Who will you help at work when they are in need? From whom will you accept help at work when you are in need? Seems simple enough to explore but perhaps watch how it works out in practice this week. You are looking at an encounter in the book of Acts which we introduced last week. One of the leadership from the Church in Jerusalem, named Philip, helps an Ethiopian, high ranking, treasury official come to faith. See the previous Worktalk weekly for the outline of how Philip helped him take small steps. You are now asked a question by the Ethiopian. “Why shouldn’t I be baptized?” It’s a question which invites you to look at the moment again. I suggest to you that one way to get some wisdom from the exchange is to look at the differences between Philip and the Ethiopian. So here goes. First they were racially different. Philip was a Jew with Judaism in his bones and white skin covering his body. The official was an Ethiopian with some basic knowledge of the Old Testament and dark skin covering his body. Philip, in common with most of the early Christians, had to overcome in himself his heritage of believing that God was the exclusive property of the Jews. This carried through to understanding that Jesus and His rescue mission was not an exclusively Jewish product. So, for Philip, any non Jew would represent an expansion of thinking. Here he meets not only a non Jew but a person of color. His prejudices were being challenged. You will find in the book of Acts an account of how the early Christians had to learn to get past their pre-conceived ideas about non Jews. You can read it for yourself concentrated in the tenth and eleventh chapter, but it is a major theme of the whole book. For the early Christians to grow they had to admit their current attitudes. Now ask yourself, as I ask myself, can you give and receive help easily from someone who is racially or even religiously different to you? I have been a pastor in inner city London, one of the most diverse areas on the planet, where 35 different ethnic and racial groups lived within half a mile of my home. All of us on the team at that time knew in our hearts we did not want a hint of racism but we also knew that it would pop up and surprise us when we uncovered an accidental prejudice in ourselves. Whenever someone vehemently denies any racist tendencies in their souls it is unwise, not because they are deliberately lying, but because it is there in all of us. The challenge is to face it down, when it rises up, not pretend we are the only humans in history to be free from it. Racial differences did not stop Philip here. Secondly the Ethiopian was a Eunuch. Philip was not. There was a difference in their sexuality. Eunuchs were more often than not excluded from the Temple. They were considered incomplete or damaged. Philip had to consider whether this applied to admission into the Christian faith, as do we. Can you and I overcome our gender and other biases to give and receive help this week? Can you get past your reactions to someone different to you in that area and find hospitality in your heart? Can you find it? There are also some differences which are the reverse of what we have just examined. This official was high ranking, wealthy and powerful. Now an alternative challenge arises. Look into your heart and discover if you have a bias towards the rich, powerful and influential people. Are you drawn to them? It is a strange fact that Jesus Himself went out of His way to reach the poor, powerless and oppressed, who are always incidentally the majority, yet many of his followers go out of their way to do the exact opposite. The power, wealth and influence did not bias Philip into the hesitation of saying “I cannot baptize you, we need a Bishop for someone as important as you!” Philip treated him the same way as he would anyone else. Again, there was a difference between them “politically”. Philip lived under Roman rule, Governor and a puppet King. The Ethiopian served under a powerful Queen. Whatever that meant in practice it would be true to say that they had different loyalties, allegiances and histories. Whatever Philip’s political views were they did not form a barrier between him and the Ethiopian. Lastly, in this summary consider that the episode is relatively short. It’s a chariot ride where Philip, in one conversation, told the story of the good news about Jesus. There was no series of preparation classes, no hurdles to jump over, no hoops to jump through, no certificate to obtain, just a response to the good news about Jesus. So in the Ethiopian’s one question you are I are faced with our prejudices and biases about race, gender, religion, politics, status and education. We all have a natural tendency to want to welcome “people like us”. The early Christians had to be broken out of that mindset in the first eras of the new faith otherwise there would be no people like you in the faith at all. Please don’t think Philip or the other leaders just figured this out as they read diversity statements at team meetings. Look again at the story. It has three extraordinary anchor points. First, it starts with an angel of the Lord telling Philip to go to a specific geographical location. It is a supernatural satellite navigation instruction. Second, when Philip sees the Ethiopian, the Spirit tells him to go to the chariot. Third, after the baptism, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away. What on earth happened? Philip, like Peter later on, needed supernatural intervention to overcome his biases. Philip didn’t come up with the idea, he was empowered by God. Now the story makes sense. You and I need the power of God to break down our biases, prejudices and hang ups. Please don’t pretend they are not there, they are present in all of us. As God intervenes we find the courage to reach out. Don’t miss the angel in the last details. Luke (the author of Acts) tells us that Philip went down into the water with the Ethiopian. Literally getting his hands, feet and whole body wet and dirty to help someone different to himself. Notice, right at the heart of the story are four words that change everything, “good news about Jesus”. To give and receive unconditional help this week will be to live out “the good news about Jesus”. To give in to our biases will be to live out bad news. That’s the difference which makes the difference and overcomes the difference. Bible section Acts 8: 26-40 26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopiana]”>[a] eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. 29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” 30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. 31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading: “He was led like a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice. Who can speak of his descendants? For his life was taken from the earth.”b]”>[b] 34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. 36 As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. What can stand in the way of my being baptized?”  c]”>[c] 38 And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing. 40 Philip, however, appeared at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.
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