Nobody Excluded: Everyone is God’s Child
5 Easter B 2015
May 3, 2015
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
If we were to make a list of the most improbable stories in the New Testament, I bet that today’s story of the Ethiopian eunuch would be in the top 3 or 4—right behind the virginal conception of Jesus and, of course, his resurrection. Today’s story is filled with so many details that are just plain over-the-top crazy.
Philip, the disciple of Jesus, is told by the Holy Spirit to get up and go. So he got up and went: down to the wilderness—the desert. It’s hot and dry there. It bakes every day of the year.
Now, there was a chariot carrying a celebrity of sorts through the desert, down to the south, to go home. This was the person in charge of the treasury of Ethiopia, returning after a trip he took to Jerusalem for the purpose of worship. And he was a eunuch, a sexually mutilated man, serving the Queen of Ethiopia.
The Spirit tells Philip to go over to him, and so he does. Note how Philip is doing what he’s told, just receiving instructions and acting on what he hears.
The Ethiopian Eunuch was reading the prophet Isaiah. And he was wondering what it was all about. Philip took the opportunity to open up a conversation with him about the scripture he was reading, and working up to telling him about Jesus the Messiah—the good news of salvation and the invitation for all people to be a part of the Body of Christ.
Now, note how the eunuch then takes the initiative. He says, “Look! Here is water! What is to prevent ME from being baptized?”
This question is so very poignant, because in the old days there was so much to prevent him from being included in God’s chosen people: his ethnicity, his mutilation, his otherness.
And so we hear how Philip and he went down into the water and Philip baptized him. Then Philip was beamed up by the Holy Spirit and set down in another place. And the eunuch returned home—and he probably became the first evangelist in Africa.
So I started by saying this story was full of lots of improbable things. Let’s list a few:
· the Holy Spirit spoke strong and clear human words to Philip.
· Philip found an Ethiopian eunuch in the middle of nowhere
· this fellow was reading Scripture in the chariot
· there was a deep pool of water ready for them in the hot, dry desert, so deep that they could each be immersed in it
· finally the Holy Spirit beams up Philip and sets him down somewhere else.
Lots of improbabilities. So many that perhaps that’s just the point of the story. The Spirit will stop at nothing to do the Spirit’s work.
Nothing is impossible for God.
We may glean from the story that in God’s way of thinking, everyone is acceptable. Everyone is equally lovable. Even a eunuch, who would have been an outcast in Jewish culture, unable to join the faith as a proselyte or convert because of the mutilation he suffered—even this man is acceptable and worthy in the eyes of God. In God’s new covenant or “new testament” with the people, through Jesus, everyone is worthy. Everyone is acceptable. There is nothing to prevent anyone from being included. Not who they are, what they look like, or what they’ve done.
And yet—don’t we sometimes exclude people from our own circles? Those we find difficult, those who may have hurt us in the past . . . how often do we exclude others and pass judgment upon them?
This past week there was a lovely reflection on the internet from Brother Curtis of SSJE. It was under the title, “See.”
Curtis writes, “Seeing people with new eyes is a restoration of innocence that Christ promises. People whom we may otherwise find irritating, or offensive, or disappointing - they are [children] of God, whom God adores and whom God shares with you. That will dawn on you.” [Curtis Almquist, Brother, Give Us a Word, for April 25, 2015]
We have no right to hold grudges against each other. Each of us is equally flawed in different places. Each of us has stuff that we need to work on. No one is better than any other. Our epistle reading says it definitively:
“Those who say, ‘I love God,’ and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen. The commandment we have from him is this: those who love God must love their brothers and sisters also.” [1 John 4:20-21]
Each of us is a beloved child of God. I think of the little paper square I got at a clergy retreat last year. The person in charge of leading the little retreat service mistakenly picked up the wrong papers to be used in the service. Instead of squares with abstract holy symbols, we got squares of paper with sheep on them—and I can’t decide if my sheep is cute or ugly. But what my sheep has to say / gets to my core every time: My cute or ugly sheep says, “The Good Shepherd knows and loves ME!”
With all my warts and faults and unfinished business, the Good Shepherd knows and loves ME . . .
and the Good Shepherd knows and loves YOU, too.
May we be willing to learn more deeply that each one of us is equal in God’s eyes. Each one of us is of infinite importance to God, whether we are Buddhist Nepalese peasants, Syrian refugees, homeless youth on the streets of Portland, Oregon, residents of a woodsy suburb in Fairfield County, or even Ethiopian eunuchs riding through the desert on the way home. May we strive to revere each other / as the siblings we are.