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Bible Study Guide for Sunday, May 2, 2021

April 29, 2021
  • Acts 8:26-40
  • 1 John 4:7-21
  • John 15:1-8
  • Psalm 22:24-30

The main themes of this week’s readings are Fruitfulness and Unity and perhaps more abstractly, Evangelism, Ecumenism and Works of Love, and that they are at root, entwined. The primary theme is Evangelism. Evangelism can be embarrassing, awkward and usually unsuccessful, and can feel domineering. If evangelism is an imposition of values and beliefs on another it can feel wrong, it can feel like interpersonal colonialism. Here Acts may help us. Philip’s conversation with the Ethiopian Eunuch begins not with him accosting and proselytizing to a stranger, but in helping him with exegesis. The conversion takes place in a conversation that is invited, honest and already inherently pastoral. The Eunuch is in many ways the more active of the two characters, asking enthusiastically to be baptized1. This dovetails neatly with John’s description of confessing that Jesus is the Son of God as an act of love2, and an outpouring of God’s love for us. Evangelism is not, therefore, an act in which we attempt to verbally subdue an interlocutor, but with God’s help, a series of kind, honest and gentle discussions with someone who is genuinely curious.


Nevertheless, I quite often feel like a branch that has borne no fruit3. There have been spiritual discussions in my life that have been profoundly edifying for both or all parties. But many of the ones that stick out in my memory, left both my friends and I feeling a bit alienated. I think this week’s readings also have a two-fold answer for that. While I was at a Christian college during these discussions, and was therefore surrounded by Christian fellows, I was something of a spiritual loner at the time. One of the quotes a good friend of mine was fond of saying was “There is no such thing as a solitary Christian”, but I was pretty close. How then could I not reflect my own spiritual alienation in those discussions? It would have been impossible. While this spiritual alienation may be more acute in me, I in no way believe it to be unique to me yet we are all branches of the vine4; of one body with the Church in Christ. We cannot bear fruit by ourselves unless we abide in the vine. This then is the double answer, for us to honestly and kindly proclaim that Jesus is the Son of God, we must feel like we belong in the church. How else could we sincerely and honestly extend an invitation? The difficult part is that full participation and a feeling of acceptance in the church requires us to rethink the self. Our identity in the church is communal and load bearing and therefore runs counter to and is incompatible with the atomized self of late modernity. Churches are not mere buildings to

receive the eucharist once a week and leave but should be a spiritual home where friendships are made, and relied upon. Where we are welcomed by our brothers and sisters in Christ, and in return continuously welcoming them back. But the vine metaphor goes further, our churches must also seek communion and fellowship with other churches to bear fruit.


The conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch, has become something of an origin myth for the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. Historically it’s a bit dubious, Ethiopian most likely refers to Nubian/Kushite rather than Aksumite/Ethiopian proper. Nevertheless, it reminds us that Christianity has always been bigger, richer, more diverse and more fruitful than we often remember in our own little corner of Christendom. From my limited and lay perspective modern churches are also somewhat atomic, they may exist inside a denomination, but are typically concerned with their own small doings. The most we ever really think about our estranged brethren is either being embarrassed by them or to cheat off their notes for Theology. But I often neglect to celebrate the multitude of ways to worship and love God, which makes the Church feel less vibrant and churches feel disconnected and rootless. This week’s readings are reminders that we are all deeply and profoundly connected, that churches need fellowship and communion with each other as much as we need fellowship and communion as individuals if we are to honestly, kindly and respectfully invite others to join us.


  • What are acceptable and respectful contexts in which there can be evangelism?
  • How can we get past the self-doubt and feelings of fruitlessness in the modern church?
  • How can we make our churches more loving places?



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