Acts 8. 26 – 40

John 15. 1 – 8

Fr Alex


You might’ve noticed that on all the Sundays of Easter we have heard a reading from the Acts of the Apostles.

Acts is Luke’s sequel to his Gospel account.  The last chapters of the Gospel describe Jesus’ Resurrection appearances, and the first chapters of Acts follow straight on: they describe his Ascension, then tell us of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.

The rest of the book recounts what the Apostles did after this gift of the Spirit.  Who they chose to serve with them, what they said in testimony before the authorities, and accounts of mass conversions and miraculous healings.

Today’s account is a little different, because it focusses on the coming to faith of just one person: and someone from way outside the confines of Jewish faith and ethnicity, and the local area of Jerusalem.

It’s often a little difficult to know just how to read the Book of Acts.  It’s exciting to hear about the rapid growth of the Church, and how the Apostles spread the good news.  But they could perform miracles to back up their words.  Some who defied them were immediately struck dead; prison cells that held them were thrown open by angels.  Not necessarily something we can rely on…

Today’s bit of Acts is such a wonderful reading, because I believe it is a great encouragement to us: especially in this time, when our call to spread the good news of Jesus is just as immediate – and perhaps in some ways just as difficult – as it was to those first Apostles.

And it’s shown in the freedom that Philip finds in life in the Spirit. 

We put so much time and effort into trying to work out what to do with our lives and how to achieve it.  And that’s fair enough.  We don’t want to get the big decisions of life wrong.

But look at the wonderful simplicity of Philip’s call in this reading.  The angel says to Philip, ‘get up and go.’  So he goes.  The Spirit says, ‘Go over to this chariot’ – and he runs up to it. 

Later the Ethiopian says, ‘What’s to stop me being baptized?’  Nothing – Philip goes into the water with him, and baptises him.

Philip had such faith and trust in God – he was so attuned through prayer to the gift of the Spirit at Pentecost – that he got up and went on his own to this wilderness road in the middle of nowhere.  He was freed from the anxiety about where to go and what to do, and the fear of getting it wrong.  He simply listened to the Spirit.

We are given the same Spirit to guide us.  But so often we try to work it out ourselves, and find ourselves frustrated, or disappointed.

How can we find ways to listen more closely to where God is calling us?  What are the distractions or anxieties that cause us to cling to our own way, and hold us back from truly trusting in him?

Because when we do surrender to God and trust in the guidance of his Spirit – we discover what it means to find freedom in his service.  The beautiful, refreshing simplicity of the life of faith – if only we stop trying to fashion it in our own image.

And the same applies when it comes to sharing our faith with others, which is what this encounter is all about.  So often we’re held back by worrying about what words we might say, or how it might be received. 

But the great encouragement we may take from this reading today is how simple and joyful it is, really, to share our faith, if we can trust in the Spirit.

The Ethiopian comes to Jerusalem with the scriptures already in his hand.  He’s seeking something.  In a sense, all the hard work has been done for Philip.  All the Ethiopian needs is for someone to bring it alive for him.  In that poignant phrase, he says “How can I understand, unless someone guides me?”

It reminds me of another other great Gentile encounter in the New Testament – the journey of the Magi.  They’ve travelled a huge distance to find the source of the star, they make it all the way to Jerusalem by themselves: but that’s as close as they can get on their own.  They need someone to bring them to Jesus.

And this is where we can take our inspiration from Philip.  I believe people are thirsting for good news.  Look at the countless adverts around for mindfulness, wellness, spirituality, and all the rest.

People are beginning to realise that something is missing from life.  They still just about know the basics of the story of Jesus.  Their morality is still fundamentally a Christian one.  All they need is for someone to bring it alive for them.  How can they know, unless someone guides them?

Philip knew his scripture, but the power of this encounter wasn’t necessarily about how much he knew, or how impeccable his theology was.  It was the freedom he found in the Spirit to bring those words to life, for the Ethiopian.  To share his joy in the transformation that faith in Jesus had made in his life.  And the Ethiopian went on his way, rejoicing.

This is part of what Jesus means when he says in our Gospel today, “I am the vine, you are the branches.”  He grafts us into his great mission to the world.  He gives us all we need: his very self, abiding within us.  The gift of the Spirit, to guide us.  If we truly abide in him, trust in him, he empowers us to bear much fruit.

The paradox of faith that so struck the Ethiopian, is that it's only in giving up control of our own life that we discover the true power to make something of it.  Just as it was in giving up his own life, “like a sheep that was led to slaughter,” that Jesus was given power to overcome even death, and bring us to the life that never ends.

May we seek truly to trust in him, and share with the world our joy in the life he gives us.  Amen.