Sunday, May 3, 2015

Fifth Easter

Acts 8: 26-40
Baptism of Grayson Scott Frankle

Blessings on this Fifth Easter Sunday—of course with more emphasis to give the day it’s unofficial name, “St. Marathon Sunday,” as we of Pittsburgh and here in Highland Park host this significant event.  Great for our city and region in many ways, but of course jumbling things up for us also in many ways.   To express congratulations to the small but dedicated band who have made their way here through traffic and barricades to worship as we hear God’s word and worship and nicely on this day celebrate Grayson Frankle’s baptism.  

The Collect for Five Easter seems appropriate for the day of a great road race.  We’ve been looking at maps of the 26.2 mile course, and in the Collect the phrase from John 14 about the map that is of central importance for us as we run the “race” of Christian life, as Jesus tells his friends, “I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.”    --“That we may steadfastly follow his steps in the way that leads to eternal life.”

Makes sense also on this day of an Easter Season baptism:  Grayson brought forward by his parents and brothers and godparents and extended family, as they especially and we all with him spiritually and for him, on his behalf, renew our faith, declare with clarity that we turn from the enemy and turn to Christ, committing ourselves to run the course of our life with him and for him.

The reading from Acts of course perfect for this, for an Easter Sunday of baptism: Philip and the Ethiopian Official.  It is a fascinating story.  We notice first of all that this isn’t an accidental encounter.  Philip isn’t just out for a stroll.  God calls him and directs him to this particular place.  And Philip doesn’t delay.  In the world of Easter and Pentecost the friends of Jesus, those who at the Ascension were commissioned to go into all the world to make disciples, they are waiting eagerly for the word of the Lord, listening carefully, “sitting by the phone,” and when the call comes, Philip is off like a shot, even though he doesn’t know what he is going to find when he gets there.

Then the Ethiopian.  We don’t know too much.  A eunuch, which was a condition required in many places of the ancient world, usually from childhood, for those who were being prepared for service in the royal household.  Perhaps departing Jerusalem now after some diplomatic consultation about trade, since he seems to be something like the Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  Secretary of the Treasury perhaps.  An intellectual, he’s reading the Jewish Scriptures, perhaps in Hebrew, or more likely in the Septuagint Greek translation that was common in the First Century.  A man of curiosity, seeking to know something of the culture of the people of this place.  And as he reads the ancient prophets, questions begin to arise in his mind, in his heart.   Perhaps a spiritual stirring, a sense of God’s presence and power.

Then Philip pops up onto the scene, the Ethiopian invites him to sit down, and the conversation turns to the scriptures.  Philip replies with a proclamation of the gospel, to show the fulfillment of the Prophet’s words in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and I’m sure to tell of the story of Pentecost and everything that has happened since.  And what an amazing story of conversion and transformation and renewal, as  the Holy Spirit fans the fire of faith in the Ethiopian Official.  All at once.  “Stop the cart.  There is a stream over there.  What is to prevent me from being baptized right now?”  This flash of urgency and insight, metanoia, “repentence,” which is to say a new consciousness, a new mind, a new heart.  Here in Acts once again, a part of the larger story, the gospel spreading in wider and wider circles.  The flaming tongues of Pentecost Sunday now spreading like wildfire. 

And when this work is done, the Spirit has Philip move along.  The work accomplished.  The caravan continuing south, the gospel message flying in the wind.  Interesting to note that today two thousand years later the ancient Orthodox Churches of Ethiopia mark this encounter on the road as their apostolic birthplace and foundation.  For 2,000 years a rich center of our global Christian family.  And the final lines of this story, Philip led on to Azotus and Caesarea next, new missionary fields, continuing to spread the gospel in all the towns along his way.

Again, what a great story for Grayson’s baptismal day!  For us to remember, all of us, in the Easter season, as we are in a larger sense living all our lives from beginning to end in Easter season, in the light of the Resurrection and  the Pentecostal power of Holy Spirit.  One way or another each and every one of us of the Christian family today looking back to this moment of witness and proclamation, or to a moment just like it, and to our inheritance generation by generation of faithful communication.  Listening now to hear how God may be calling us.  To what desert road, to what coffee shop, to what brief encounter at the water cooler.  Listening for the question, finding an opportunity in our own way, our own words, to open the Scriptures and to show Christ at the center, God’s love in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, and then to trust that in his own time and in his own way God will bless and sanctify that witness—often in ways that we won’t see ourselves.  As Philip himself never knows what happens as the official, still wet with the water of his baptism, makes his way home.  Trusting in the Spirit.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that some folks who write about the Bible have suggested over the years that the name of this book would be better, not “The Acts of the Apostles,” but “The Acts of the Holy Spirit.”  Though of course in a deeper sense it’s all one.  Christ and his Church.  Christ in his Church.  Christ through his Church, making his presence known to the ends of the earth.

At the time of the baptismal anointing, where we will come in just a moment,  I like to quote Samuel  as he anointed young David the Son of Jesse to be the future King of Israel, to reign in Jerusalem and establish the royal line that would reach its completion and highest point in the stable in Bethlehem.  “Young Man, God has a great plan for your life.”  True for Grayson this morning, and true for each one of us.  That as we go forth into Marathon Sunday and all of our lives we too would be leaning forward, preparing ourselves, ready to hear the One who will call us and send us too, Grayson and every one of us, like Philip, like the Ethiopian as he heads toward his home country with a new story to tell, a new life to live--and again and again and again.  It is a great story to be a part of, Acts of the Holy Spirit, and remembering that this morning with much joy.

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