Revised Common Lectionary: Acts 8:26-40; Psalm 22:25-31; John 15:1-8; 1 John 4:7-21

As we read through Acts during the season of Easter, we read of the witnesses of the early church, of Peter’s proclamations and the acts of the early church as the first believers came together in the time after Jesus’ ascension. We turn from stories of Peter, to an early apostle called Philip. Philip, like others in Acts, is told in a vision to go to a certain place so he can have an encounter with one who does not yet know Jesus. Like Lydia in chapter 16, he already believes in the One True God, and he has come to Jerusalem to worship this God and is reading the scriptures of this people that worships the one God. The Ethiopian (a generic term in those days referring to anyone from Africa south of Egypt) Eunuch was reading Isaiah, wanting to know more about God but must have also heard about this Jesus. He is reading in particular a passage from Isaiah on the suffering servant in chapter 53, verses that were taken by Christians in the generations after Christ’s death and resurrection to explain who Jesus was in the Hebrew scriptures. The Eunuch, having the scriptures interpreted to him, by Philip, as referring to Jesus, is ready to be baptized, and seeing water, asks Philip to baptize him immediately. As soon as Philip baptizes him, Philip is taken away by the Spirit of God. A story that begins in mystery–an angel coming to speak to Philip–ends in mystery, with Philip being taken away to a northern region. But in the midst of the mystery, the encounter between Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch leads to a conversation and a conversion.

Psalm 22:25-31 sings of God answering the prayers of those who are suffering–God will feed the poor, and bring justice. All peoples will be gathered to God and shall worship. All people shall turn to God, even “a people yet unborn”–the generations past and the generations to come will come to worship God because God is faithful, and God’s intention is for all people to draw into relationship with God.

John 15:1-8 is part of Jesus’ final discourse, rich in metaphor. Jesus declares that he is the true vine and that God is the vinegrower, the gardener, and we are the branches. Echoing back to images in Isaiah and Ezekiel of the vineyard of God, Jesus uses the metaphor more intimately. It is not about pruning out people, but pruning out the sin within each of us so that we can bear more fruit. If we don’t, we wither and fade and are useless, but all of us need pruning. All of us have places where we want to grow wild, where we don’t care how our actions may cause harm to others. We need to be pruned to bear fruit, to make the whole vine useful.

1 John 4:7-21 reminds us that the fruit we bear is love. Love comes from God, and in order to love God, we have to love others. We cannot love God when we don’t show love to others, when we don’t love our brothers and sisters in the world. There is no fear in love, the writer of 1 John tells us. There is no fear in reaching out to the homeless and the stranger, the immigrant and the marginalized. There is no fear in reaching out in love to those living with HIV/AIDS, cancer, and other diseases. There is no fear in reaching out to those of different faith traditions or none at all. God is love, and perfect love casts out fear.

We should not be afraid to reach out to those who are different from us. The book of Acts is full of such encounters, as the one of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch that we read this Sunday. The Ethiopian is not only of a different ethnicity, language and culture; by being a eunuch, he is of a different sexual identity, a different class identity. How can Philip identify with him? But by the Holy Spirit, he does. The psalmist reminds us that God is calling all people together from all ends of the earth and all generations. God’s desire is unity, for all of us to recognize each other as brothers and sisters, and to love one another. We need to examine ourselves, to allow ourselves to be pruned by God, for God to take away the sin in our lives that separates us from others, that keeps us from seeing our brothers and sisters in the world, so that we can bear fruit, reach out beyond our fears and touch the lives of those in need around the world.

Call to Worship:
Leader: Let us love one another, for love is from God.
People: God’s steadfast love endures forever.
Leader: Let us reach out to those in need, for they are our brothers and sisters in Christ.
People: God’s love calls us to recognize our family, to see Christ in each other.
Leader: Let us move beyond the margins and out of our comfort zone, into the world around us.
People: God’s perfect love casts out all fear.
Leader: Come, let us worship our God, who is Love.
People: Come, let us worship in one spirit as the family of God.

Prayer of Confession:
Holy One, we confess to You that we have fallen short. We don’t always love our brothers and sisters in Christ. We hold grudges, we judge others, we brush off those who call upon us for help. We do not always see the needs around us and focus on our own busy lives. Forgive us, O God, for not loving others as You have loved us. Forgive us when we fail to keep Your commandment to love one another. Restore in us the willingness to reach beyond our comfort zone, to seek out those in need, and to let go of grudges and judging, remembering that all of us have sinned. Guide us back to Your ways of love, peace, and reconciliation. In the name of Jesus the Christ, we pray. Amen.

Assurance of Pardon (from 1 John 4):
God is love. We love because God first loved us. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is perfected in us. Go forth, sharing God’s love and forgiveness. Amen.

Spirit of Life, we come to You seeking greater meaning in our lives, greater purpose in our work, greater hope in our world. Call us into relationship with our brothers and sisters who are different than us. Call us to seek out those whose world experiences challenge our own, so that we might seek You in the face of others. Call us into Your ways of love by calling us to share our lives with others. Guide us so that we do not just lend a helping hand, but that we reach out and get to know our brothers and sisters in Christ, for You have called us not to just help, but to love one another. Hold us to this call on our lives, to love our neighbors, all who are in our world, as ourselves, as our brothers and sisters in You. Amen.

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