Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Sermon for May 6, 2012; Acts 8:26-40

Rev. George Miller Acts 8:26-40 “No Matter Who Your Are” May 6, 2012 For two years now we have had the opportunity to worship God together; to learn more about Jesus Christ. And for those two years, nearly without fail, we have found time in each service to say the slogan of our denomination “No matter who you are, or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” And we mean it, although from time to time we are challenged as to what exactly “No matter who” means or what the words “welcome here” looks like. And that is Ok, because just like Missouri is known as the “Show Me State” we worship a “Show Me God,” a God who is more interested in heart service then lip service. And if there ever was a story in the Bible that played upon the “no matter who” or the “no matter where”, this is the one. Acts 8:26-40 is a scripture in which the Holy Spirit speaks out to us and says “Do you really want to see the inclusive love of God? Well here it is!” So without further ado, let’s go right into it. Acts is a continuation of the Gospel of Luke. Jesus has ascended into heaven and there has been an outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon his followers. And even though there has been great persecution; even though the disciples have been scattered, imprisoned and barraged with threats, their joy for the Good News can not be contained. They go from place to place, telling people about Jesus, reaching out to the paralyzed, the lame, the possessed, filling the city with great joy. Philip is given a specific task by God: to get up and go to the road between Jerusalem and Gaza. Note there is nothing specific to Philip’s direction; simply “Get up and go.” And when he goes, what does he see? An Ethiopian eunuch, seating in his chariot, reading scripture. And the Spirit says “Go over and join.” Now, let’s stop there for a moment so we can talk about this man from Ethiopia. When this was written, people from Ethiopia were viewed as exotic. Homer, in his epic poem “The Odyssey,” referred to Ethiopians as the most beautiful and tallest people on the face of the earth. The Denzel Washington’s of their day. The man was also well educated. How can we tell? He is reading. Remember: this was at a time before Ipads, a time before books, a time before public schools, when only the elite were educated, when only a select few had access to and could understand the written word. Third, he was a man of authority. He is a court official for the queen, a man trusted with all of her money. Looks, education, power. On the surface the man appears to have it all. He appears to have…enough. But let’s dig deeper, It was believed back then that Ethiopia was the end of the world; it was the furthest you could go before literally falling off the face of the earth. Not to mention it meant this man was not like Philip or Simon or any of the other disciples. He was of a different nationality, a different race, a different and much darker skin tone. He was also not a Jew. Though he may have known about God, though he may have traveled from Africa to Jerusalem to worship, he was not officially “one of them.” Not to mention, he was a eunuch. Now some people know what this means; others do not. A eunuch is a man who has been castrated; he is a man who for various reasons has had his testicles removed. In one way you can say he is blemished; you can say he is incomplete. He is not whole; and therefore he is seen as a sexual outsider, forbidden to make an offering, forbidden to approach the altar, forbidden to enter the sanctuary. Looks, education, authority are one thing; but he’s also a man of a different race, a different religion, of a different body. And there is one more thing: pay attention to where the Ethiopian Eunuch is: he’s on a wilderness road. Another word for wilderness is dessert; another word for wilderness is lonely. The Spirit of God has sent Philip to a man who is different from everyone else on all accounts, and he is sent to a man who for all intents and purposes, is…alone; During the hottest part of the day; With a broken body; Far from the sanctity of the Temple; Far from the comforts of his own home. I wonder if at that moment the man felt like he had “enough” or if perhaps he felt like he was on “empty.” …But he wasn’t really empty at all, because he had a thirst for knowledge; …he wasn’t really empty at all because he had a hunger to understand just what the scripture was trying to say. And he wasn’t really alone. Because clearly, if the Spirit of God whisked Philip his way; if the Spirit lead Philip to that wilderness place, then it meant that God knew just who that man was. Just like how God knows who you, and you, and I am… …Yes, the man may have been tall and beautiful, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have been well educated and placed in a role of authority, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have lived in the furthest regions of the Earth, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have been of a different race and a different religion, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have a body that was no longer what it once was or looked like the bodies of others, but God knew who he was. Yes, the man may have been denied entrance to the temple and in a lonely, wilderness place, but God knew who he was. And because God knew who he was, God knew what he needed. And because of this, God was able to reach out to the man through the obedient ministry of Philip. And Philip, by getting into that chariot, by sitting beside that man, by sharing with him the Good News of Jesus Christ, basically said, through his actions: “My friend: No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” And when they come across a body of water, the man asked “What is to stop me from being baptized.” And with that the man is initiated into the inclusive Body of Christ, and as Luke writes it, he goes on “his way rejoicing.” Know what another way of saying rejoicing is: to be filled with joy! Yes, a man who was different from everyone else in virtually every way has a Christ experience and continues his life journey filled with happiness. In conclusion, as a church we continue to grow, we continue to seek understanding, we continue to find ways to emulate Christ and show compassion to a broken and lonely world. Let us not forget stories like today’s; let us not forget how God lead Philip off the beaten track to reach out to an another who was on the side of a lonely road. Because the truth is, at different points of our lives, we are all “the other”, aren’t we? And we all experience moments of feeling incomplete or all alone. But the good news is that when it comes to new life in Christ, it does not matter how tall or how short, no matter how near or far, no matter how well educated or how high powered we are, nor does it matter how whole or incomplete we seem to be, in Christ we are all one, in Christ we are all welcomed into the community of God. Because of that our emptiness is filled with enough and we can go on our way, rejoicing. For that I like to say “Amen.”

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