Fourth Sunday after Easter: May 7, 2017
Acts 8:26-39 and Luke 24:44-47
What follows is a true story. Some details have been omitted to protect the identity of the persons whose story I am sharing.
It was Communion Sunday.
The minister was about to launch into his sermon.
However, instead of standing at the pulpit, he walked over to the Communion Table and, with a vicious movement of his arm, swept the vessels and their contents off the Table and onto the floor. You can imagine the mess.
Then the minister said to the congregation: “You do not deserve to be at this Table!” Then he stalked off the worship platform and made his way to his office.
This was a desperate cry for help. The minister was burnt out and deeply depressed – and, at that point was blaming the congregation for his distress. Fortunately, he was able to allow some folks to come alongside of him, got into psychotherapy and on an antidepressant, and, after a couple of years, was able to return to ministry in a different congregation.
But is there some truth in his action? Do we deserve to be able to gather around the Lord’s Table?
We get along pretty well in this congregation.
But there are some folks who have hurt others by their words and actions – it’s inevitable.
And there are some folks who are not able to forgive and let go of the hurts they have experienced.
And there are differences in how we think certain things should be done.
And there are differences in how we understand the Bible and in what we believe the Bible says about some things.
So we bring that stuff with us as we gather for worship and, on Communion Sundays, as we gather round the Table.
Does that stuff mean that we do not deserve to be here?
Hold that thought.
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a story of two people who could not be more different.
Philp was a Greek. The Eunuch was from northern Africa.
Very different cultures.
More than that, the eunuch may have been a person who had been sexually neutered – much as some dogs, cats, cows, horses, and other domestic animals are neutered. Does it make you uncomfortable to think about that? The word translated as “eunuch” was also used to characterize persons who were biologically males but who did not naturally exhibit stereotypical male sexuality. Some scholars think that the Ethiopian eunuch might have been “gay.”
The eunuch had come to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and was on his way home when he encountered Philip. He was obviously seeking meaning in his life. He even had a scroll of the words of the prophet Isaiah – and was reading the passage from Isaiah 53 in which Isaiah spoke the words which have come to be understood as being embodied in the life and ministry of Jesus.
But he did not know how to interpret those words – how to understand them and apply them to his life.
And then there was Philip – who just happened to be in the right place and at the right time. Philip was able to share the story of Jesus with the eunuch.
You heard the eunuch’s response to the connection that Philip made to the passage from the writings of the prophet known as Isaiah: “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”
Here’s another brief detour, so please hold that thought also.
When that phrase “Son of God” is used in the Bible, it means something different than it usually does in English. It doesn’t mean the “biological offspring of God.” Rather, it means “of the same kind as God.” It’s a way of saying that this Jesus, about whom Philip was telling the Ethiopian eunuch, was God in human form.
So back to Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch.
The eunuch was saying to Philip: “I have now met God, in this Jesus about whom you have been telling me – and I believe in Him – so much so that I want to live my life in relationship with Him.
That was all that was needed for Philip to stop the chariot in which they were riding and baptize his newly found “brother in Christ.” The eunuch didn’t have to be a Greek, like Philip. He didn’t have to somehow regain his complete “manhood” – which, of course, would have been impossible anyway. He was OK as he was – a person who believed in Jesus and wanted to live his life in relationship with Jesus.
Our denomination is currently having a conversation about sexual orientation and gender inclusion. For many people, it’s a very difficult conversation and many people do not want to have anything to do with it.
For me, it has been clear for most of my five-and-a-half decades of ministry that the only thing required in order to be a member or leader in the Church is that we believe that Jesus is God, living among us in human form, and that we want to live our lives in relationship with Him.
We don’t have to be “straight.” We don’t have to be middle or upper class. We don’t have to be educated. We don’t have to belong to a specific ethnicity, race, or culture. We just need to believe that Jesus is God in human form and want to live our lives in relationship with Him.
So we DON’T have to earn the right to be at the table around which we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
We are here because Jesus graciously invites us to be here.
And we have accepted that grace-filled invitation.
The minister who swept the communion elements off the Table and castigated the congregants was wrong, of course. Somehow, he had allowed his expectations of himself to destroy his own personal acceptance of that grace-filled invitation. His castigation of the congregation was really a reflection of his castigation of himself. In a state of self-rejection, he rejected the members of the congregation and, for a while, rejected God.
Friends – know that we are accepted by God just as we are.
All that is required of us is that we believe that Jesus is God and want to live our lives in relationship with Him.
It is our privilege, always, to be able to welcome all for whom that is true.
Copyright May 7, 2017: John C Carr, ThM, PhD