Acts 8: 26-40: Philip is instructed to go to a certain road where he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch on his way home after worshipping in Jerusalem. Philip finds him reading Isaiah’s scroll, and explains what the Scriptures say about Jesus. Then he baptises the eunuch
Psalm 22: 25-31: A psalm of praise and commitment in which God is celebrated for God’s provision and authority, and all people are challenged to worship God, to fulfil promises to God, and to proclaim God’s righteousness to unborn generations.
1 John 4: 7-21: An exhortation to love one another, because God is love. If we cannot love our brothers and sisters whom we have seen, we cannot love God whom we do not see, but, as God has loved us, inspiring love for God in our hearts, so too, we should love one another. Such love drives out fear.
John 15:1-8: Jesus is the vine and we are the branches. God desires us to bear fruit, and to do so we must remain in Christ.
(Summaries of Bible readings by John van de Laar, Sacredise)

Readings handout:
COCU35B.Easter5B.Readings 2018

Acts reflection:
So, the Ethiopian Eunuch is reading aloud (a very common practice – if you had the ability to read, then you would read aloud) from the scroll of Isaiah (Ch53), a passage that has come to be associated with the passion of Jesus. What was this Eunuch doing reading this particular part of Isaiah? Well, the background is that Eunuchs were specifically excluded from the temple (as had been this particular Eunuch’s experience in Jerusalem), based on the application of the Deuteronomy text (23.1):  “If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (NIV). But here, in the very section of Isaiah where the Eunuch is reading, is this text:
Let no foreigner who is bound to the LORD say,
“The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
And let no eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.”
For this is what the LORD says:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose what pleases me
and hold fast to my covenant—
to them I will give within my temple and its walls
a memorial and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that will endure forever” (Isaiah 56:3-5)
A text of inclusion. It would have been a ‘favourite’ part of the Isaiah scroll for the Eunuch, one he would return to again and again, as it gave him a place of belonging. And, in the course of reading this text of inclusion, he would have become familiar with the surrounding text (no verses and chapter headings in those days!) including Chapter 53 that is the focus of the Acts 8 reading today (and for the conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch):
“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.
In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
After Philip gives witness to Jesus, the Ethiopian is baptized (in fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy), and eunuchs find a place of belonging in the reign of God. That which was excluded has now been included.
It would have been a surprising and wonderful moment for both Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
Here’s a great reflection on this reading by Richard Beck.
(excerpt) The “eunuch story” may, at least in part, speak to the issue of social contribution or function. It seems that great emphasis was given to function in the old covenant “congregation of the Lord”. The “commission” of old covenant community focused around the growth of the Jewish nation, particularly in terms of the “be fruitful and multiply” directive. What we think of as evangelism wasn’t a primary focus — having and raising children with a particular worldview and a peculiar kind of monotheism was. Eunuchs could not contribute to this social mandate, and were therefore viewed as vestigials, as supernumeraries. There was a central religious goal, and these eunuchs were people who, having no way to further that goal, had no place in the religious community.
So, when the Spirit of the Lord went to miraculous lengths to ensure that the first known Christian non-Jewish convert was both of an alien culture and a “functionless” eunuch, the intention was to make us think about what it means to have “function” within the new covenant community of faith, and further: about how the Christian community, like a family, must embrace a non-utilitarian society”.

Gospel reflection
“When you remove the risk, you remove the challenge.  When you remove the challenge, you wither on the vine.” – Alex Lowe
This image of vine and branches speaks to community, both healthy and withered.  It has to do with the quality of our mutuality and interrelationships.  The Old Testament used this image several times (Jeremiah 2:21; Ezekiel 15:6; Hosea 10:1). However, in these examples the vine itself is the community which sometimes is not up to the challenge of being God’s people in harmony.  The vine is therefore destroyed.  In today’s gospel Jesus, not the community, is the vine which is always true; and we are the branches.  Therefore, if some branches do not produce fruit, the vine as a whole does not die.  In this evolution of the image the plant is indestructible.  Beware lest again we be tempted to be judgmental.  Sure, the community will live on, but who of us are the withered branches that do not live up to the challenge?  We might want to point fingers.  Look in the mirror.  The truth is that we all, each and every one of us, have fruitful branches as well as withered branches within ourselves.  The pruning is not the destruction of certain individuals in the fire (John 15:6).  Rather it is beautifying of each of us.  Who does not need to be pruned?  Perhaps the withered branch of judgmentalism needs to be cut from us.  God stands ready to prune us into ever more healthy growth, into full bloom.  But we need to let go.  Why hold on to shunning, selfishness, revenge, envy, or dead end life plans, all petty twigs?  Realizing our shortcomings is not a condemnation.  This here is a resurrection theme.  God is pruning us into life.  We are still connected to the vine.  At the Last Supper Jesus took the “fruit of the vine.”  Every time we receive communion, drink from the cup, we drink to our health; and Jesus hosts the toast. (Bob Eldan)

A prayer based on Acts 10:44–48
Astonish us, Holy One,
with your wide, wide welcome.
Challenge us, Holy One,
to welcome unexpected outsiders.
Astonish us, Holy Spirit,
with your indiscriminate drenching.
Challenge us, Holy Spirit,
to share you, abundantly.
Astonish us, Wisdom Word,
with your voice in unfamiliar tongues.
Challenge us, Wisdom Word,
to listen for you beyond our expectations.
Astonish us, Divine Parent,
with your Love, your Love profound.
Challenge us, Divine Parent,
to love, with you, all that you love. Amen.
(Sarah Agnew, Pray the Story)

A Prayer based on John 15:1–8
O God, you have made us your vine, that we may bear fruit.
Your Spirit nurtures us from within, as you have nurtured all life
and brought the universe into being.
We open ourselves to your life and your nourishment.
Feed us with your grace and goodness.
Lord, hear our prayer.
O God, you have made us your vine, that we may bear fruit.
We give you thanks for the fruit that you have borne in our lives,
the blessing that we have love and can share love,
that we can bear the fruit that brings joy and celebration.
Feed us with your grace and goodness.
Lord, hear our prayer.
O God, you have made us your vine, that we may bear fruit.
Sometimes our limbs are strained, our branches broken,
our leaves withered on the vine and we need comfort, encouragement, renewal.
Feed us with your grace and goodness.
Lord, hear our prayer.
O God, you have made us your vine, that we may bear fruit.
Sometimes we have blockages, hindering the flow of your life within us,
making us weak, bearing no fruit, being a tangle and trouble to others,
not a source of hope and help to others, to ourselves and to you.
Forgive us.
Feed us with your grace and goodness.
Lord, hear our prayer,
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
(Source: William Loader)

The River of God’s Love
– a gentle reflection that could be used for Prayers of Confession
There is no fear in love,
but perfect love casts out fear. 1 John 4.18
I bathe in the river of your love.
It washes away all fear
of being judged, inadequate or punished.
I let your river flow through me,
not my love but yours,
flowing to all the world, even the unlovable.
In your love I am not afraid
to love, to risk,
to be carried away by the river.
In love I will coerce no one
or make them afraid,
but only set them free.
Give we wisdom to notice
when I am afraid
and to choose love instead.
In your perfect love I am not afraid.
I am grateful.
I am free.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

The Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” (Acts 8.29)
Someone is seeking.
Walk alongside them.
Someone is wondering.
How can they learn
unless you wonder with them?
The sheep led to slaughter, who is that?
Look around you.
They suffer every day.
Someone is eager to understand.
Be prepared to say what you know.
Someone is making their way through the wilderness.
Here is everything you need.
What is to prevent you from bathing them
in the infinite, flowing grace of God?
Those you touch may not return the favour.
Whatever tasks are completed
there is always more rejoicing to do.
You will find yourself swept away to new places.
Let the Spirit take you,
full of joy and good news.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Abide in me (John 15.5)
Living Christ, I live in you.
You are my breath, breathing in me.
You are my bones and I am your flesh,
you my nerve, and I your muscle.
Living Christ, community of the whole,
Body of the One,
I belong to you.
My life is gathered into you,
all my actions happen inside you.
I see the world through your eyes,
love the world through your broken, joyous heart.
I am the fingers of your hand.
In confidence and humility
I abide in you,
held in your peace,
loving with your love,
rejoicing with your joy.
(Steve Garnaas-Holmes Unfolding Light)

God is love (1 John 4.8)
God is not just a loving being – 
some nice guy in heaven – 
God is love itself;
God is being itself.
Love is God.
The energy of loving,
the act of loving,
the happening of love,
that is God.
When you love someone,
that is God happening.
Loving creates being,
creates the world,
sustains everything, infuses everything,
vibrates in everything.
God loving someone
calls them into being.
Their being (our being)
is the emanation of love,
outpouring of God,
unfolding of Loveliness.
Beloved, faith is not thinking
the right things about God.
It’s receiving love,
radiating loveliness,
and spreading love.
It is that alone that we practice.
Praise to the Holy Trinity:
the Lover, and the Beloved,
and the Loving that flows between.
(Source: Steve Garnaas-Holmes, Unfolding Light)

Thom Shuman communion liturgy for Easter 5B: Thom Shuman

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Rev Sandy Boyce is a Uniting Church in Australia Minister (Deacon). This blog may be a help to people planning worship services.
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