Fifth Sunday of Easter John 15:1-8

This passage in Acts (8:26-40) is called, “Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.” As the Rev. Dr. Mitzi Smith writes, if it had a name, like Philip, we would miss out on what the story is telling us.  This man is a person from Ethiopia. Here is a person from the very farthest reaches of the known world, from sub-Saharan Africa. God’s love is not bound by geography but reaches farther than we can imagine.

And we learn that this person, who is from Ethiopia, is described as a eunuch. That would be a common practice for court officials. This man, this Ethiopian eunuch, has the charge of the entire treasury for the queen of Ethiopia, Candace, one of the queens who controlled the land of Kush – which we would know as Ethiopia, Sudan, and parts of Egypt.

You see how much more is packed into this story than just the brief description that here is a man of great responsibility in the court of an Ethiopian monarch? But wait. There’s more.

What the original audience for the book of Acts would have known is that an Ethiopian who was a eunuch – because of his service to the queen – would have been excluded from full participation in Jewish life. As an Ethiopian, he was necessarily a convert to Judaism; and as a convert and a eunuch, he would not have been allowed full access to the Temple and full participation in the life of the Jewish community.

As he travels, he is reading Isaiah – the lamb led to slaughter did not open his mouth. But our man Philip, whom an angel and the Holy Spirit had directed to this encounter – Philip opens his mouth to explain the meaning of this text.

“Do you understand what you are reading?”

“How can I, unless someone guides me?”

And here, at last, is the point. That the love of God, as we experience it here in this life and this world, depends entirely upon relational community centered on God.

This is who we are. This is what we are about. We are the traveler from very far away who needs explanation and understanding. We are Philip, opening our mouth to explain the Scriptures. And we are the baptized and the baptizing who welcome into the community all who hear, understand, and desire to be one with us. And once we are in the community, we are welcomed into full life and full participation, no longer on the margins, no longer excluded.          What does this mean?

It means we are most completely abiding in God when we exist in relationship with one another, the idea that Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “Christ being there for others.” That brings us to the other readings for the day. From this point, from this understanding, we hear the words of the Psalm: From you comes my praise in the great congregation;

my vows I will pay before those who fear him.

That is: we praise God in and through and with the congregation, those who are congregated, those who gather together in community.

And from the letter of First John (4:7-21): No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

That is: How can we love God, whom we do not see? We allow the messengers of God and the working of the Holy Spirit to direct us here to this place. We love one another whom we see and with whom we gather in community. When we are doing that – that is God living in us.

And to the Gospel (John 15:1-8), the good news for the day:

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.

So. All that we are, all that we understand, all into which we are baptized, all the ways that we see God in one another, all that we live – as the people of God at St. Michael – all this is possible, all this exists, because Jesus is the vine, and we are the branches.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu explains:

“Africans have a thing called ubuntu. It is about the essence of being human, it is part of the gift that Africa will give the world. It embraces hospitality, caring about others, being willing to go the extra mile for the sake of another. We believe that a person is a person through other persons, that my humanity is caught up, bound up, inextricably, with yours. When I dehumanize you, I inexorably dehumanize myself. The solitary human being is a contradiction in terms. Therefore you seek to work for the common good because your humanity comes into its own in community, in belonging.”

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.