First Thoughts From The Rev. Canon David Smith: 

Most weeks Fr. David sends out an e-mail with his first thoughts on the upcoming Sunday readings. These reflections are designed to encourage people to consider the readings before they come to worship which we hope will enrich Sunday worship. People are invited to respond to David with their own thoughts and sometimes interesting ideas and conversations occur that end up in the sermon. If you would like to receive these weekly e-mails e-mail David at dsmith@ontario.anglican.ca  . 

Reflections on the Readings for Sunday, May 3, 2015

Posted by Emily Sanderson on Friday, May 1, 2015
Hi Everyone,

Here are my first thoughts for this Sunday.

Readings: Acts 10:44-48, Psalm 98, 1 John 5:1-6, John 15:9-17

My first thought for this week is that I am glad that Jesus does not reference an animal like last week (shepherd of sheep) so I will not be tempted to bring a living 4 legged creature into church like last week. This week Jesus again references nature but of the plant variety. Could someone bring me a grapevine for the children's story,  that would capture Jesus' statements, "I am the vine, you are the branches>>" and  "...abide in me and you
will bear fruit."

In this Easter season we have been reading the exciting story of the early church from Acts. This week it is a story particularly familiar to St. Philip's  as it features Philip baptizing the Ethiopian Eunuch and at  St. Philip's there is a striking window that captures this scene.

The first thing that came to my attention about this story is that Philip was open to surprises and unexpected opportunities and obeyed the Spirit's call to go and do some unusual things. I think the theme is that of the
Gospel being spread from Jerusalem  to faraway places and to people who are different and previously perceived as unclean or unworthy. And for this to happen, Philip and others had to listen to and obey the promptings of the Spirit.

Out of the blue Philip is told to go to Gaza from Jerusalem on a wilderness road. On his way, wouldn't you know, he meets an Ethiopian Eunuch. This court official for the Queen of Ethiopians, also just happens to be  reading Isaiah and the Spirit prompts Philip to ask him if he understands what he is reading. The Eunuch acknowledges he needs a guide to understand and invites Philip to sit with him and to instruct him.

The eunuch has been reading from the songs of the suffering servant which Philip and the earliest Christians believed were describing Jesus. This gave Philip an opportunity to  give testimony to Jesus and His saving ministry. The Eunuch was moved to believe and when he saw some water said why not get baptized right now and Philip said no reason and baptized him. Then Philip was taken to another place to proclaim the Good News and the Eunuch was filled with joy.

One of those single encounters that was such a blessing for both men. It is exciting when the Spirit places us in such a moment and how wonderful to touch the life of a stranger with faith and love.

Acts also seems to be saying loud and clear that people traditionally outside of the community are to be welcomed in. For us we tend to comment upon the fact that the Eunuch would have been a person of colour and that a racial barrier was being broken. Certainly the window at St. Philip's is making this observation and given the immediate context of our day and the riots in parts of the USA this is an important theme to keep in mind. But apparently the real barrier for this man was that he was an eunuch and that this made him inferior , unclean. Notice how often the story calls him and eunuch. This seems to be  an important dynamic. If this man was humiliated (although he had a high status position) then he would have been moved by the humiliation Christ endured for us and for him.

The joy of the eunuch and the importance of a spiritual guide could also be themes for a sermon.

There are several themes in our Psalm but it certainly continues the theme of how it is God's intention for all people of the world such as  the Ethiopian Eunuch to turn to God. It also celebrates God's desire for the poor to be satisfied. Psalm 22 begins with a sense of abandonment and despair. Jesus quotes it from the cross," my God my God why has thou forsaken me".  It is this Psalm that captures the intensity of humiliation described in Isaiah which the Eunuch was reading but the second half of the Psalm is about hope after the suffering and so it fits into the joy and redemption of the Easter season.

Our Epistle and Gospel readings share the same theme of abiding in God and the difference this will make in our lives. Jesus in the Gospel reading uses the metaphor of the vine. He is the vine and we are the branches. As the branches we are nourished by the vine and the result is that we bear fruit.  I think this fruit is love and a loving community and certainly in the epistle reading  John emphasizes that God is love and if we abide in God we too will love. God first loved us in sending His Son to be an atoning sacrifice for us and abiding in this love enable moves us to love in practical , sacrificial ways to love others. John puts it in blunt terms when he says if we say we love God whom we do not see but do not love the people we do see we are liars. He goes on to say that those who love God must love their brothers and sisters.

A good sermon might explore ways in which we abide in God as branches on Christ's vine. Or a sermon might do well to explore what it means to love others. I love the phrase from the epistle that perfect love casts out fear but what does this actually mean?

How do you understand this statement? When in your life have you experienced this? Can you recall when you were the recipient of love from someone especially when you felt this love originated with God?

What would you say if you were preaching this Sunday?

Blessings