Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south[g] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: ‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.’ The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
I fear today I may say something rather controversial so perhaps I should apologise now.
On the face of it, this seems like such a simple story. Philip is sent to a man who is reading scripture but does not understand what he’s reading. Phillip takes the opportunity to speak about Jesus, the sheep led to the slaughter. I am assuming that part of the story Phillip shares is Jesus, and others, being baptised by John in the Jordan. So, when they come across some water, our Ethiopian friend sees its significance and asks to be baptised.
And it’s this simplicity that I find so moving. I’ve always imagined the water they come across as a puddle, it was probably more like a wadi, a riverbed that only contains water during the rainy season. Whatever it was, it would have been a bit muddy, not the fresh room-temperature water we use. I can’t see any parent wanting their little one being baptised with dirty water; even more so if you’re a teenager experiencing full immersion.
But, and this is the controversial bit, if someone attended worship one morning, someone we’ve not encountered before and at the end of the service asked to be baptised; I have a feeling most of us would baulk at the idea. After all, we don’t know them, we’ve not sat down and chatted with them, explained, as best we can, what baptism is all about. Yet it appears Phillip did none of that, still he baptised this relative stranger.
Now I know we rightly have rules and regulations, especially around things like safeguarding, but I guess what I am saying is; wherever the Holy Spirit leads us, let us welcome the opportunity of encounter without worrying too much about rules and regulations.
Loving Lord, as we walk the way of Jesus, be with us in all our encounters with those we meet along the way. Whether they are people we know well or complete strangers, help us always to be open to sharing our experience of your love for us and for all people, everywhere. Amen
The Rev’d Branwen Rees, East Wales Regional Minister