April 25th Worship

Order of Service

PreludeChris Johansen, piano
Confession & ForgivenessPastor Linda
Gathering SongThere’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Prayer of the Day
Pastor Linda
Psalm 100Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
ScriptureActs 6:1 – 7:2a; 44-60Molly Tulkki
SermonPastor Linda
HymnWhen We Are Living
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
Statement of FaithPastor Linda
Prayers of IntercessionLiz Dodge
Lord’s Prayer
Pastor Linda
Closing HymnWe Know that Christ is Raised
Harry Johansen
Chris Johansen, piano
DismissalPastor Linda
PostludeChris Johansen, piano

Audio Recording


Chris Johansen


Confession & Forgiveness

P:  In the name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit.                          

   C: Amen

P: Trusting in the promise of God’s word, we admit the sin that confronts and confounds us.

     Silence for reflection and self-examination.

P: Most faithful God,

C: We confess that we have failed to walk in the way of your Son. We have shut our ears to your call to serve as Christ served us. We have shut our eyes to the suffering of your people and of your world. We have closed our minds to the possibilities of life and the mysteries of faith.
Call us out, gracious God, and grant us life.

P: We who were once far off have been brought near to God through the cross of Jesus. May almighty God grant you grace to forgive one another as God in Christ has forgiven you.     Amen.

Gathering Song – There’s a Wideness in God’s Mercy

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,
like the wideness of the sea;
there’s a kindness in God’s justice
which is more than liberty.
There is no place where earth’s sorrows
are more felt than up in heav’n.
There is no place where earth’s failings
have such kindly judgment giv’n.

There is welcome for the sinner,
and a promised grace made good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.
There is grace enough for thousands
of new worlds as great as this;
there is room for fresh creations
in that upper home of bliss.

For the love of God is broader
than the measures of the mind;
and the heart of the Eternal
is most wonderfully kind.
But we make this love too narrow
by false limits of our own;
and we magnify its strictness
with a zeal God will not own.

‘Tis not all we owe to Jesus;
it is something more than all:
greater good because of evil,
larger mercy through the fall.
Make our love, O God, more faithful;
let us take you at your word,
and our lives will be thanksgiving
for the goodness of the Lord.

Text: Frederic W. Faber
Music: North American, 19th cent. (Lord, Revive Us)


P: The grace of our Savior Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

       C: And also with you.  

Prayer of the Day

All that I am Lord, I place into Your hands. Everything I work for, I place into your hands. Everything I hope for, I place into your hands. The troubles that weary me, I place into your hands. The thoughts that disturb me, I place into your hands. Show me what blessing it is that I have work to do. And sometimes, and most of all, when the day is overcast and my courage faints, let me hear your voice saying, ‘You are my beloved, an instrument of my own hands, a child of my own heart.’   Amen



Psalm 100

1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord, | all you lands!
     2 Serve the Lord with gladness; come into God’s presence | with a song.

3 Know that the Lord is God, our maker to whom | we belong;
     we are God’s people and the sheep | of God’s pasture.

4 Enter the gates of the Lord with thanksgiving and the | courts with praise;
     give thanks and bless God’s | holy name.

5 Good indeed is the Lord, whose steadfast love is | everlasting,
     whose faithfulness endures from | age to age.

Intro to Scripture

In last week’s scripture reading, Steven was among those chosen to serve from the kitchen. He was one of seven men commissioned to distribute food equitably within the Christian community. Steven dished out more than daily bread however, and was killed by the Jewish authorities for proclaiming Christ crucified and risen, the Son of God – and we were told that a young man named Saul – soon to be transformed, but not soon enough  – watched and approved of their killing him.

We pick up the story in chapter 8 of the book of Acts:

Scripture Reading – Acts 8:1-6,8; 14-15; 25-40

1That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all the company except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria. 2Devout men buried Stephen and made loud lamentation over him. 3But Saul was ravaging the church by entering house after house; dragging off both men and women, he committed them to prison.

4Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word. 5Philip went to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. 6The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, 8So there was great joy in that city.

14When the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had accepted the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them. 15The two went and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit.

25After Peter and John had testified and spoken the word of the Lord, they returned to Jerusalem, proclaiming the good news to many villages of the Samaritans.

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, he was in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading aloud from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31the eunuch replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
            and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.
33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
            Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

The word of the Lord


God works in mysterious ways. This phrase is not in the Bible, by the way, but is true, just the same. Philip was one of the seven men assigned kitchen duty along with Steven – so here we go again. The Holy Spirit doesn’t seem to be paying any attention to the protocol or the orderly plans the disciples have set in place to expedite the spread of God’s word a nd the care of the fledgling, persecuted community of believers in Christ Jesus. God’s Spirit seems to be ignoring all of their hierarchies and just using people sort of willy-nilly. I am quite tempted to end right here and leave you with a long period of silence and some questions: what plans have you made for your life and realm – your family, work, future – and what happens to your faith when those plans get messed with, especially if it might seem that God’s spirit is the one who is doing the messing – changing the course you had set, or nudging you to take some kind of risk or wilderness road? How vulnerable are you willing to be? How engaged is your trust in God’s love and provision?

That might be enough for a sermon some day…. However, too many things interest me about this story, so on we go.

The persecution and bullying tactics of Saul had the opposite effect of what he had planned. He actually aided the Christian movement he intended to crush. Without realizing it, his actions established the necessary momentum that got the disciples out of Jerusalem – that helped their commissioning to spread the gospel, the good news of God in Jesus, to all of Judea and Samaria and the world beyond. Funny how that works.

Philip began his calling in the kitchen in Jerusalem with Steven. But Steven’s death sent him – along with most of this community of believers – out of Jerusalem – scattering like quail chicks from the momma when danger arises.  The Spirit’s urging eventually set Philip onto a wilderness road heading no where in particular – just south from Jerusalem.  As he makes his way down this road contemplating what his next career move might be, another character appears, odd and surprising in his own right:  a royal chariot from a far distant country, with an Ethiopian reading loudly – I like to imagine quite theatrically – to himself from a scroll of Hebrew scripture.

Biblical commentaries disagree as to which aspects of this man’s presentation would have been the most noteworthy. Some argue that his racial / ethnic background would actually not have been an issue for Philip – that it is only modern readers who assume race plays a major distancing role in the story.  Some think his class would have functioned as the major distinguishing factor. The Ethiopian rode in a chariot, and, as he was in charge of the queen’s treasury, and had a scroll of the prophet Isaiah in his possession, he was obviously pretty well decked out. He was literate, intelligent, and wealthy. He was a high government official riding along in his automobile.

Philip, on the other hand, must have looked like a scraggly vagabond walking a long road, with possibly just the tunic on his back, looking like the poor traveler he was.       

So, yes, the man was from Ethiopia and represents those who are geographically and ethnically different.           And yes, he was wealthy – a status that has not faired well in Luke’s writing….

            …but we can’t forget that the man was also a eunuch: a distinguishing difference. In fact, Luke calls him “the eunuch” five times! No name, just your average, run of the mill eunuch in charge of a queen’s treasury, 5 days journey from home, having come from Jerusalem, where he couldn’t have entered the temple anyway – in spite of his power, prestige, wealth, class and education – because he was a eunuch: A male who has been castrated – generally before puberty.

Because of what they lacked physically, eunuchs were considered to be well suited to attend to female royalty. They might plot, but they could not usurp. The throne and the line of royal lineage was safe from detours. However, at several points in the Old Testament, eunuchs are banned from entering the temple or converting to Judaism, so although he is curious about the word of God, although he had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home reading aloud from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah, although he was wealthy and relatively powerful, due to his sexual situation, the Ethiopian eunuch was most certainly understood to be an outsider, geographically and categorically from the ends of the earth, as  distinctly “other” as one could possibly be.

He had been seeking God in all the right places, even if those places didn’t accept him. He was on his way home from a pilgrimage – perhaps frustrated in his attempt to worship, perhaps consoling himself with the scripture passage called the suffering servant.

And then Philip comes running up along side.

This is where I think it gets interesting. The story is billed as the Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch. The next story in Acts is the Conversion of Paul, and chapter 10 begins with the Conversion of Cornelius, who is seen as the headliner for Gentiles being included in the People of God. The implied message is that, like Philip and Paul and Peter, we should tell everyone we meet about Jesus because in doing so we might save them. We might convert them. We might change them into being more like us.

But I don’t think that’s what happened, nor that it should.

When all was said and done, the Ethiopian eunuch remained a eunuch from Ethiopia, continuing on his way home rejoicing. Changed, yes – encounters with God are bound to change us. But I wonder…

            …I wonder if, when the Spirit guided Philip to that road in the desert, if she didn’t guide him to his own conversion.

What if the Ethiopian eunuch had been riding along, reading aloud, when the Spirit of God came up alongside and gave him a nudge, and a message.    I like to imagine that we only have one side of these stories. We only follow one set of tracks. We don’t know if the Spirit also gave the Eunuch a command to invite. “Go out on the wilderness road, and read loudly from the scroll, and when you see a stranger, stop, consider him, listen to what he has to say. Invite this nice Jewish boy—representative of all that clings to the law and rejects you from God’s house and people — invite him to sit beside you. Go…join…invite…ask questions…open yourself to the possibilities.” 

Did Philip, in his encounter with this foreigner, perhaps learn that there are no exclusions, no limits to sacramental hospitality? There is only wonder and provision. Is this why he was sent out of the kitchen?

When he joined this person who sought to worship God despite his exclusion from the assembly and structure and ritual of the temple, was it not perhaps Philip himself who was converted to a fuller vision? As Philip shared his understanding about the person of Jesus, did he not also glimpse – like a mirage – the suffering servant in the suffering of this one who has been made to be other, isolated, outcast?

Like a sheep led to the slaughter,  and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
so he does not open his mouth.   33In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.

The Ethiopian eunuch wondered who this text was about … did he not find a kindred spirit in the image of suffering in scripture?

Philip and the Eunuch ask each other questions. The only command comes from God and the command is to “Go and join.”  Go and join the other.

Doesn’t that make the world and your work and your chance acquaintances more interesting, more sacramental, more to wonder at?

Doesn’t that make you wonder what opportunities you have missed in dismissing someone as irrelevant or unnecessary to your daily life because they are in some other category?  And doesn’t this sound too familiar?

A Black man, made to be ‘other’, wondering whose suffering the prophet is talking about.  “Who can describe his generation?”  We can. It is our generation, our lack of justice. Justice for George Floyd is not found in the conviction of Derek Chauvin. For George Floyd, it’s too late for that. Justice does not redeem a past event, but is granted, enacted or denied in the present moment of suffering.

33In his humiliation justice was denied him. For his life is taken away from the earth.”

But, existing only in the present moment, perhaps the Holy Spirit is nudging again, working through another Black life to convert us to a fuller vision of God’s family, of sacred inclusion, of compassion.

In a statement from the UCC national leadership come these thoughts, “May it be that George Floyd will be remembered as a turning, the re-birthing of a movement for justice. May he be remembered as one whose death caused white Americans to turn their faces towards the pain and suffering of Black communities that have been the object of white derision and scorn, a pain and suffering from which whites have too often and too easily turned their faces away. We cannot rest until justice is an expectation.”

In his enthusiasm for what he was hearing about life in the suffering and risen Christ, and seeing some water, the Ethiopian asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”  Well, how long do you have?  They were in the middle of nowhere; Philip is himself a recent convert, not a Jew, and not a religious professional; the eunuch was not welcome in the temple, he had only just heard about Jesus, he was from another country, and, oh yeah, he was a eunuch—one of “those people.” Leviticus and Deuteronomy explicitly forbid eunuchs from inclusion in the people of God.

So, it’s a good thing that Philip was a newbie and didn’t know the finer points of Torah. In his ignorance of the law, he is open to the Spirit’s nudgings. Luke presents here a picture of the new covenant community where nothing prevents one from being joined to Christ, because, in Christ God has joined himself to human flesh, to all of creation, for the sake of reconciliation, for the sake of love.

Philip – commissioned for the task of hospitality – extends hospitality and baptizes the Ethiopian eunuch, joining him into the family of God.  Right there.  Along a desert highway. And an oasis – a return to Eden in the midst of barren thistles and thorns – a fertile spot, appeared for a eunuch, and a brother was formed for a homeless disciple on the road. So, whose conversion was it?   

Perhaps the readers of every generation.

God works in mysterious ways. What will you do with the surprising possibilities that arise when you’re pretty sure you’re riding alone down a desert road?

Or when you’re pretty sure you are the one with the answers?

Growth and grace, mystery and vulnerability – it’s all here in the story of a hot day on a desert highway.

       Oh, and the Spirit of God? She was understandably pleased with the results of this “chance” meeting and sent them on the way rejoicing.

Breathe on us, Breath of God. Encourage us, too, to go and join. There is grief to feel, pain and suffering to acknowledge, lives to commemorate, and celebrate … and may the winds, the spirit or breath of change be on the move for Love’s sake.

Hymn – When We Are Living

verse 1 in Spanish, then vs. 1-3 in English

Pues si vivimos para Él vivimos
y si morimos para él morimos.
Sea que vivamos o que muramos,
somos del Señor, somos del Señor.

When we are living, it is in Christ Jesus,
and when we’re dying, it is in the Lord.
Both in our living and in our dying,
we belong to God; we belong to God.

‘Mid times of sorrow and in times of pain,
when sensing beauty or in love’s embrace,
whether we suffer, or sing rejoicing,
we belong to God; we belong to God.

Across this wide world, we shall always find
those who are crying with no peace of mind,
but when we help them, or when we feed them,
we belong to God; we belong to God.

Text: st. 1, based on Romans 14:8; tr. Elise S. Eslinger
st. 2-3, Roberto Escamilla; tr. George Lockwood
Music: Spanish traditional

Statement of Faith

I arise today
Through God’s strength to pilot me; God’s might to uphold me,
God’s wisdom to guide me.

I arise today trusting that Christ is with me;
Christ as a light to illumine and guide me,
Christ as a shield, over shadows me,
Christ under me, Christ over me
Christ beside me, on my left and my right.

I arise today believing in the Holy Spirit;
giving life to all life, moving all creatures, the root of all things,
washing them clean, wiping out their mistakes, healing their wounds.

O God, you all in all, you are our true life:
luminous, wonderful, awakening the heart from its ancient sleep.          

~ adapted fromSt. Patrick (ca. 377) and Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179)

Prayers of Intercession

Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread and forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Save us from the time of trial and deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen


Hymn – We Know that Christ is Raised

We know that Christ is raised and dies no more.
Embraced by death, he broke its fearful hold,
and our despair he turned to blazing joy.

We share by water in his saving death.
Reborn, we share with him an Easter life
as living members of a living Christ.

The Father’s splendor clothes the Son with life.
The Spirit’s power shakes the church of God.
Baptized, we live with God, the Three in One.

A new creation comes to life and grows
as Christ’s new body takes on flesh and blood.
The universe, restored and whole, will sing:

Text: John B. Geyer
Music: Charles v. Stanford


Go into this week with the strength you have.
Go simply, lightly, gently
Go in search of Love.
And trust that the Spirit of God goes with you.  Amen


Chris Johansen