The Aunt Asked a Question

Acts 8:26-40 – The 5th Sunday of Easter – for May 3, 2015

“Starting with that passage, Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him . . .” (Acts 8:35)

Aelbert Cuyp: The Baptism of the Eunuch Holland (c. 1653)
Aelbert Cuyp: The Baptism of the Eunuch
Holland (c. 1653)

I am a United Methodist pastor.

I’ve done babies, lots of babies.

But I haven’t done any eunuchs.

Or should I more truthfully admit I’ve never knowingly baptized a eunuch? In a ministry spanning chunks of five decades, where I’ve served in a hodgepodge of rural and urban churches, along with campus ministry and hospice settings, maybe a eunuch has stood beside me while I intoned the ceremonial words of Holy Baptism and blessed his head with dribbles of water.

In the name of Creator, and Christ, and the Spirit, I baptize you . . . Continue reading →

This Was A Wilderness Road

Acts 8:26-40 – 5th Sunday of Easter – for Sunday, May 6, 2012

“…then Phillip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus…” (Acts 8:35)

Who will you meet today on the way to . . .?

Abraham and Sarah journeyed toward the land of milk and honey. Exodus is the name of a book of the Torah and a description of what the Israelites did for forty years as they fled slavery. Jesus told the tale of the man on the “road to Jericho,” beaten nearly to death and cared for by the unexpected Samaritan. Paul had his road to Damascus experience.

Once, according to Acts 8:26-40, Phillip was on the way from Jerusalem to Gaza where he met an Ethiopian eunuch. The NRSV translation includes a wondrous foreshadowing of events through parenthesis in verse 26:

. . . the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. (This was a wilderness road.)

Ah, a wild road: dangerous or adventurous or both?

One on that wild road is a follower of Jesus, the other an influential member of a royal court. We can gaze through the lens of history and appreciate the vast difference between these two, remaining calm and scholarly as their spirit-led encounter unfolds.

We can also, here in the twenty-first century, view this meeting as an enduring and transformational moment. The “court official,” enthralled by reading Isaiah, ignorant of Jesus’ ministry, has an opportunity to learn from Phillip. The one seeking enlightenment, the one who is treated by Acts’ writer as a positive “role model,” would seem to be a black man (Ethiopian), wealthy (the treasurer of a court) and a person of a particular sexual orientation (a eunuch). Our modern wide-open eyes can witness this event and celebrate its inclusiveness, its unabashed challenge to our ongoing contemporary tensions.

Here and today, racism roils our society. Right now I could write about Trayvon Williams. Almost twenty years ago, I could mention OJ Simpson as a cultural lightning rod for racism. Do you think there’ll be incidents tomorrow or in the next decade to provide new examples about the clash of culture, faith and racism? I fear so.

Here and today, there are haves and have-nots. The royal treasurer comfortably rides his chariot—how different is he than Donald Trump or Warren Buffet in a Cadillac? As someone who’s not rich, I love Jesus’ statement about how tough it will be for the rich to get into heaven—like a camel through the eye of a needle—and yet there’s that damn rich Ethiopian being helped by poor Phillip. Why let the rich get richer—though in this case, it’s the “wealth” of faith.

Here and today, we live in a post-don’t ask, don’t tell era. Everything’s just fine and fair with issues about sexual orientation. Right? Not! And yet, is it appropriate for the eunuch to be a mirror for our modern quandary about queers? I think so. Someday, same-gender marriage will be accepted from left to right coast, and all United Methodist churches (my tribe) will welcome gays with open hearts, open minds and open doors. Some. Day. For everyone–everyone–who’s not “normal,” some day still hasn’t appeared as one of the days of week. Continue reading →