“The Expansive, Uncontainable Love of God”

Rev. Katherine Todd
Acts 8:26-40
Isaiah 49:5-13

Acts 8:26-40

Then 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.) 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.

Isaiah 49:5-13

And now the Lord says,
who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
and that Israel might be gathered to him,
for I am honored in the sight of the Lord,
and my God has become my strength—
he says,
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to restore the survivors of Israel;
I will give you as a light to the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

Thus says the Lord,
the Redeemer of Israel and his Holy One,
to one deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,
the slave of rulers,
“Kings shall see and stand up,
princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.”

Thus says the Lord:
In a time of favor I have answered you,
on a day of salvation I have helped you;
I have kept you and given you
as a covenant to the people,
to establish the land,
to apportion the desolate heritages;
saying to the prisoners, “Come out,”
to those who are in darkness, “Show yourselves.”
They shall feed along the ways,
on all the bare heights shall be their pasture;
they shall not hunger or thirst,
neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down,
for he who has pity on them will lead them,
and by springs of water will guide them.
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
and my highways shall be raised up.
Lo, these shall come from far away,
and lo, these from the north and from the west,
and these from the land of Syene.

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
For the Lord has comforted his people,
and will have compassion on his suffering ones.

As I read the scriptures just preceding this story of the Ethiopian eunuch, the story of Paul, then by the name of Saul, is playing out, as he is dragging men and women out of their homes and imprisoning them for being believers.  As much as I imagine he might look back on those times in his life with great shame and repentance, I want us to notice what God did through it.  It says the people began to scatter.  And as they scattered, they went proclaiming the Good News of Jesus of Nazareth.  And so it was that many of Samaria came to believe. Yes, Samaria – the very people Jews had lived nearby and despised and looked down on for generations – Samaritans were coming to believe.

The fulfillment of the former time was come.  The old wineskins were bursting.  The old rules were no longer useful because they had served their time, fulfilling their purpose.  The time for Israel’s separation from all other nations was over.  The people had survived nomadic times, had survived being aliens in the land, had survived famine and sword.  They had not assimilated or been annihilated.  And they had survived with enough of their heritage in tact that they still remembered the God of their ancestors. And although their worship and understanding of God needed some realignment, enough had survived that Jesus could enter among them and speak into their lives and hearts, their religious festivals and practices, their minds and understanding.

By the hand of God and the rules carefully designed to keep them alive and culturally awake, the people of Israel bore into the world God’s only begotten Son, Jesus, God’s greatest gift to the world!

And Jesus begins his ministry turning water to wine – showing that the time for ritual cleansing and rules had come to an end.  The time for rejoicing had come!

And so following Jesus’ death and resurrection, we have a people in great transition.  We have a people awakened to the fresh and present work of God in their own day and time. We have a people, slowly connecting all the dots between all they had known of God before and all that had been proclaimed to them through the prophets to the God they had come to know most personally in the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Their worldview was in flux, like tectonic plates shifting below them.

And the world that Jesus had ushered into being, was new and different in so many ways.  For Jesus had ushered in the Kingdom!  And Jesus was commanding them to also be about the Kingdom work – setting captives free, opening the eyes of the blind, proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor!

A world that had long awaited, long cried out, long moaned and writhed in the agony of sin and suffering, of pain and injustice, was awaking to a new dawn of hope, a world of hope for all those in the deepest darkest pits of death and despair.

This new world was bursting the seams of all that had come before.

The rules separating people was one of the first rules to go, because Jesus himself had commanded them to go and spread the Good News to ALL people!

And so the elitism that had crept into their life of faith before – that elitism that says, “God loves me but not you…”  It was seen for the hog wash it was.  All the idols, the images and ideas of God that they’d held mistakenly before, …they were being torn down and rooted out, to make way for the undeniable God-come-near.

And so people formerly looked upon as trash and dust of the earth,…  these people went from being invisible to visible…to those who had come to believe in the Good News of Jesus Christ.

And with the Spirit of God poured out into the lives of the disciples and believers, people were able to tune into God’s working and movement in the world around them.  They were able to feel the nudging of God to go and to speak to those they would have never noticed or considered before.

And so it is, how Phillip comes to step into the chariot of the Head Treasury Court Official of Candace, the Ethiopian Queen.  An angel had come to him and told him to go to that very wilderness road, south of Jerusalem that day.  And so Phillip obeys, not knowing why God has sent him there.  But he is still tuned into God as he goes, listening, and the Spirit tells him his next move:  to go over and join this particular chariot.

It would have been very nosey and imposing of Phillip indeed, had God not moved him to do this, but God knew that the one inside the chariot was one seeking God and needing a teacher.  And so, as Phillip approaches, he hears the prophet Isaiah being read, and he asks, “Do you understand what you are reading?”  Phillip replies, “No, how can I, without someone to guide me?!”  And so Phillip joins him and begins proclaiming to him the Good News of Jesus.

And so this one, this Eunuch, this court official, of another land and people, comes to know God through Jesus of Nazareth, and he is hungry for the Spirit of God – asking, at the first sight of water – that he too may be baptized!

To a people long separated from all other people
To a nation set apart for so long
This act of God reaching out to such as one as this is radical.

That the God of all the Universe would care about this one, so uniquely, as to send an angel to Phillip, sending him to the very spot, where the Spirit would then move him to share the good news with this stranger… what a beautiful and radical gift! 

God was showing the people the width and breadth of God’s love for the world.
God did not just love those chosen to birth Christ into the world.
God did not just love those who were born into a singular tribe or nation.
God loves ALL!!!

Jesus was not sent, simply for the sake of the children of Israel.
Jesus was sent to be the bread of life to ALL who hunger!
And so the old playbook, with its many rules, was being re-written.

And so I ask us today, what is our playbook?
Who do we consider in and who do we consider out?

Is there anyone outside of the grace of God?

Is there any darkness through which Christ’s light cannot pierce?
After all, Christ even penetrated hell itself,
and we can surmise brought many home with him…

What does Christ’s commission mean to us?
What does it mean for our church?
What does it mean for you, in your life, in your job, in your recreation??

Our God cannot be contained…not even in all the religious books and songs and buildings we can muster.  The earth itself is but God’s footstool.

We cannot contain God.

So are WE listening to the Spirit of God, working and moving among us?

Are WE willing to obey, following the Spirit’s lead, even if we might be seen sometimes as nosing in or imposing…

Are WE awake, listening for God, from the moment we wake, till the moment our heads head the pillow at night, and even listening in our dreams?

Are WE willing to follow God expansive and enveloping love, even to the darkest, dirtiest corners of our communities?

Are WE willing to love with the bold and expansive love of our Savior?

May we let loose of all the idols we have of God – not stone or metal images – but the mis-ideas we have of God. May we let go of all our pre-suppositions and judgements.  May we let go of what we think we know, asking God to teach us and open our eyes to the fullness of the Living God, here and now!

And may the light of Christ shine brightly through us.

May it be. 

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