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“When Love Casts Out Fear”
The Fifth Sunday of Eastertide, Mentor Sunday
As they were going along the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said to Philip, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
Every three years, the lectionary places, in the path of the church, throughout the world, those words from Acts chapter eight. And, every time they roll back around, whichever way Philip goes, whether he says “Yes” to the eunuch’s request for baptism, or “No,” Philip will have Bible for, and, Bible against, his decision. If Philip says “No” to the eunuch, he can turn, for support, to Deuteronomy 23:1, “No one who has had the surgery which makes a person into a eunuch shall be allowed into the house of God.” On the other hand, if he says “Yes” to the eunuch, he can turn, for support, to Isaiah 56:3, Thus says the Lord, “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath I will give, in my house, an everlasting name which will never be cut off.” Either way, there will be Bible to back him up, and Bible to trip him up; another one of those these verses versus those verses kind of moments; the Bible, in a tie, with itself.
So, which will it be, “Yes” or “No”? The eunuch is waiting. “Here is water!” he says to Philip, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
And, in that moment, when Philip had to decide either to get wet with the love which includes, or stay dry with the fear which excludes, Philip, the Bible says, went down into the water; a first baptism for the eunuch, but, for Philip, a second; a further, deeper plunge into what today’s epistle lesson from First John describes as love casting out fear.
And, then, the next verse, the first verse after the baptism, says that, when they came up out of the water, the Spirit carried Philip away, “and he found himself at Azotus.”
The writer of Acts says that Philip found himself at Azotus, but, one imagines that Philip might say that where he really found himself was in that pond, by that road, at that moment, with that eunuch, when love for the other cast out fear of the other.
Or, as Barbara Brown Taylor once said, “Salvation is not something which happens only at the end of life. Salvation happens every time someone who is holding a key uses it to open a door they could have closed.