Musical Prelude and Service.

1 John 4:7–21 & Acts 8:26–40
Do you understand what you are reading?
One of the remarkable things about reading scripture is how different sentences or phrases or apparent themes can jump out to you at different times. Or depending upon where you are in your life when you read them. Seven of you have read a passage of scripture several times in the past, something new may leap from the page the next time you reflect on that passage.
Do you understand what you are reading?
This past week it was brought to my attention that perhaps not everyone reading this passage is aware of what a eunuch is. Some things shouldn’t be taken for granted. I mean, it does make sense. The topic of eunuchs isn’t something that is going to come up in regular conversation.
So, let’s clear the air, just to be certain. A eunuch is a man who has been castrated, taking away their ability to father children.
Being made a eunuch was often involuntary, but according to history there were occasions when men agreed to the procedure, any number of reasons.
Now, in some circumstances a eunuch came to occupy a position of privilege and some power. They could be wealthy. Kings and emperors utilized eunuchs to protect and oversee the women’s quarters in their palaces. They were often seen as being trustworthy, or at least less a threat to rulers so they could take on significant administrative roles.
But they were also generally marginalized and not really accepted in general society. They were not seen as fully male. In Jewish society, while they were not cast out, they could not fully participate in religious gatherings. Eunuchs often came from those who were enslaved. Or it was a form of punishment.
So while they may have been able to work their way to a position of some privilege, they would remain not truly a part of the world they operated within.
And yet, this man we read about today; most likely a Jewish man who is part of the diaspora, from a prior time of disruption in Israel, is reading scripture and engages in conversation with Philip the apostle and eventually requests baptism.
And despite all the ways and all the reasons Philip could choose to say no;
“We just met.”
“Baptism in the church should only happen after a period of time in study and reflection and testing.” “We are on a road in the desert.”
Despite all of this, Philip says yes. And they stand in water by the side of the road and welcome this man; looked down on by most of society, into the body of Christ.
It is important to note that this Eunuch, who we are told is the master of the treasury for the Queen of Ethiopia, is viewed as the originator of the ancient Christian church of Ethiopia, one that has roots at least as old as the Roman Catholic Church and the Orthodox church.
Do you understand what you are reading?
This is the question Philip asks the Eunuch. What do we hear today when we read or hear this story? Perhaps we consider that God welcomes everyone into God’s family. I certainly see this message in
the story. That no matter how much society may judge people and sort people into a variety of categories; labeling some as appropriate or proper and others as suspicious or not quite suitable for proper company, God only sees beloved children.
Perhaps we can recognize that God’s spirit works through all of us in wondrous ways and finds purpose and strength, where all too often our world can only see weakness and brokenness.
No matter how much we may come to believe, we have figured out who God is and what God demands of the world. God is absolutely capable and happy to surprise us.
God sees who we truly are. God sees what we yearn for and what we ae missing in our lives.
God seeks to fulfill what we are truly seeking.
As I reflected on this story, it occurred to me that it is possible; and I recognize that this is speculation on my part, that for all of the Eunuch’s wealth; for all the authority and privilege he has managed to achieve at the Ethiopian court, he does not truly belong. Or it is very possible he doesn’t feel that he belongs. He is a Jewish Eunuch in Ethiopia.
He is likely subject to suspicion and derision. Eunuchs are appreciated for what they can provide. Skills, intellect; maybe loyalty, in so far as they are not viewed as much of a threat to the line of succession. They are at the end of the day a tool of the imperial court.
So, I am left wondering if this Eunuch is seeking a sort of family; he yearns for a sense of belonging and love.
And I would suggest that in reading scripture and talking with Phillip about what he reads in Isaiah and what he is told about the life, the teaching, and the good news of the risen Christ, he sees something new and life giving held out for him.
Is there room for him in the burgeoning family of Christ followers, this growing body of Christ?
And so, he asks to be baptized. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
Have you thought about how that question is framed? “What is to prevent me?”
Not, “will you baptize me?” But “what rules will we be breaking if you baptize me?” Do you see something wrong or broken in me that would prevent us from following through?
I can imagine, this is a person who has often had doors closed in his face. Who has watched people turn their backs on them or not included them in personal conversations. This is a person who has often been left out.
And Philip gets out of the chariot, accompanies them to this stream or puddle or pond – we don’t know what the source of water is on this desert road – and he baptizes them. And then the Holy Spirit takes him away and the Eunuch proceeds, sharing their story and proclaiming this good news.
Philip finds himself on that road at the instruction of God’s angel. God places Philip in that place to meet this Eunuch. God desires that this person join with the body of Christ; that a Eunuch, a marginalized and derided person who belongs to a minority often treated with suspicion, was part of God’s beloved family. They were loved and part of God’s delight with creation.
Do you understand what you are reading? “How can I unless someone guides me.”
The Eunuch is seeking to learn more about God and humanity’s relationship with God. He is studying and reflecting, but it is only through conversation. Personal contemplation and study are valuable,
but it through working in a group with challenge and sharing that we truly recognize how God is at work in the world around us. We are part of a community; a family and that is where we find God at work.
God is at work all around us. Often in ways we struggle to understand or appreciate. We can and will be surprised at the way God shows up. But it is my prayer to all of you that when you are surprised by God, you are open to saying yes and acting with love, compassion and welcome. And not look for reasons to say no.
So that we can also then say thanks be to God for all that we have received. Amen
Rev. Warner Bloomfield

 

 

Music provided with permission through licensing with CCLI License number
2701258 and One License # A-731789