In our Gospel reading today Jesus teaches us that he is the true vine and we are the branches. We need to abide in him and he in us to produce the fruits of the Spirit. In this short passage the word ‘abide’ is used 8 times and the words of the hymn prayer,‘when other helpers fail and comforts flee, Lord of helpless oh abide with me’ comes to mind.
Phillip, an evangelist, was called by an angel to abide with a black Ethiopian eunuch, an official in the royal household of the dynasty of Candance. The man had been to worship in Jerusalem and was on his way back, on a desert road, in a chariot, reading aloud from the book of Isaiah. What a strange story! Phillip however, had abided with Jesus during his earthly ministry and was open to the working of the Holy Spirit that took him where it wills. He had cultivated the fruits of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control) by abiding in Christ and was told:
Abide near the chariot (stay)
Abide with the man (sit with him)
Very simple instructions that we could all obey! To go alongside and listen to one another.
Phillip asked the man:
‘Do you understand what you are reading?
‘How can I’ he answered unless someone explains it to me?’
Thus a conversation of sharing, exploring and abiding in God’s word took place (Bible Study). Something we are all called, as disciples, to do. During this time, no doubt Phillip heard the man’s story. How he had become castrated, either by mutilation or being born with ambiguous genitalia. He was reading from Isaiah about Jesus being humiliated and deprived of justice. He might well have come away from the temple, where he had been to worship, feeling humiliated and unjustly treated. He would have been banned from the temple because, according to the law of Deuteronomy, a castrated man was unclean.
Phillip might have turned to the passage a little further on in Isaiah which states ‘do not let the eunuch say ‘I am just a dry tree’ for I will give him a name better than sons and daughters, an everlasting name’ (Isaiah 56: 3-5). The love of God led the ‘dry tree’ to the refreshing and renewing waters of Baptism. Although he could not have children, through Baptism he became part of the family of Christ and father to the Ethiopian Church!
The Ethiopian’s story highlight that of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and people of different race being accepted (or not) into the Church today. I heard on Radio Norfolk’s ‘The Social’ this week a young lesbian who found it easier to describe herself as ‘queer’ as it required less explanation. A young black man described how he had grown up with the accusations against him and his family of ‘stealing our jobs’ from the white community.
This week I started a course in the Diocese, ‘Living in Love and Faith’. It looks at diversity and difference in the church of gender, sexuality, race, creed etc. We are all created in a unique and special way and it is through sharing our stories and our experience of our life journeys that we can begin to understand, encourage and love one another.
Phillip abided awhile alongside a man on his journey and listened to his story. By this simple act the fruits of the Spirit were produced and shared in abundance. Let us all abide in the word of God. As the hymn says: ‘Lord thy word abideth and thy footsteps guideth’, who it’s truth believeth, life and joy receiveth’
Angela Stewart, Lay Minister