Sermon ideas for Sunday April 25, 2021: Acts 8: 26 – 39
Philip baptizing the Eunuch from Ethiopia is a short part of Acts that is packed full of preach-able moments. What I love most about this story is that moment in verse 37 when the eunuch says “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” and, of course, Philip finds no reason not to! There is water, there is the Spirit, and there is an eager eunuch ready to dig into the word. There is no reason not to baptize! And many churches need this important reminder: that baptism need not be about who is a member, who has paid their tithe, whose grandchildren hold special meaning to church, or who the Board feels needs to be excluded for any reason at all. There is no reason not to baptize (and it again for the folks in the back.) Baptism needs only to have an eager student, a wiling teacher, and a body of water. Does your church need that reminder?
With the reminder that all are welcome at the baptism font, there is a more nuanced sermon with that same theme. Because the person being baptized by Philip is an everyman of exclusivity by many of today’s standards. He is a foreigner, a traveler, a stranger in a strange land, a non-binary in a gendered world, and a representative of Empire as a servant of the Queen. None of these are barriers for Philip. What draws Philip in is the eunuch’s enthusiasm to learn – to dig into the prophecy of Isaiah. And that is truly what should draw us all to the waters of Baptism – our own eagerness to hear more, to learn from a mentor, to dig into scripture. It makes me want to raise the question: who does your church keep away (all churches have someone)? It might be a disdain for immigrants and refugees. Maybe it is a disdain for foreigners in a nationalistic context (cough, cough America). Maybe it is a disdain for our LGBTQIA+ friends in a hetero-normative context. Maybe it is a disdain for urban folks in a rural context, or a disdain for country folks in the city. It doesn’t matter what it is – all of our churches fall short in welcoming all into our midst, and the story of the eunuch and Philip’s joy in baptizing him should be a strong reminder that we are called (even led by the Spirit) to truly welcome all.
A third sermon in the making will appeal to the history nerds among us. Ethiopia and its embracing of Christianity is rich in history and tradition. Ethiopia was the second nation in the world to adopt Christianity as its state’s national religion (the first was Armenia). And the Ethiopian Orthodox Church has been influential down through the ages, even though they were largely ignored by the Western European Church establishment. All of that history is rooted in this one story – where the Eunuch from Ethiopia is baptized by Philip and rejoices. For churches that love history, the birth of the Ethiopian Orthodox is a rich story to tell.
And no matter which direction you take, consider illustrating your sermons with the wonderful art of Ethiopian Icons – they are some of the most beautiful, colorful, spiritual images out there.
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Rev. Cathy M. Kolwey is a writer, artist, and pastor who serves the United Church of Christ in the Twin Cities, Minnesota. She blogs about creativity, culture and faith at http://www.cmkolwey.com