May 10, 2009
What is to stop me?
This morning’s reading from Acts is a story of Philip, the deacon,
making one of his first pastoral calls.
Philip is a rather new deacon and this is a rather significant job.
I remember the first pastoral call I was asked to make.
I was an intern at a congregation while I was still in seminary.
The pastor asked me to go to the hospital and visit someone.
This was during the days when hospitals still had visiting hours
but pastors were allowed in any time.
It was a Catholic hospital and they refused to believe I was a pastor.
I finally simply announced that I had a right to be there
and marched down the hall to the woman’s room.
Now this was also back in the days when rooms had at least two beds in them. I found my patient and sat down to talk.
Within seconds a nurse came in to the patient in the other bed
and announced- OK honey, it’s time for your enema.
It’s not easy to go where you’re not sure you belong.
Philip is simply told by an angel to get up and go toward the south.
He is to travel a wilderness road.
Not too many of us hear angels.
But we do know what it's like to be on a wilderness road—
to find ourselves in new and uncharted places,
to feel insecure and unsure of the direction we are to go,
to wonder what's in store for us next.
Philip comes upon an Ethiopian eunuch traveling in his chariot.
The man is reading from the prophet Isaiah and Philip asks him if he understands what he is reading.
"How can I understand unless someone guides me?"
This was a man of significant position.
He worked for the Queen.
He rode in a chariot.
He ran the treasury.
It was common to place eunuchs in high positions in the royal court because they could be trusted.
He was from Ethiopia
which in those days was the end of the known world.
And while he was clearly curious
he was not well educated in the Jewish faith.
So this guy was a real outsider.
Sexually, nationally, racially, religiously
he was an outsider.
And he was not sure what to believe about the religion he was learning.
If he read the Book of Deuteronomy (23:1)
he would be told that those who are sexually mutilated are not welcome in the assembly of the Lord.
But if he read Isaiah (56)
it said eunuchs who obey God would be welcomed
even more than as sons and daughters
and foreigners would be given joy in the house of prayer.
So what was he to believe?
How was he to understand this?
Did he belong or did he not?
And how was he to figure it out without someone’s help?
So Philip jumped into the chariot and rode along with the Ethiopian.
And they talked about Jesus.
You see faith is a team sport.
We are much better at it when we pull together,
when we learn from one another,
when we interact with each other,
when we reach out to others and experience their reaching out to us.
In fact, most Christians will tell you, you can't be a Christian alone.
It is simply impossible,
for relationships are the basis of Christianity,
our relationship to God and God's relationship to us,
our relationships with one another.
We don’t know exactly what Philip said to the Ethiopian about Jesus,
but I would guess it was similar to the reading in 1 John this morning.
God’s love was revealed among us in this way:
God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him.
In this is love,
not that we loved God but that God loved us
and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.
Recently, I've had a number of people tell me that they don't have any trouble with God. They believe in God.
They can talk about God.
They can even pray to God.
They can debate God and wrestle with the concept of a divine power.
They are not sure what to make of Jesus.
That's just it.
We don't have to make anything of Jesus.
He stands on his own.
In fact, he stands among us before we even know he is here.
We don't have to make anything of him.
We simply have to love.
That is what he came for and that is what he died for.
We have lots of folks struggling with the same questions that Ethiopian had for Philip.
The Bible says this or the Bible says that.
What should I believe?
I don’t experience the God you talk about, why should I believe?
I meet folks who don’t come to church because they feel like outsiders. They are different.
They don’t have the same faith,
they don’t know the old songs,
they aren’t sure how to fit in or why to even try.
Sometimes we are looking for the wrong God.
We look to God for protection.
We hear about God controlling nature or preventing sickness,
stopping violence or keeping us from harm.
Or we want God to end the moral confusion in the world,
lay down the law,
hold folks accountable,
catch the cheaters and punish them
and reward the good and faithful.
If God doesn’t do those things we find it hard to believe.
But that is not what God is about.
God is about love.
That is not a sappy and syrupy love,
but a love that is lived out in behavior.
God creates in love,
God rules in love,
God judges in love,
God cannot help it, God is love.
In return we do not have to understand it all,
we don’t even have to believe it all,
we simply have to love and be loved.
So then we begin to worry that we are not worthy of such love.
William Sloan Coffin said-
It is not because we have value that we are loved.
It is because we are loved that we have value.
To understand that whole Jesus thing is simply to act lovingly-
even if imperfectly.
Because love is an act of courage.
Love is of God.
Love is God.
If you believe, you love.
When you love, you believe.
We can imagine Philip says to this man
it doesn’t matter where you come from
it doesn’t matter where you have been or what you have done
your job makes no difference
your race is irrelevant
your sexuality is immaterial
The teachings of Jesus promise you a home
a place to worship
a community with which to learn
a people to love and who will love you
because you are a child of God
and you are loved.
The Ethiopian listened to all this
and Philip probably wondered how much of it was soaking in.
Was he hearing? Was he accepting?
And then from the chariot they saw some water
and the Ethiopian exclaims, "Look, here is water!"
And then asks, "What is to stop me from being baptized,
what is keeping me from becoming a part of this movement this Jesus has begun?”
Well, nothing, nothing at all. Well, nothing, nothing at all. And that's good news to share. Thanks be to God. Amen.