Readings: Acts 8:26-40 and John 15: 1-8
May 2, 2021
By Rev. Marguerite Sheehan
Here is the truth. I love a story even more than I love a teaching. I think that Jesus did, too which is why we often hear him saying that the Kingdom of Heaven is like this or that — and out comes a story like, “A woman lost a coin and had to sweep her whole house before finding it and then she had a party and invited the whole town!” Jesus does teach didactically, as we heard in the Gospel today. “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.” But not so often. Mostly he tells stories where we find ourselves as characters. Sometimes all the characters.
Today we heard one of the stories told in the Book of Acts. We also heard a Gospel teaching about how when Jesus is gone, he still abides: “Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
I heard Jesus say this and it made sense to me. I know from personal experience that without God I can do nothing. This teaching moved me even more when I heard it happen in the story from the Acts of the Apostles.
An angel from the Lord told Philip what road to take. If the angel had not abided in Philip, who knows where Philip would have gone? Spirit continued to speak and said “run to catch up with the chariot.” The eunuch invited Philip in and asked for Philip’s help in understanding a confusing scripture. The rest is salvation history for both of them. The eunuch (I so wish we knew his name!) was baptized and went on his way rejoicing and Spirit took Philip off to another adventure somewhere else.
Teachings can inform us but what transforms us is when we experience the teaching. The eunuch got some understanding of the teaching he was reading alone in the chariot, but he did not take it on for himself until someone was willing to stay with him, to share in word and deed the Good News about God’s abiding love. It was then that he and Philip experienced that there was nothing to stop this castrated slave from being fully embraced as another child of God.
For those who are in our study group of the book Caste, can you hear something about fixed roles/castes here and how hard it is to break through them?
Jesus says that apart from God we can do nothing. With God we can cross boundaries, like Philip did when he jumped in the chariot. We can humbly ask for help, as the eunuch did. We can risk doing the unexpected, as they both did when they pulled the chariot over, jumped down, and walked deep into the water where God was already waiting for them.
Today I am grateful for good teachings and powerful stories in the Bible, in our book groups, in Zoom groups, and in our personal relationships. I’m grateful for teachings and stories about how Spirit enables us to see “that of God” in someone we might otherwise disregard or not even see; for stories about when we were “spoken to” and thought ‘what is keeping me from becoming who I really am?’ and for when we felt disconnected and our prayer was to be a branch connected to a vine and we were more than ready to have everything that was holding us back be pruned away.
I hope that we will be back together in person soon. I want to be as close to you as Philip and the eunuch were to each other sitting there in the chariot and in the water. I want to hear what happened to you this past year; how you suffered and joyed and where you met God in the pandemic, when you were stretched thin and someone reached to help you or when you reached out to someone else, when you rested in abiding love.
For now, in our strange and weirdly wonderful world of YouTube and Zoom, we are doing what we can, which is blessing each other and praying like this: Abide with us Lord. Help us to know and trust that there is nothing that can separate us from each other and from your love.