel's religion - what the New Testament refers to as a "God fearer". For this foreigner, Israel had indeed been a light to the nations, as God intended. Eager to know more, he wanted to visit Jerusalem and offer his own worship at the temple. So he planned a pilgrimage. He saved up for the trip, perhaps over several years. Perhaps he needed special permission to go. Perhaps he’d combine the pilgrimage with business matters - there were long links between Israel and Ethiopia, with respect to trade as well as religion. For Ethiopia was the land of Sheba – that of the famous Queen.

So he gets to Jerusalem after a long journey, a journey full of anticipation and excitement. He spends some of his savings on a scroll of Isaiah. And at last he reaches the temple to pay his respects to the God of the Jews he so admires.

We're not told what happened when he arrived. But if the temple officials were following the rules set out in Deuteronomy, he wouldn't have been allowed in. Why?

Deuteronomy 23.1 states that:

"No one whose reproductive organs are crushed or cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord"

This Ethiopian pilgrim was a eunuch. According to the letter of the Jewish Law, he’d have been considered defective in the sight of God.

If so, imagine how he’d feel. He's been denied access to the God he's been encouraged to follow. Those who are supposed to be God's people won't let him worship. He’d feel humiliated, downcast, puzzled. God seems not to want him. His pilgrimage has been in vain.

With a heavy heart, he turns around for the long journey home. While travelling, he opens his Isaiah scroll. He reads it, puzzling over it, perhaps seeking to make sense of his experience through it. He's reached a spiritual crossroads, one which could make or break his faith.

He reaches a physical crossroads too, crossing the path of Philip, who’s been called there by the Holy Spirit. Philip hears him reading Isaiah and asks if he understands it. He doesn't, so invites Philip to join him to discuss the passage.

It comes from Isaiah 53:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.

Could the eunuch perhaps relate to the humiliation, and justice denied? Did he feel that part of himself had died?

He asks who the passage is about. For Philip this is easy – it’s about what happened to Jesus at his trial and crucifixion. But Philip knows what happened next and tells the eunuch about how God raised Jesus from the dead giving hope and life to all who feel hopeless and humiliated. The God of Israel IS interested in the eunuch.

In Isaiah 56 there’s a passage which backs this up. It says:

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
"The Lord will surely separate me from his people";
and do not let the eunuch say,
"I am just a dry tree"
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls,
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

Although Acts doesn’t mention it, Philip might have pointed it out. The eunuch is now full of hope and joy. Look! There is water! What might prevent him being baptised?


The eunuch is baptised and goes on his way. Philip disappears, job done. We don't know what happened next. We do know that one of the earliest Christian communities was established in Ethiopia.

If this interpretation of the story is valid, what can we take away?

Here are a few ideas:

When sharing our faith with someone who is showing an interest, we can try to find the point where Jesus' story meets their story. Like the eunuch they may have already been following the faith, but a bad experience with life or with the church has caused them to ask serious questions of it.

We can be especially mindful of people who are different to us. Those who society finds it difficult to accept as they are. Those who the church finds it difficult to accept as they are. And to remember that even within the Bible itself, different views are presented. If the Bible can change its mind about eunuchs then maybe there are some things which the church can change its mind about too.

We can show people they are welcome, not only with words, but with actions, just as Philip reassured the eunuch of God's love for him through Jesus, and then put this into immediate action by baptising him.

A one-off encounter may be all that is needed. As far as we know, Philip and the eunuch met just once. We don't know exactly what happened next. Philip went on his way. The eunuch went on his way. The rest was left up to God. When we share our faith with someone, we may never find out what happens next in their story. We may never know if they embraced the faith themselves or rejected it. God doesn’t expect us to tally of how many converts we make. But God does expect us to be like Philip was, open to his call and to the opportunity to share the gospel message.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe

We pray for God’s Church throughout the world. We pray for our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s and our sister Churches. We pray for those Christians in parts of the world where to express their faith is to risk their lives and livelihoods.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray that, like the Ethiopian eunuch, we are wise enough to know that sometimes we will need guidance in our understanding of scripture. Open our minds to the Holy Spirit, and those moved by the Spirit, so that we can gain a greater understanding of the word of God.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and voices be used compassionately for the good of all. We pray that the international community can come together to resolve the ongoing issues with our changing climate, especially the effects it has on the poor.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends. As the vaccination programme here in the UK continues to reduce the number of cases and deaths from Covid-19, we pray for the people of India
and other countries where the illness continues to cause illness and death.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom. We pray for all those who are feeling isolated and lonely at this time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey. We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn. We pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by the presence of the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God.

Merciful Father:
accept these prayers
for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.


Common Worship: Services and Prayers for the Church of England, material from which is used here is copyright (c) The Archbishops' Council 2000