The sorcerer and the eunuch.
As we continue to follow the Holy Spirit through the lives of the apostles, we come upon two men who have very different attitudes towards the work of God.
In the course of his ministry, the deacon Philip will encounter many people who hear and believe the good news about Jesus Christ… what is it about the sorcerer and the eunuch that make their stories so special?
I believe it is the contrast between their responses that is so telling.
One arrogant and brash, the other humble and full of questions.
For one, the power of the Holy Spirit is a commodity to be bought and sold, possessed and tamed.
For the other, that power is precious, mysterious, and a gift to be treated delicately.
Like with the story of Mary and Martha, we are given a chance to examine our lives, find where our tendencies lie, and invited to choose a better way.
The first major difference in these two stories is how each of them is introduced to the Holy Spirit.
In the case of the sorcerer, familiar with magic and illusion, the Holy Spirit is seen from a far. Here is a man who has heard the good news of God and joined the fellowship of believers. He has in some ways left behind his old ways, but he still desires to be the center of attention. He still wants to draw a crowd. And so when he sees the apostles laying hands on people so that they could receive the Holy Spirit, he suddenly wants their job.
So he runs over to them and throws down a bag of coins… “I want to do that, too!” he begs. “Give me that authority.”
The sorcerer believes the Holy Spirit is something to be possessed. The sorcerer wants a new bag of tricks for his show.
On the other hand, the eunuch has the Holy Spirit brought to him. We can see how she is working behind the scenes… leading Philip to take a certain road, telling him to walk alongside the cart. She has already been present in the life of this eunuch who is reading the scriptures, hoping to understand them. And so, when he hears the good news, and an oasis of water suddenly appears alongside their desert road, he asks – what would stop me from being baptised too? It is not a demand, it is a humble question of faith.
In our journeys of faith, sometimes we get jealous of what other people have – faith that seems so strong, a prayer life that seems so powerful. We often struggle with what we don’t have.
Maybe you have uttered the phrase, “I wish I could pray like so and so” or “if only we had a choir or a praise band” or “I wish I could read the scriptures like that person.”
There is nothing wrong with wanting to grow in our faith. There is nothing wrong with seeing what other people are doing and seeking God’s guidance about the ways we can live out our faith.
But in the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we are invited to see that it is not what we don’t have that matters…. what matters is what the Holy Spirit has already brought into our lives. We can be so busy looking at what others have and what we desire that we can’t see the gifts right in front of us. One of the things that we will explore later this morning in our workshop is the idea that we don’t have to have a fancy choir in order to be faithful to God… we each have a voice that we can use, we each have a part to play in our time of worship. Just because we don’t have robes and lights and big voices does not mean that there isn’t a song to be sung.
The other major difference between these two characters is what they are hoping to gain through the Holy Spirit.
While the sorcerer had once been the center of attention, he finds that notoriety fading as a new player, the deacon Philip, comes on the scene. Suddenly, it is someone else doing the healing… someone else drawing the crowds… and the sorcerer himself is astonished by the power that the followers of Christ possess.
But as soon as he perceives the source of this power, he wants it for himself. He wants to again be someone that others flock around. He wants to have the magical ability so that he can carry it to some far off place and again be on the stage with people at his feet. Our sorcerer is a performer and faith is a tool, a prop, to get him what he wants. Or maybe its not even quite a cynical as that… Faith is now a part of his life – but he can’t quite give up his old ways and he transforms the faith rather than allowing it to transform him.
Notice, no where did I talk about a community, or a group… faith for the sorcerer was all about himself and what he could use it for.
On the other hand, our eunuch wanted to be included. He wanted to belong. He wanted to be a part of a community that understood.
Our text tells us that this African man was coming from Jerusalem where he had probably spent time in the temple worshipping. And yet, as a eunuch, the fullness of worship would have been closed off to him. He would only have been allowed into the Court of the Gentiles. Gary DeLashmutt writes that because of his social standing as a “sexually altered black man from a pagan country” doors were automatically closed for him. Who knows what his experiences had been in Jerusalem… how many times he had been turned away…
In spite of his standing in the court of the queen of Ethiopia… in spite of his wealth… in spite of all the power he could and did possess, the eunuch knew that he could not buy a place in the family of God. He knew that there were countless barriers in his way, but all he wanted to do was to belong.
In spite of the threat of further rejection, the eunuch persists and when he and Philip come to that small oasis of water by the side of the road, he asks a heartbreaking question: “What would prevent me from being baptized?”
He wants to belong. He wants to join in the fellowship. And he found in Philip a person who, according to DeLashmutt, “understood that his standing with God was based not on his ethnic identity, moral record, religious heritage, etc.—but through Jesus’ death alone… He understood that Jesus loved this eunuch and was able to give him new life just as he did Philip.” So he leads him down to the water and our eunuch is baptized.
Although our story says that he went on his way rejoicing, we do not know the end of his story. We don’t know where he goes or how his life and his faith continue in the story of God. But we know that want he wanted was to belong… and when someone finds true welcome, they in turn want to pass it on.
In the stories of the sorcerer and the eunuch, we find a performer desiring a stage and a person seeking a home. In their contrast, we are reminded that faith through the Holy Spirit is not about me or you, but about us.
Diedrich Bonhoeffer once wrote: “It is not you that sings, it is the church that is singing, and you, as a member… may share in its song. Thus all singing together that is right must serve to widen our spiritual horizon, make us see our little company as a member of the great Christian church on earth, and help us willingly and gladly to join our singing, be it feeble or good, to the song of the church”
Many of you are here because you have already found a spiritual home… you have found a community of people to join your voice to. But at some point in your life, perhaps you, like the eunuch, were searching for a place to belong and a song to sing…
There might not be anything in our text this morning about music, but we have talked about stories and bodies and hopes and dreams and who is welcome and what we want and all of those things have everything to do with singing.
As Colleen will share with us later this morning, music is powerful. It calls us into being as a community. It gives us a common language. Singing takes our whole selves – mind, body, and soul.
Don Saliers, a United Methodist pastor and the Director of Sacred Music at Candler School of theology writes: “through the practice of singing, the dispositions and beliefs expressed in the words of the hymns – gratitude, trust, sadness, joy, hope – had become knit into their bodies, as integral parts of the theology by which they lived.”
When we sing together, we are reminded that faith is about US not about me. When we sing together, we are taught again and again about the faith in our music. When we join our voices together in song, we are telling the world that we belong to God and telling God about this world that we care so deeply about. When we sing together, we are passing on the theology of our mothers and fathers to our children and our grandchildren.
Let us not be sorcerers who want to control and possess the power of God, singing by ourselves – or even worse, letting someone else sing for us while we sit back and watch.. but like the eunuch, let us humbly seek to join our voice with the song of faith that has been sung for so long. Let us celebrate the faith we have found, and like Philip, not be afraid to pass it on.