The Sunday after Easter, you may remember, there was a baptism in church at San Pedro. The boyfriend is a Coptic Orthodox Christian from Egypt. Further South the Ethiopian Orthodox Church claim a founder of their denomination to be the eunuch baptised by Phillip in the river. Ethiopia did not exist then, the translation is better: black from Africa. He came from the Nile region – hence maybe Egypt. It is a heart-warming story of someone who was struggling to read the Jewish scriptures, the Bible. It is not an easy task if you start in the middle of Isaiah, or had struggled through the scriptures up to that point. ‘What’s all this about’ is something he would have said, probably, over and over again as he tried to read paragraphs over and over again with is mind wandering. Just like billions of others, sometimes, including ourselves. He was on his way back from a pilgrimage to worship in Jerusalem, like the Haj or to Santiago de Compostella, Lourdes or Oberammergau. This was a man who was hoping to get nearer to God, but it was a muddle – all the more so because eunuchs in Israelite culture were regarded as unclean. Castration was something usually done to them, rather than a choice, so they became trusted servants of women of wealth, but excluded from Israelite religious practices, despite their own position and wealth. Their minority sexual identity put them beyond the pale, but not so for Phillip. He baptises the man after the minimum of preparation and the man becomes the founder of a church. It is reflected in the 1 John 4 reading, one of my favourite for funerals. The commentators are fairly sure that John is writing this in his old age, on the coast of the Mediterranean in a community of very early Christians. There is a breakage, a disagreement – people are angry and heated, and this is written to remind them all that love comes from God as a gift to all, irrespective, and a proper use of that gift is to love one another. Only when we use the love gift are we able to love God. Heather Moore struggled with teaching Joanna and I Spanish when we arrived. Joanna, who has more discipline than I have, continues with the lessons using DuoLingo on line, every day. I go away with less Spanish than I came with because I have not used it. You know what I mean. Using the language makes you fluent so it comes naturally until you no longer think about it, it has become part of your DNA. Use the gift of love lavishly, as God has lavishly given it to you, and it will be part of your DNA to love other and love God at the same time. Phillip was not going to share the good news of the gospel only with other Israelites, but to a black man, a eunuch, a cultural oddity, a sexual misfit, with a different language. Why? Because God is love and that is shown in Jesus Christ. So when Jesus says abide in my love, as the branches of a vine are part of the vine, the picture is of the love of God existing in us, shining through us, bearing fruit because we are using the gift, irrespective of how difficult, odd, culturally distanced or colourful people are. And you are here, abiding in God’s love post-COVID, or nearly post-COVID. The voice of prayer is never silent, nor dies the sound of praise away. Being part of the church is to have that Ethiopian Eunuch as a brother in Christ and in the midst of so much fear of drift away, God is working his purpose out, and thy throne shall never, like Earth’s proud empires, pass away because, because – God is Love. Amen
Read John 15:1-8
The vine and the branches
15 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. 2 He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful. 3 You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. 4 Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.
5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. 6 If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. 7 If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.