The Ethiopian official was in Gaza, on a wilderness road from Jerusalem on the way south toward Sinai, Egypt, and home. He was pondering the words of Isaiah. Since he was rich, in charge of the Candace’s treasury, he had his very own scroll. Perhaps he was a Jew. Or perhaps he was just curious. Or scared. He was reading about the humiliation of a nameless servant of God and wondering if the prophet was writing about himself or someone else.

While the text doesn’t say the official was afraid, since he was powerful, and it was the first century, he probably had enemies. He’d been away for weeks, plenty of time for someone to whisper lies in the queen’s ear. Perhaps he thought the prophet was warning one servant in particular to be prepared for trouble. But then the Holy Spirit sent Philip to lead Bible study, to reveal the good news of Jesus Christ. The man was baptized and rode home with his heart full of joy. History doesn’t record what happened to him. But it sounds like a happy ending either way. A heart full of joy leaves little room for darkness. Or as 1 John says, “Perfect love casts out fear.”

Both 1 John and the Gaza story, from the book of the Acts, were up Sunday when I visited Iglesia Episcopal Immanuel in El Monte, where the Rev. Roberto Limatu is the brilliant, loving, devoted vicar. The church was as full as the Ethiopian official’s heart. Nearly 20 came forward for their confirmation, reception, or first communion, the latter group co-taught by Roberto’s spouse, Sandra (who may have another class ready by November).

The Limatus’ son Immanuel, almost 12, was confirmed. He’s a guitarist, football player, and top scholar, with a head for computers. I asked him make himself as rich as the Candace’s finance minister by figuring out how to reduce the number of emails worldwide. I think Immanuel’s already got it figured out. His solution involves AI. Victoria, who soloed on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” when I last visited in 2022, took her first communion and modeled my mitre. A delicious luncheon for the ages followed the Spanish-language service, where I preached and presided.

Reflecting on the Gaza story, I said the love of God shines on creation like a spotlight on a stage. We can step into the light, or not. Sometimes the shadows of fear and injustice find us instead. It’s hard to believe in perfect love when suffering pluperfect agony. But the light has shown on Gaza for all the centuries since the official rode through there in his chariot. Those responsible for the worst agony in Israel and Palestine don’t see the light, even though they’ve got their scrolls out. Torah and the Holy Quran are about love, forgiveness, forbearance, and reconciliation. But Hamas and extreme Israeli religious leaders and settlers miss those values and instead find warrant in the texts to inflict suffering in God’s name. Among all the resources for peace that our siblings in the region need, let’s not forget some better scripture teachers.