Both Went Down Into the Water -Acts 8: 26-40
I met Lydia early in my ministry.
She was a young mom who came to me, seeking baptism for her two year old son.
She hadn’t been raised with religion, and wasn’t baptized.
Her husband was a “Christian in recovery”—
He said that church was like zucchini, and in his big Italian family, he’d had enough of it growing up. They didn’t seem like great candidates for conversion.
But Lydia had an experience that motivated her to look into the life of faith.
A few months prior, her young son was in the backyard with his 10 year old step sister.
When his step sister wasn’t looking, he picked up an acorn and put it in his mouth.
Somehow he inhaled, and the nut became lodged in his throat. At that same moment, Lydia, who was inside the house, suddenly had an intuition that she should go check on the kids. When she did, she saw the panic on her step daughter’s face, and the blue tinge in her son’s skin. Lydia turned her son upside down and knocked the acorn out,
and began CPR while her step daughter called 911.
Lydia’s son lived, and miraculously had no lasting injuries. When Lydia told me the story, she said, “I don’t know how I knew to go check on him, but someone told me to.
I am here at church because I want to know who to thank.”
This baptism was different than the others I had performed. Usually I was baptizing children of churched people. In fact, that is really what my training prepared me for—
discipling people who were already connected to a faith community, or at least having had exposure to a faith community. But Lydia was like a growing number of people in our country who claim no religious affiliation, Some 20-30% of the population, according to studies. She was not the usual candidate for baptism.
In our lesson from Acts, the apostle Philip baptizes a man who is also not a traditional candidate. He was a high ranking official from Ethiopia, the queen’s right hand man.
He was also a spiritual seeker, interested in the God of the Israelites. He had made the long journey to Jerusalem to learn more about this God.
As luck would have it, however, he wasn’t allowed in the temple. He was a eunuch, a man marked for royal service. The Jewish law considered such people emasculated, and therefore unfit to enter the temple. And so on his return trip to Ethiopia, he was still trying to figure out the Jewish scriptures. That’s when Philip was called by an angel of the Lord to show up. Philip heard the Ethiopian reading the prophet Isaiah aloud, and asked him about it. At the official’s invitation, Philip got up into the chariot. Philip did such a great job explaining the passage from Isaiah, that immediately the man wanted to be baptized.
I think this story is a great example of what evangelism is about. The word evangelism comes from a Greek word which means, Good News. The book of Acts literally says that Philip, “proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.”
But for many of us, our conceptions of evangelism are anything but good news.
When you hear the word, evangelism, what do you think of? Going door to door selling religion? Asking if someone has accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior?
Narrow minded views? The judgement that only your brand of religion is right?
This story about Philip and the Ethiopian official to me is a better representation of evangelism. True evangelism is based on two things: Connection to the Spirit in prayer, and relationships with people. You can see it in the story. Philip is so intimately connected to God in prayer, that an angel tells him to take the wilderness road to Gaza, and the spirit tells him to get in the chariot. At each juncture, you can see that Philip is following God’s direction.
Evangelism is about relationships with people, and being attentive to their needs.
In this passage you can see that Philip is not cramming anything down this man’s throat;
This official is already showing interest; Philip builds on his natural curiosity.
He lets the Ethiopian official take the lead, answering his questions,
and finally gets in the chariot when he is invited to do so.
True evangelism presumes that the other person has their own experiences and beliefs,
That they have validity, and therefore treats them with respect.
Then Philip accompanies this Ethiopian official—
In his chariot, in conversation and questions, and finally, even down into the waters of baptism. Philip does not approach this official as a means to an end—another soul won for Christ-- But rather a holy encounter in which he takes the time to journey alongside him
Learn about him, and share mutually.
As I read the text, I believe there is reason to believe that this evangelism changed Philip
as much as it did the Ethiopian official. Scripture says, “Both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water.”
Philip was doing the baptizing, but he isn’t just a conveyor of God’s work.
For when Philip comes up out the water, the Spirit comes to him,
just as it comes to those being baptized.
The Spirit snatches Philip away and places him miles north of Gaza, in Azotus.
To me, this is an indicator of what can happen when we share good news:
it can send us in an entirely different direction.
Which brings me back to Lydia. She was so earnest in wanting to know God, and we had talked about her becoming baptized Once her life settled down. She did attend church for a while, but eventually she disappeared. Then couple of years later, Lydia appeared with another baby they wanted baptized. I was a young pastor, and I felt the promises people make at baptism were important What about worship? I asked. What about getting baptized yourself? Lydia had promised to bring her children to the Lord’s house, to live among God’s people, and she wasn’t doing it. Lydia considered my words,
and sadly said she had really hoped to baptize their baby with me at this church,
but that she understood.
That night I couldn’t sleep.
I kept thinking about what I’d said to Lydia.
And it was bothering me, because it didn’t seem right anymore.
Yes, parents make promises in baptism, but so do godparents and the church community.
Nobody keeps them 100%.
The most important thing is the promises that God makes on that day, to that person being baptized:
Child of God, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross forever.
God never goes back on that promise.
No matter how poorly we do our part, no matter how misguided we get, God keeps on reaching out to us, inviting us back.
That’s what baptism is about.
That’s what evangelism is about—it is always Good News.
The next day I called Lydia and apologized.
I said, “I believe baptism is a gift that none of us earn. It’s not a measuring stick that we have to live up to.
I made baptism a measuring stick on you, and I am sorry.
I would be happy to meet with you and baptize your baby.”
I was changed by this encounter with Lydia, and I have never looked at baptism the same.
Today we welcome Sloan and her family, knowing that we are on a journey together.
It’s a journey of evangelism, of good news,
where together we learn about each other and the faith we share.
Where we open ourselves to change and grow along side one another.
Whether we are sharing the faith with fellow church members
or people who have never been in a church,
evangelism is about our connection to God, and our relationships with people.
We all go down into the water together, and we come out of the water together, too.