Questions for Reflection and Discussion (Acts 8 26-40)

painting of the baptism of the Ethiopian by St Philip

Why does this baptism take place in the wilderness, do you suppose?

Here are some questions over the Uniform Series text, Acts 8:26-40, that we could consider in class this Sunday:

How, or what, does the setting of the story – a desert road going from Jerusalem to Gaza – contribute to the meaning of the story? What are some of the meanings “the desert” or “the wilderness” has in scripture (e.g., in the Old Testament; in the gospels’ description of Jesus’ baptism)? Are any of those meanings present in this story? How does that affect your understanding of the importance of the story for us? Why?

There are a number of possible references or echoes in the author’s telling of the story to other stories in scripture (for instance, the visit of the Queen of Sheba to Solomon, and Jesus’ comment on that visit in the gospels; the Hebrews’ rescue by God at the Sea; Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River by John the Baptist). How do these other stories affect your understanding of this story? Do things that happen in your own life ever make you think of scripture, either passages of scripture, or stories? How does that help you in those situations – or does it? Why, or why not?

Philip receives an instruction from an “angel of the Lord” – how would you describe the instruction? Do you imagine the instruction was welcome or unwelcome, made sense or didn’t, to Philip? Why or why not? Can we tell what helped Philip respond faithfully to the instruction? What helps you respond faithfully? What are the kind of things that get in the way? Can you imagine receiving an instruction like Philip’s yourself? (What might that sound like? Why? Have you ever had an experience you might describe this way? What was that like?) How do you think you would respond to a similar kind of instruction in your life these days? Why?

The Ethiopian eunuch Philip baptizes in this story is a “marginal” or “excluded” figure in a number of ways, who is included in the Church by baptism. How does that affect the meaning of this baptism story? What does the story tell us about “baptism into Christ,” and about the Church? Is this something you appreciate about the Church, or something you find challenging, or both? Why? Who are the “marginal” or “excluded” figures in our contemporary world? What would it mean to act as Philip to these people? (Where would we need to go/be, for instance? Why?)

The Ethiopian eunuch in the story is already prepared in some ways to receive Philip’s message, by his familiarity with Judaism, the scriptures, his commitment to worshipping the God of Israel, and so on. Did any ideas and experiences prepare you to receive the gospel? What were those, and how do you see them as preparation? What ideas and experiences do you see as possibly preparing people to receive the gospel these days? How and why?

In what way(s) do you identify with Philip in this story? Why? In what way(s) do you identify with the Ethiopian eunuch? Again, why? Which of those identifications do you find more comfortable? Which more challenging? Why? Do you feel you are more “called” to one of those roles at this point in your life? Why? Does that suggest anything to you about “next steps”? What?

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About HAT

Heather Thiessen (HAT) is a happily married 60-ish, Bible-reading, Presbyterian Church Sunday School teaching and choir singing, small fuel efficient car driving, still pretty much 2nd wave feminist and generally out lesbian Hoosier mom. (There are no monochrome states.) From time to time she teaches religious studies to students at a small liberal arts college in Louisville, Kentucky.
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