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: 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

#love of a #black #genderfluid prob. considered #disabled man, pondering Acts 8

When I did a search for the bulletin cover for this week I noticed something. I could find many artworks entitled “Baptism of the Eunuch” for the bulletin (that’s where I got today’s bulletin cover), but no children’s worksheets. As you may or may not know, we are trying, very hard, to be more inclusive of the children during worship. It is a difficult line to walk, many children are very loud and squirmy, and many adults appreciate a time of quiet worship without said children. But anyway, as a part of being more welcome, I’ve been creating worksheets. I have in my head that the mantra should be something like “Busy Hands for Listening Ears” For those of us who can listen and doodle, knit, etc. during church (Note that sleeping is not one of those options). And by the by if you are an adult who picks up a worksheet to do I won’t tell although I would personally consider it an accomplishment, since church has this mistaken idea that if a project is creative it must be a children’s only activity, which is ridiculous.

Finally I found, a very few pictures and activities when I happened upon the search term of “Philip and the Ethiopian.” Now I don’t know how many of you would categorize or even know what story is being referred to by this title, but I can say, as a pastor, I never would have put two and two together. So there we have it, the baptizing of the Eunuch and Philip and the Ethiopian. Baptizing the Eunuch/Philip and the Ehtiopian. And lets get this straight: the baptism was not a white man’s burden kind of baptism because Philip does not set out to go and convert the black man. He instead goes out to meet a person where they were and walk with them to his/her next step in faith.

If I were to guess, we Christians like the picture of Philip and the Ethiopian better than the picture that is really put forth in the story today.
Its like 1 John 4, which is great, Beloved, love one another. Can’t you just….picture it? What comes to mind when we say love one another? Maybe a perfect spring day…perhaps some unknown children laughing together, or the whole world holding hands. Perhaps its the rendition of “Its a Small world after all”

In the abstract, love is a beautiful, beautiful concept. But in reality, the story that is put here is way more disconcerting. An Angel of the Lord says you need to get down the road. And if this is me, I’m immediately thinking, shoot I’ve missed something, I’ve not been doing enough, ok, God is calling me to go somewhere and do something…so I’m going to make up for whatever I’ve done wrong and go and get it done with now. I am a get it done sort of person and I hate it when I miss things.

Then the Holy Spirit says to Philip, that one, there and there must be some reason that the Holy Spirit had to say this was the person. This Ethiopian, which means he is racially different and black. From Ethiopia, what do Ethiopians know about Jews, they are the Abyssians one of those invading races that the Old Testament Jews had to deal with. So how does one even talk to such a different person?…to add to this person who is genderfluid: a eunuch sometimes eunuchs were referred to as female, the word for eunuch in Greek is non-man, yep, this person is blurred in the lines, no one knows what to refer to them as. Are they even human? Is it even worth talking to this person? He/She can’t have children, He/she is obviously hasn’t been nor ever will be circumcised. (I’m reverting to he in this text just to keep things clear) Is this person even human? Is this a natural thing?  Which brings us to our final point which is that this person was probably also considered to be disabled in the Greek culture.
 

 So here you have it some black, nonJewish, Ethiopian, genderfluid, disabled person. Go and love them.
The specifics very quickly get complicated, and even Philip needed the Holy Spirit to remind him that God is for Everyone that Jesus died for this person too. I think it is here that the church has some work to do, because it is the most difficult to love someone who is different from yourself. You usually end up saying something like “I just don’t know what to do…because I just can’t understand them………” a particular type of love that takes hard work. No doubt this is why most of the Presbyterian Churches consist of 98% of one race and the toekn 2% of another (which is luckily not the make up of this particular congregation). Not only are individual churches made up this way, but also, the numbers for the entire Presbyterian USA entity run that way to. And the reason is, it is difficult to love someone who is not like you. It is difficult to understand them and it is difficult to know their needs. That is why we need to meet people where they are, and ask them what it is they need. To walk with them wherever it is they are. Not because this person is perfect but because “every” single “one” of “us who loves is born of God.”

And the eunuch asks…who is this person who is dying for the world? Tell me about this person.

And I imagine that Philip did a little Bible study with this person that went something like. God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1st John 4:9-10) if God is for us, who is against us? For God Who is in a position to condemn? Only Christ, and Christ died for us, Christ rose for us, Christ reigns in power for us, Christ prays for us! (Romans 8:33-34).

So naturally, the eunuch says, well, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?
This is the line….the one that drives the Presbyterian piece (or any other mainstream church piece) of us nuts. You can’t just baptize someone because they asked. Thats not decently and in order, there needs to be rules and a statement of faith and meetings. How can you get baptized without a meeting?

And someone else felt that way too, because some later manuscripts say “Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

But really, there is no answer, what is to prevent the Eunuch from being baptized, his learning of God has already begun. The Eunuch was already studying the scripture and sought out instruction. It is for this reason that we baptize babies, because babies already know love, and they are already children of God, and in reality no one of us will ever know enough or everything about God. However we are in pursuit of that knowledge.

This is another reason why fun things should not be just for children. This is another reason why people are moving away from calling Christian Education Sunday School, because that implies the only learning we have to do about God is as a child.

The truth is, though that we need to continually learn about God, and the ways to learn about God are to be creative, to be open and to find specific people to love, not to leave it at the generality of “love one another” but to find that totally weird person in our lives, to purse the strangers, the aliens, those who we don’t understand, to listen to the Holy Spirit and to love them. To walk with them, wherever they are, whatever their level of understanding is and to try to support their journey of faith. Meeting people where they are and walking with them, and to be as open to their learnings about God, as our own understandings of God might be.

You know what I think? I think Phililp went out to teach the Eunuch, and instead the Eunuch taught him. It was the Eunuch who asked Philip to teach him (not vice versa) The Eunuch blurred the lines of understanding of how to love this person who was black, from a completely different culture and spoke in a fashion that was probably hard to understand, this person who wasn’t quite male nor female, this person who was probably returning back home at the end of the day, and not staying to be a beloved member of Philip’s own congregation.

But the Eunuch taught Philip by asking an enormously relevant question that should burn in our hearts as Christians today. What is to prevent me from being baptized? to which Philip’s answer was…

To say absolutely nothing

Acts 8:26-40

26Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this: “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. 33In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.” 34The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

1 John 4:7-21

7Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. 9God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. 12No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. 13By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.