OUT OF AFRICA

Address given on the 5th Sunday of Easter 3.5.2015 by Jessica Smith at the baptism of Emily Sutton

Acts 8: 26-40

What date was Easter this year? (5th April) We continue to celebrate Easter for seven weeks following Easter Day. It’s such an important season that we do and say special things just for these 50 days from Easter until the next great festival, which is Pentecost. One of our readings on each of the Sundays always comes from a book in the New Testament called the Acts of the Apostles. It’s the only time in the year when we have readings from Acts at Sunday Mass. The Acts of the Apostles was written by Luke, the same man who wrote the gospel, and it comes after the four gospels. It is the story of how those very first disciples of Jesus acted after Jesus rose from the dead and returned to heaven. Jesus told them they couldn’t just stay as a small group of followers, they had to go out and tell others about him. The word apostle means someone who is sent, and these first men were sent to tell the good news of Jesus. Today we heard Don reading about one of those men, whose name was Philip. Now Philip, like the others, was looking for ways to do what Jesus had told him to do. As we know, God sometimes send angels when he wants to give messages about what people should do, and an angel came to Philip. The angel told him to take the road from Jerusalem to Gaza, and so Philip obeyed straightaway. He didn’t ask why, he just did it. He soon discovered why. There’s someone on that road God wants him to meet: a man from Ethiopia.

Now then, where is Ethiopia? Let’s have a look at a map of Africa. There are a number of people in our congregation who come from Africa. Let’s find their countries on the map too:

  • Father Jones and Gladys (Zambia)
  • Kay and Mona (Ghana)
  • Francisca and Eucledes (Angola)
  • Alphie (Zimbabwe)
  • Victor and Abi (Nigeria)

Lots of Bristol people come from Somalia

Well, this particular Ethiopian man who lived 2000 years ago was very important in his country. He was treasurer to the Queen, and probably quite rich, which was how come he travelled in a chariot. But he had made the long journey to Jerusalem because he wanted to know God better and worship him. He was looking for something money couldn’t buy. I’m going to ask Father Jones now to sit here in this chair as if he is the Ethiopian man in his chariot. Philip could hear him reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah (chapter 53) in the Old Testament. And because Philip had been listening to God, he knows how to approach this Ethiopian man. He asks him just the right question “Do you understand what you are reading?” and that starts up a good conversation. The Ethiopian says “How can I unless someone guides me?” So Philip travelled alongside the man in his chariot and explained to him about Jesus – his life, death and resurrection from the dead. Then as they travelled on, they came to some water and Philip baptised the Ethiopian, who went on his way back to his country rejoicing, because he had been baptised as a follower of Jesus!

It’s a great story for us to have heard today, because someone is going to be baptised here. Not an Ethiopian man, but a little girl called Emily. She is here with her parents and godparents, who we hope are going to be like Philip and guide her, explain things to her, tell her stories about Jesus, until she can say her baptism promises herself when she’s older. We hope they also will listen to God so they have the right words at the right time to say to Emily and help her grow in her Christian faith. Time to take Emily to the water!