The vine that grows wild amongst the cracks and the conspiracy of Acts 8:37

29 Apr

St James Poole

29th April 2018

Easter 5

Acts 8:26-40

John 15:1-8

The vine that grows wild amongst the cracks and the conspiracy of Acts 8:37

Let’s get straight into our reading from Acts, the story of Philip and the

Ethiopian Eunuch and again let’s get straight to the uncomfortable stuff, the

taboo stuff, the kind of things that so many think the bible is silent on, those

things that we shouldn’t talk about in church. Hold onto your pews because

we need to talk a bit about Eunuch’s and particularly this black man who had

made his way from Africa to the the Middle East.

The Ethiopian Eunuch was a gentile (non-jew) God-fearer. He couldn’t have

been a convert to Judaism, because as a Eunuch he would have been

disqualified, since many eunuchs were partially dismembered, as well as

castrated, meaning that he couldn’t be circumcised. I told you most people

don’t know this kind of graphic stuff is in the book!

This black man had been to Jerusalem to worship Israel’s God, but he

wouldn’t have been allowed to celebrate the festival. Physically unfit, ritually

excluded; all that way and no entrance ticket when he arrived. He could pray

from a distance, but that was it. And yet Israels’ God, YHWH captivated him

so much that we find him reading from Isaiah 53. What was it that he found

there that caught his eye, causing him to ask Philip about this passage? Was

there something that spoke to him about his own situation when he read

these words ‘In his humiliation, justice was denied him,’ did something ring

true, as he reflected possibly upon being refused entry to the temple, unable

to take part fully in worship.

The early chapters of Luke’s Acts of the Apostles have seen that first church

drawing together, working stuff out after the events of that first easter, the

mixed emotions and that thought, what to we do now! We then have this

story and the repeated phrase to Philip to go, and where is he sent…..? We

find him announcing to this black eunuch that in Jesus’ Israel, God has

revealed his universal welcome, suddenly the Ethiopian’s physical and social

exclusion is overturned as he comes through the water of baptism. The Law

had excluded men with crushed, mutilated, or missing genitalia from full

participation in Israel’s worship (Leviticus 21:20; Deuteronomy 23:1). Isaiah,

however, envisioned redemption for the sexually ambiguous. In this new

resurrection beginning, we find the restoration of God’s people, eunuchs

brought within God’s house and given a name greater than sons and

daughters (Isaiah 56:3-8). God’s embrace of the eunuch, and a foreign

eunuch at that, shows that the promised age of restoration has begun to

dawn (and maybe speaks deeply into the Windrush scandal).

So what about the vine and the branches in our Gospel reading. Philip and

the Ethiopian is a story about someone searching and someone being sent.

Searching and Sending and I think that both of those things apply to all of

us. We are sent people, Go Philip is told, not given all the details about why

but just to Go. But we are also to be searching people, searching to

understand more about the mystery who we call God, but also searching to

see where God is already at work.

I don’t know about vines but I do remember a knock at the door one day

when I must have about 10, my mum answering it and coming in looking a

bit embarrassed. The elderly lady who lived behind us had come to complain

about our ivy growing over the back fence and blocking the passageway up

the side of her house. So not quite vines by I do have experience of being

sent out over the back fence to cut back the ivy that was growing wild into

others peoples gardens, and I remember whilst precariously balanced on a

ladder being slightly impressed by the way the ivy forced it way up through

the fence and you could even see it coming up through the cracks in the


If Jesus is the vine we are left to consider how we are to remain or abide in

him. There is a sense in which we must go wherever the vine is going,

through the cracks in ground, into other people gardens, over the wall into

whole new places. The vine grows wild in the cracks! How is God speaking

to us from the sides, the margins, the places we don’t expect, through the

people who make us uncomfortable or angry. Perhaps God is happy being a

bad gardener, letting the vine grow wild into places where it shouldn’t. Is

Jesus the vine breaking into places through us, sometimes despite of us,

and also in us. This is the resurrection hope of Easter that life is breaking into

the darkest places.

Anselm defined God as a “being than which no greater can be conceived”,

we pursue that which can’t fully be understood or described. The Ethiopian

surely didn’t know everything, he was new to all of this, but was responding to

the whisper of God deep in his soul. And then we hit upon this beautiful line,

“well here is some water why shouldn’t I be baptised.” Not I’ll do that once I

know more, when I understand more, when I’ve got everything in order. Do

we ever really get to that place where we’ve got it all sussed? God turns up in

the messiness and the actual reality of our lives, behind the smiles, into the

family tensions, the financial worries, into the ……… you fill in the blank. The

Ethiopian shows us something very profound, that he understands grace, that

it wasn’t about him being able to do more and more and understand more

and more, but that God makes the first move towards him and the first move

towards us. It’s not about our effort and let those words be freeing to us today.

And then we hit upon the Acts 8:37 conspiracy. Who stole Acts 8:37?

Basically it was removed as it wasn’t found to be in the most ancient scrolls

and manuscripts, a later addition.

Following on from….. “why should I not be baptised”….

It said, “And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart you may (be

baptised).” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

I find it fascinating that it was deemed necessary to insert this verse by

someone. Perhaps it spoke of an early form of baptism ritual, but in the

earliest manuscripts we don’t hear much if anything about what the Ethiopian

eunuch believes, we simply pick up on the clues that God has been pursuing

him over a period of time. Again, God has made the first move irrespective of

how we respond, or even what we believe.

To finish, Mrs P takes responsibility for the vegetation (with mixed results). I

bought her flowers last week here is one, and we also have this strange

white pot which sort of hangs around looking dead most of the time and I

have been telling her to chuck it out. But all of a sudden we have shoots

appearing (here it is), the different between these two things is that this is still

connected to the soil, to the roots, the source, it doesn’t look like much but it

is brimming with potential. The flower looks pretty now, but it’s on a

downward path, it’s cut off, it’s removed from the source. It’s outward

appearance will only last so long before it starts to wither.

What does it mean for us to be connected to the source of life? Sometimes

things get complicated and we get all legalistic like we’re not praying enough

or reading the bible enough and sure those things are vital in keeping us

connected to the source of life. But what else, where do you meet God, what

are the things that make you feel whole, where you find yourself able to be

who you were created to be, where do you feel that deep shalom, that peace

where you are sustained?

And finally, when it all gets too much, like I don’t know what I should do, and

the idea of God and source and vines and Eunuchs all gets too much. I find

myself back with prophet Micah

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.

And what does the Lord require of you?

To act justly and to love mercy

and to walk humbly with your God.

I can start to get my head around that and how those things keep me

connected to God.

So may we discover that in doing good, in pursuing justice, love and walking

humbly, that we are connected to a vine who runs wild between the cracks.




Christ the King Sunday

4 Dec

Christ the King Jesus

26th November 2017
St James’ Poole

Matthew 25:31-End
Ephesians 1:15-End

This week saw The Queen and Duke of Edinburgh celebrate their platinum wedding anniversary, 70 years. This Sunday is a royal celebration of a different kind, today is Christ the King Sunday or Reign of Christ Sunday. This is a week where our readings particularly call us to explore themes of Kingship and Kingdom.

Today is also the last Sunday of the Christian year before Advent Sunday next week marks the beginning of our journey into the New Year. I like to think of today as a hinge point as we move from the ‘ordinary time’ liturgical colours of green seen on the altar and clergy stoles to the colour of purple in Advent when we wait, in reflection, in fasting, in hope before the feasting of Christmas season arrives with its celebratory colours of white and gold.

We might expect the Feast of Christ the King to end the year with climactic images of Christ enthroned in Glory, seated high above all rule and authority, one before whom every knee shall bow, and of course those are powerful and important images, images of our humanity brought by him to the throne of the Heavens. But for this Sunday the lectionary does an unexpected thing. It sets as a reading the passage in Matthew 25 in which Christ reveals that even as He is enthroned in Glory, the King who comes to judge at the end of the ages, he is also the hidden King, hidden beneath the rags and even in the flesh of his poor here on earth

*It’s tempting for me as we read a Gospel text like this to think  Look!  Even Jesus agrees with me and my theology. It’s about getting out of the building and loving the least and the lost. But when we do this and feel like we’ve got it cracked we are probably missing something. I can so easily replace the individualistic ‘pie in the sky when I die’ faith of my earlier life with a social justice programme.  Either way we end up not really needing Jesus so much as needing to make sure we successfully complete the right list of tasks.  Either way it leaves Jesus essentially idling in his van on the corner while we say “Thanks Jesus…but we can take it from here”

So while we as people of God are certainly called to feed the hungry and cloth the naked (and I’m really interested in trying to get a group together to take on cooking at Roots to Routes one lunchtime or evening a month). It can be dangerous when it starts to feel like we are placing ourselves above the world waiting to descend on those below so we can be the “blessing” they’ve been waiting for like it or not. It can so easily become about the power that comes from wealth and privilege, giving handouts to the less fortunate with good motive but also because deep down it makes us feel better and less guilty (although we don’t like to admit it). This is dangerous because its when we come from this place of power we can fail to admit our own neediness and frailty, so often hidden from view and behind the masks of confidence and competence that some of us are so adept at wearing.

So this week I had these dangers in the back of my head as I read Matthew 25 a little closer and I realised this: Jesus says I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Which means…Christ comes not in the form of those who feed the hungry but in the hungry being fed.  Christ comes not in the form of those who visit the imprisoned but in the imprisoned being cared for.

We all are equally as Sinful as we are Saintly.  And we are all the needy and we are all the ones who meet needs.  We are both sheep and goat. Placing ourselves or anyone else in only one category or another is to tell ourselves the wrong story entirely.

Our Ephesians reading tells us “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.”

Is it that we truly meet God and understand the divine mystery in vulnerability? For some us to be vulnerable is hard, we live in a world which celebrates the strong, the leaders who have plans and strategies and know all the answers. My experience of faith is that Kingdom, life and faith is a messy thing and that it is often despite of our plans that we see the Kingdom breaking in, in and through the most surprising people and places. This is not to say that we don’t plan but that we hold these lightly allowing us to respond to the calling of the Spirit.

Journal Entry – Tuesday 22nd November 2017

“This morning I sit and become aware of my breathing, I calm myself, acknowledge this present moment. Allowing my soul to still, I look around the coffee shop and recognise the divine spark within each person, the beauty of the stories contained within each person. I don’t really know any of them (and I’ve forgotten to put my collar back on after leaving the office so there is no outward sign of vocation), but there is something about the community that forms in this place. I reflect upon how this place is like a church, how this place has created a community hub where I often see the same faces, where Connie knows so many by name and talks with them about their lives. I dream of church being this kind of 24/7 hub where people come for food for body and spirit, a place of conversation and thinking, a place of welcome and hospitality. As I think about the Kingdom of God being the place where we most fully experience the Kings reign, I think of a church whose doors are open continually, where the homeless are fed, where workers on their lunch breaks bring their sandwiches and find peace and tranquility. A place where people are stirred by the spirituality of live music, where tourists come in and become pilgrims as they light a candle in prayer, where children are full members, seen, heard and where us adults recognise that there is much to learn from the faith of children. A place where God meets us in the mystery of the sacraments.

I love this coffee shop and see it as a place where I glimpse the Kingdom of God, I can name the ‘sacred’ within the ‘secular’ and even as I write I want to dispel those dividing lines.

This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, in it we recognise the reign of Christ in the world. A very different type of reign, one where others are crowned with the glory God. A Kingdom of surprises and surprising people where the most unexpected are found in the most unexpected places. A Kingdom that we try and build boxes around but God continues to break out of, a box that God breaks down and we try to rebuild. A Kingdom of inclusion but we so often make about exclusion, about theological piety, looked after by theological police. A Kingdom that is about true freedom but can so easily become about tidy boxes, being seen at the right things with the right people. The reign of Christ is about seeing God in the wrong places, in mangers, in astrologers and shepherds, widows and the homeless, the coffee shop workers and the sandwich shop owners. I sit frustrated at my own words this morning. I preach it from the pulpit and I ask myself what does this really look like in me? In the way that I live and treat people.”

To love our King is to love what he has made…children, men and women, joyous, broken, hopeful or despairing…

To love our neighbours is to love the One in whose image they, we, are made…and to recognise the divine image, the breath of God that flows through and sustains all.

To try and draw the threads together I want to finish with a prayer written for the funeral of Archbishop Oscar Romero after his assassination in El Salvador. Let it speaks deeply to us and through it allow God’s spirit to challenge us in the areas we need to hear challenge and to comfort us in the areas that we need to hear comfort.

“It helps, now and then, to step back and take a long view.

The kingdom is not only beyond our efforts, it is even beyond our vision.

We accomplish in our lifetime only a tiny fraction of the magnificent
enterprise that is God’s work. Nothing we do is complete, which is a way of
saying that the Kingdom always lies beyond us.

No statement says all that could be said.

No prayer fully expresses our faith.

No confession brings perfection.

No pastoral visit brings wholeness.

No program accomplishes the Church’s mission.

No set of goals and objectives includes everything.

This is what we are about.

We plant the seeds that one day will grow.

We water seeds already planted, knowing that they hold future promise.

We lay foundations that will need further development.

We provide yeast that produces far beyond our capabilities.

We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realising that.

This enables us to do something, and to do it very well.

It may be incomplete, but it is a beginning, a step along the way, an
opportunity for the Lord’s grace to enter and do the rest.

We may never see the end results, but that is the difference between the master
builder and the worker.

We are workers, not master builders; ministers, not messiahs.

We are prophets of a future not our own.”

Bishop Ken Untener of Saginaw

*I reworked some words from Nadia Bolz-Weber here

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