Baptisms and Miracles

To modern day readers, this encounter with the Eunuch may be one of the wackiest texts we encounter. All the reasons that stick out to us as being weird or miraculous were fairly typical of ministry of the day. 

Philip is awoken by an angel and told to hit the road and travel on a specific road from Jerusalem to Gaza. Then the Spirit tells Philip to join the chariot, so Philip runs to catch up to a chariot! Then upon baptism the Spirit whisks Philip away, poof, and the Eunuch goes on rejoicing. In the era that this was written, none of these encounters with angels ro the Holy Spirit would be remarked upon as strange.

The parts that are not as strange to us, are the real miracles of the time:

Philip being converted by his mission experience

A Eunuch who can read ancient Hebrew text and is studying it

A river appears in, what is likely to be, the desert road between two cities. It is unusual for water to be in a place that is not a city, and yet it appears at the exact time that the Eunuch seeks baptism. We do not think hard about water in the desert, but we can be sure the ancient Hebrews and Greeks and Ethiopians did as they traveled. 

In modern times, we have learned a lot. We know that those who go on missions go to convert themselves not others, and think hard about the nature of toxic charity and heroism. We think that reading the texts is normal, or should be and encourage as many people as we can to study them. And we absolutely hope that all people are accepted into the faith. 

So what we consider miracles were considered normal and vice versa. Except for the fact that the Eunuch is queer individual, and we still aren’t sure what the answer to their question “what should prevent me from being baptized?”

Whether swept up in the suddenness of the moment or not having a good answer, Philip does not answer the question, and that itself becomes the answer. 

There is no objection to the baptism, so the moment passes. 

The Ethiopian is so excited to be baptized, that Philip cannot in any circumstances say no. 

No doubt the flashing neon signs fo the angel and Spirit served to help too. Yes that EXACT chariot, that’s the place we mean. No need to wonder if this is the right person, and the fact that they are reading Ancient Hebrew on a scroll is incredible. Here is this person, probably not even allowed in the temple, who takes their faith seriously enough to journey to Jerusalem and is educated enough to read, and not only to read, but to read a different language then that which is spoken in Ethiopia. 

How? Is this Eunuch a descendent of the Hebrews who journeyed and stayed in Egypt? The borders of such countries are unclear, but this individual is clearly a different gender, country and culture than Philip. They even garner such great power as to be the treasurer for the queen. They are riding rich, in a chariot. Did Philip feel overwhelmed by all of these differentials? Did he wonder if he was the right person for the job? Did he rejoice that God gave him such a challenge? 

It is important, as anti-trans legislation rips through the US and the UK, as anti-queer policy rips apart the Methodist and Reformed traditions, as the Pope proclaims that gays cannot get married in the Catholic church, it is important to look at this precedent. 

“What is to prevent me from becoming baptized”

In John, Jesus says: I am the vine and you are branches, abide in my and I in you, so that we might bear fruit. We are once again, reminded that our fates, our health, our prosperity, our faith is intertwined with one another. We must acknowledge one another, work with one another and grow with one another, so that we might all bear fruit. When we put barriers up, when we say we cannot welcome one another, we die on the vine. This is so very true in churches, where people want only people like them to attend. 

This is also true in our economies, where Citi Bank says we have lost $16 Trillion in GDP in the US alone due to our racism https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/09/23/916022472/cost-of-racism-u-s-economy-lost-16-trillion-because-of-discrimination-bank-says

Philip knows what it is to be an outcast and is by no means the least of the disciples, no doubt some part of him sympathized with the Eunuch. After all Philip was almost stoned to death. Philip knows what he is doing. 

So imagine after this incredible journey, after he is swept back to the disciples, after he has baptized this individual, the story he tells–the precedent he sets, is the a eunuch: A queer gender non conforming individual is part of who should be baptized! 

“Go and baptize all people” in Matthew 28:17-20 could be glossed as “I really mean it.” 

I am the vine and your are the branches could be glossed as: we are not meant to discriminate

And Psalm 22 definitely emphasizes that God is for all people and that God promises to be for all generations, even those “Dang Kids” future generations who no doubt will do things differently in the future. 

Hopefully this passage can inspire us to pursue baptism more inclusively and more joyfully. 

And if not, hopefully God sends an angel, the Holy Spirit and a river to help us along the way.

Narrative Lectionary: Council at Jerusalem Prayers

Acts 15:1-18

Luke 2:29-32

Consider:

Matthew 11:28-30

Psalm 22:25-31

Call to Worship (based on Psalm 22:25-31)

From you comes my praise in the great congregation

The poor shall eat and be satisfied, those who seek shall praise God!

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord

Future generations will be told about God, and proclaim God’s deliverance to all people, even those not yet born, God has already done it. Praise God!

Call to Worship (based on Matthew 11:28-30)

Jesus says, Come

Come to me all you who are weary, for I will give you rest

Come to me all those carrying heavy burdens, for I will give you rest.

Jesus says, take my yoke, for I am gentle

Come to Jesus, for we can learn from him, and Jesus’s yoke is easy and Jesus’s burden is light.

Come, let us find rest in our souls, together, today.

Call to Confession: Come, let us confess ourselves to the Lord, for Jesus promises to alleviate our burden, we do not have to bear the weight alone.

Prayer of Confession: God I confess that we too often separate one another, judging each other and saying your are not like me. Or, sometimes we ignore our unique gifts and experiences and say: I don’t see color, I don’t see disabilities, I just don’t ask about sexualities or gender. Both invalidate the personhood of my neighbor. Help me, to see and name the commonalities and difference we might have. Help me to listen to other’s experiences without dismissing or ignoring them. Give me the ears to hear and the words to acknowledge the personhood and belovedness of my neighbor, without discrimination or judgment, but with grace, validation and love. I pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Assurance of Pardon: Hear the good news, we are all the children, and nothing we can say or do can change that. Because of this, Jesus will forgive our sins whenever we need God’s grace. Friends proclaim the good news to one another: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication: Lord, let us go into the world with our load slightly lightened. Knowing that God’s yoke is light, and is contained in Jesus Christ’s command to love and serve one another. Let us go and love and serve one another through the power of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.

God we need your justice: a prayer

[Blue Green water reflecting the abstract of a mountain, tree and sky with the words “Let Justice Flow Down like Waters and Righteousness like an overflowing stream.] Image found here: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/560064903645243301/

I cannot wait until acts of justice are no longer a surprise, for you know God, and you told us through Amos and Isaiah and Luke that justice that is surprising is no justice at all. It is at worst painted as sacrifice and mercy and is at best the drops of accountability.

I am so thirsty for justice, Lord. And I confess my spirit is dry and brittle, breaking apart in its absence.

Human justice is not even a meager copy of your justice Lord. racism and bigotry poisons any system we might try.

God I cannot wait for your justice to flow like water. So that we taste it on our tongue, so that it rains on us daily from the sky.

I can’t wait until the taste and feel of justice is so familiar that it begins to feel like home.

I can’t wait until the moment that every cry for mercy, every cry for help, every cry for mama is answered–with the swiftness of the Holy Spirit on the wing.

God, I cannot wait, until not one street never ever sees a droplet of blood again. Instead they sparkle with the cleansing waters of justice, instead they are filled so much with justice, that it becomes puddles for the children to splash in, soaking themselves with the liquid.

I cannot wait until justice becomes a child’s plaything—Known so much, that it becomes a part of our very breath and body. I cannot wait until the 60% of water that flows through our bodies is blessed, in the completion of our baptism, into the holy waters of justice imbuing our very selves.

I can’t wait until I can spit justice out on the street with clear truths and gracious words that free my siblings of all colors, creeds, ages, sexualities and genders.

I cannot wait for justice to flood our world. Not like the flood of Noah killing off the bad, but like the rains of the desert, giving the much needed food to the flora and fauna to bloom.

I cannot wait for justice, so I’m going to gather the drops and the dribbles and the driplets I have experienced, and I’m going to share them out to those I meet. Showing them how it cools violence, and refreshes spirits, and is miraculously freer than any other action.

Because my freedom is wrapped up in yours, my humanity is wrapped up in yours, and my justice is wrapped up in yours.

I’m ready to do this justice thing, God. Teach me how to do it I pray.

Amen.

Feel free to use/adapt with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

With Thanks to Lilla Watson and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s works and thanks also Black Twitter who let me listen as they prayed, grieved and celebrated over George Floyd and the guilty verdict of Officer Chauvin.

I’m Mad and that’s not Going to Change: Prayer

@Black Liturgies [Image of Daunte Write in a Red Baseball Cap with the words: “They dress the wounds of my people, as though it were no serious. saying ‘Peace, peace.’ when there is no peace. Jeremiah 6. Watermarked from @BlackLiturgies]

God, I am so mad.

I’m heartbroken by so many things, but I’m mad about the state sanctioned murder of yet another black and brown person.

“Thou shalt not kill” you say. But they say “He had a gun, he looked older, she was suspicious.”

And the streets run with blood, too often the blood of children.

I’m so angry that white terrorists shoot up towns and schools and workplaces and grocery stores and are arrested alive again, and again.

But Black skin is seen as more dangerous than a gun.

I’m so scared of those people who thinking they are keeping us safe: white men and women, cops, and especially white cops.

Lady Jane Illustration [Digital Illustration of a person with flowing green hair, a dark grey jacket, gold hoop earrings and nose ring, trans flag pin, and green shirt. They are clutching their face with their hands. Behind them are pink flowers blooming. The text reads, ‘policing doesn’t keep us safe’]

It makes me think of my friends in college–all 4 of whom were beaten by their father, it makes me think the 3 sisters all who were raped by him throughout their lives, and how they all kept it a secret from each other because of the shame of it. They were hurt by their own father, a cop.

God why is it that we cannot take weapons from abusive individuals? Why is their right to remain armed deemed more important?

Why does their need for violent safety trump my need for peaceful safety?

Why do the police always win?

God I’m angry, and I’m going to stay angry. Because the lack of justice burns my soul. It makes me hunger for a different land, a different way, a different power structure.

God I must confess over and over again Racism is killing us, all of us.

And it’s tricky and can make White People feel safe, when we too are dying. We commit suicide and deal with depression and toxicity all because we are blind and refuse to be healed.

Curse You White Fragility, Male Fragility and American so called Patriotism.

Our communities, economies and peace is dying each and every time one of our Black Siblings die.

Black Lives Matter.

Our families, our relationships, our very understanding of time iteslf suffers whenever a Brown sibling is abused and killed.

Stop Asian Hate, No Human Being is Illegal, Bad Theology Kills.

How can we stop the killing?

Is this how it felt, Lord when your children suffered slavery in Egypt?

Did Jesus weep in Jerusalem because he saw the Jews and the Gentiles and the Samaritans and the Essenes killing each other to win the prize of peace, never understanding that peace can’t be forced or taken or violently enforced.

Is this why you disarmed Your very own Godself? Hanging your Bow in the sky? And did you foresee the rainbow as a sign of acceptance, celebration, inclusion and peace for our queer siblings even as our Trans siblings of color die violently every week in the United States?

Are you angry God? You must be, because I am so angry.

God these are your children, and I am going to stay angry, until things change.

I’ll be here.

Praying

and Working, Protesting, Voting, Calling Representatives, Giving out Food and Water, and Living Out the Anti-Racist Journey and Work.

And I Know I’ll Still

Even After All That

Be Angry.

And it comforts me to know, that you, God, are angry too.

Thank you for this anger Lord.

Amen.

Please feel free to use/share/adapt the prayer with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta. Please credit Lady Jane Illustrations and Black Liturgies for the the apropos and inspirational images.

Narrative Lectionary: Baptizing the Eunuch

Luke 24:44-47

Acts 8:26-39

Consider pairing with

Psalm 63

Matthew 28:18-20

Call to Worship (Psalm 63:5-8)

God, I think about you when I go to bed, I meditate on your presence

My Soul clings to you, God. 

My soul is satisfied for your love, for it is a rich feast for my heart.  

For You have been my help, in the shadow of your wings, I sing for joy.

Prayer of Confession(unison): God, I confess that sometimes I am thirsty for you, and forget to seek you out. Sometimes I am unaware of your grace. I confess that I feel overwhelmed by the violence and sickness that exists in the world, and I am lost and weary in a dry land. Provide me, provide us, provide the world with your sanctuary of grace, I pray, Amen.  (Silent Confession) 

Assurance of Pardon: Know the Truth God’s love is from everlasting to everlasting, whenever we need grace and forgiveness it is there. So it is with the confidence of the baptized we are able to say the good news: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

Prayer of Dedication: (unison). God, help us to peek into your power and glory, and let it be shared freely. Help me to know that when the question is “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” the answer is always, “nothing.” Let us go forth into the world and baptizing people in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen. 

Hymns: Fount of Ever Blessing, Blessed Assurance Jesus is Mine, God Bless Your Church with Strength, Christ is Made the Sure Foundation, Today we are Called to Be Disciples, Live into Hope,

Ideas with Children: Renew baptism with sprinkling of water with leaves

Prayers for Acts 6: Stoning of Stephen

Acts 6:1-7:2, 44-60

Suggest Pairing Isaiah 66:1-2, 22-23

Call to Worship (based on Isaiah 66:13-14, ) 

God promises, asa  mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you

We shall see, and our hearts shall rejoice. 

Come let us pray for the Lord, for God is Good. 

Come let all flesh give God Thanks and Praise. 

Prayer of Confession: God, we confess that we find comfort in tradition. We have struggled throughout this year as so many things have had to change. Walk with us this spring and we try to understand what it is we need to keep, and what it is we can leave behind. Help us to choose, always and forever, the ways that lead us closer to your kingdom. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen 

Assurance of Pardon: God’s promises to remake heaven and earth in God’s forgiveness. Let us share the good news with one another: In Jesus Christ we are forgiven.

Prayer of Dedication: (unison) Lord, let us go forth giving thanks for all that is good. Place praise for you on our lips and on our tongues, that others might see and know and understand your love. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Hymns: Morning Has Broken, Jesu Jesus Fill Us with Your Love, Called as Partners to Christ’s Service, Great is Thy Faithfulness, Amazing Grace,

Conspiring with God: A Prayer

As rumors of microchips and aliens and kidnapped sex workers abound.

I hear you whispering that you are the God of the Conspiracy theorists too.

You hear their cries for a world that makes sense, you feel their arms when they reach out for someone/anyone to go along with what they are proclaiming, you take their anger when the world does not go the way it should.

You hold their hands, even when they think guns are the answer.

You continue to tell them the truth, even if their hearts are hardened with entrenched racism, sexism, homophobia, ableism and other forms of bigotry.

Only you know, God, what conspiracies abounded when Jesus rode the small colt, you are the one who knows what the palms and cloaks symbolized for those who threw them.

You alone understand what poisonous lies, or world bending truths were whispered in Judas’s ear, to sell you out.

And still, the Truth is God’s, I can’t believe in any conspiracy but your love.

We humans are too clumsy, too small minded, too telltale to conspire.

I believe there are gross inequities, there are systems that run and thrive on corruption, I believe that there is, indeed, real evil manifest in the world.

But though I believe that power seeks out and protects power, and that small lies can lead to big lies, that there is no grand scheme.

Because evil is niggling and sneaky.

It hurts in micro-agressions and permission-giving for bad behavior, and in letting those who are in power believe their own lies. It’s not systemized, but all too often, it’s allowed to become prevalent.

So that bad decision stacks upon bad decision leading to the mistreatment of immigrants, the white supremacy becoming cultural, to faith being inseparable from the very flag that corrupts it and weighs it down.

And that’s why, I believe you conspire and inspire for good–all the time and every time.

This is why you said “Tell Herod that fox that I’m going to keep healing and preaching til I breathe my last.” This is why on your last day on earth, you had a ginormous good meal with your closest peeps, and then spent time loving on them and washing their feet.

You will never stop. Jesus. Jesus who meets us by the well, in a tree, and even upon a cross as we lay dying. Even then, you conspire for good.

And if I blink, I can see the co-inspiring works of the Holy Spirit.

If I blink: I can see how you make it so that babies remain impossibly cute and a couple of droplets of baptismal water are enough to start the flood of your never-ending grace

If I blink, I can see how the stars still sing out Abrahamic promises and rainbows still speak of a weaponless future of love,

If I blink I can feel your presence “your church” in all of the communities and all of the neighborhoods in the world, and its then I can taste how bread and the cup are enough to tie us to every one of your beloved: those who have come before, and those who have yet to be.

Holy Spirit, help me to conspire with you, and only you.

Stand with me as I work to find the threads of truth and love and hope.

Imbue in me, imbue in us, a faith that we humans can be beloved into a better being, and help me to talk and walk in ways that blot out the evils of the world. I pray in your most Holy Name, Jesus Christ.
Amen.

Feel free to use/adapt with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

Palm Sunday: Waiting for the Stones

Jesus, I don’t know how much shouting of Hosanna will happen on Sunday.

I’m uncertain who will be there and how we will parade,

And Lord, you know, there will not be any singing. We miss it, God, but are trying to do right.

And though we may be sighing “Hosanna: Lord Save Us” we also know that we have to take some responsibility and help to save ourselves.

And, most days I doubt we actually want peace on earth, we are so bad at enacting and supporting true peace.

And Jesus is not going to come in guns blazing; Thank God!

What does the Lord require for Jesus to come? What humble entry can we cede to the Son of God?

What videos or drivethrus or palm crafts might come?

God, I confess this might be the week that there will be few shouts. We will be sticking well to your humility and simplicity this year.

So I will be listening to the stones.

For the truth cannot be stopped.

“Blessed is the one One who comes in the name of the Lord, Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven.”

Amen.

Hosanna.

Amen.

Feel free to share/use/adapt with credit to Pastor Katy Stenta

More Holy Week Prayers: https://katyandtheword.com/2021/03/24/holy-week-easter-prayers/

Holy Saturday: Pausing for Grief

God, what was it like to take the Holy Pause of Saturday? Did you practice Sabbath while Jesus, your only son, had died?

Did you sit in a comfortable corner and let yourself cry?

Did you practice breathing, slowly, in and out, trying to find ways to regulate once again?

Did you embrace despondency?

Did it feel like the world had stopped? Did you feel slammed by the bad news–even though you knew it was coming? Did you have to sit for a minute to take in the fullness of its meaning?

Did you simply, actually, pause the world for a few so you could keep your rainbow promises?

Did you feel frustrated that after all you had done, and tried, that Jesus died anyway?

Did you take comfort in sitting with the disciples and Mary, and Mary and Martha as they moaned?

Did you make yourself useful, keeping busy helping all the humans who were in pain, so you could better process your own?

Did you just sleep all day, and try to forget the world existed?

Lord God, I have a sneaking suspicion that Saturday is Holy because it legitimizes our pain, our loss, our anger at injustices, our impatience with the waiting for peace, our heartbrokenness with the state of the world, our feeling of helplessness to be of help to anyone or anything.

And yet, You give us permission to take the time to sit with the pain. You give us the space we need to do absolutely nothing (at first) in response to the evil in the world. You do not barge in with good news or toxic positivity. You let resurrection sneak into our hearts, little by little.

Thank you God for this time and space.

Thank you for being a God who fully experiences the range of emotions and reactions we have.

Thank you for being our God and sitting with us.

Let us sit together a little longer………………………………

Amen.

Feel free to use/adapt with Credit to Pastor Katy Stenta