Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 4

Not even being a eunuch, a sexual outcast, prevents the Ethiopian from receiving the full grace of God.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Text: Acts 8:26-39

“Then 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.) So 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 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now 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.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’

“The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As 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?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When 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.”

The Ethiopian figure is a curious one. He appears to be at least a God-fearer, since he’s on his way back from Jerusalem and reading the prophet Isaiah. Maybe he’s someone who’s devoted himself to following the Judean God as best he can. But this Ethiopian can never be granted full access to Judaism or the temple—not because he’s of a different ethnicity, not because he doesn’t understand scripture (we’d all be in trouble if that was the case), not because he’s a foreigner. It’s because he’s a eunuch.

Because of his sexual status, the law in Deuteronomy explicitly forbids him from ever being a full member of the assembly in temple. “His kind” were not welcome in the house of God. He is forever an outcast because of his sexual status.

That makes Philip’s work that much more important. On the one hand, Philip doesn’t acknowledge the Ethiopian’s sexual status. But on the other, neither is his sexual status a barrier. The answer to the question, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” is a total and emphatic, “Nothing!” Not even being a eunuch, a sexual outcast, prevents the Ethiopian from receiving the full grace of God.

Church tradition says that this Ethiopian eunuch, named Simeon Bachos, returned to his home country to preach the good news of Jesus Christ that Philip had taught him. His sexual status, which once prevented him from being a full participant in his faith, is no longer a barrier to being an apostle, a leader, a preacher.

Sex and sexuality continue to be hot topics of discussion in the church. While we anticipate a clergy shortage, we still have a significant number of non-heterosexual and transgender pastors unable to find calls, as well as women and people of color. The story of the Ethiopian eunuch is a reminder and a sign of hope that we too can grow in our understanding of the gifts of all God’s people, whether they are like us or not.

Let us pray: All-encompassing God, when your people said ‘no’ to the Ethiopian eunuch, you said ‘yes’, choosing him to be an apostle to his people regardless of his sexual status. Lift up those whose sexuality and gender differ from our own, whatever that may be, and tear down the barriers that separate us, that we all may work together for the sake of your Gospel. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “gay priest” by annaspies is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 3

It doesn’t matter to Philip or God that they’re the “wrong” people. Philip goes anyway.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Text: Acts 8:5-8

“Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed the Messiah to them. The crowds with one accord listened eagerly to what was said by Philip, hearing and seeing the signs that he did, for unclean spirits, crying with loud shrieks, came out of many who were possessed; and many others who were paralyzed or lame were cured. So there was great joy in that city.”

Years ago, in my youth, my congregation sent me as a voting lay representative to the Metropolitan Chicago Synod Assembly. It was my first time ever attending a synod assembly. Even with an entire day ruined because the hotel we were meeting in lost power, it was an incredible experience. Workshops, plenary sessions, voting with green and orange cardboard cards, it was all exciting, and I drank it up. It opened my eyes to the existence of the church outside of the congregation, a lesson I have carried with me wherever I’ve served. But there’s one experience at that assembly I’ll always remember, and not in an altogether positive way.

Sometimes, synod assemblies have business that doesn’t generate much discussion. Other times, it can generate a lot of discussion. Such was the latter case at this synod assembly. A resolution was brought to send financial aid to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. It was resolution to send help to our own Lutheran, Christian, brothers and sisters living in a highly contested, hotbed of violence, where they are a minority in the population. I would have expected that such a resolution would easily pass, or if there were any problems with it, it would be the amount of money sent. I was sadly mistaken.

There was considerable vocal opposition to the resolution, but it had nothing to do with how much money was going to be sent. Instead, the problem was this: the ELCJHL is almost entirely Palestinian in makeup. It didn’t matter that they were Christians. It didn’t matter that they were Lutherans. It didn’t matter that the ELCA and the ELCJHL have an intimately close working relationship. It mattered that they were Palestinians. And because they were Palestinians, many of the voting representatives at that synod assembly opposed helping them.

The author of the Gospel according to Luke and the Acts of the Apostles doesn’t spend much time talking about Philip’s preaching among the Samaritans. But these are the same Samaritans that were hated, reviled by the Judeans; the same Samaritans who could never be a part of God’s chosen people. And yet Philip crosses those boundaries, ethnic, religious, political, to bring them the good news. It doesn’t matter to Philip or God that they’re the “wrong” people. Philip goes anyway.

I’m proud to report that though the discussion around the resolution at the Metro-Chicago synod assembly was tense, the resolution passed by a wide margin. God was at work that day, and every day, to tear down our prejudices and discrimination. Thanks be to God!

Let us pray: Wall-breaking God, through Philip you expanded the reach of the good news of Christ’s resurrection to a people hated as outcasts by your Chosen People. Tear down our own prejudices and empower us to reach out to “those people”, seek forgiveness, and grow in our shared life together. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: A portion of the illegal Israeli West Bank Barrier wall that cuts through Jerusalem and the Palestinian West Bank.

Prayfaithfully: The Resurrection and the Outcasts – Part 2

You never know how the Holy Spirit is going to shake things up.

“Prayfaithfully” is the prayer ministry website of the Northern Great Lakes Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. I wrote the Daily Devotions for this week.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Text: Acts 2:17-18

“‘In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
and they shall prophesy.’”

I confess to having a love/hate relationship with Peter. On the one hand, I can’t stand his pompousness, his smugness, his need to be right, his brashness, his betrayal, his denial, and his utter inability to understand a word Jesus says. Even when he accidentally stumbles on the right answer, such as declaring that Jesus is the Son of God, the Messiah, he immediately blows it and gets chastised by Jesus right back. He’s probably the worst disciple of the lot—none of them really know what’s going on, but Peter always thinks he knows, especially when he doesn’t. Some days, I think it would be better to just put Peter in a room somewhere with a bunch of kiddie toys and not let him out until dinner.

But then you have days like Pentecost. On that day, around fifty days after Jesus’ death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit fills this misfit band of losers and dunces, manifested in the appearance of fire, and they go out into the streets. And Peter, the worst of the lot, the dunciest of dunces, gives a speech that includes the above text, itself taken from the prophet Joel. Peter is on fire; Peter is alive; Peter gets it; Peter is woke (well, mostly).

You never know how the Holy Spirit is going to shake things up. It’s easy for the church to do just what I did: to look down on people who aren’t totally “in line” with what our mental image of the church should be, to believe that people like “them” could never amount to anything. What an amazing surprise it is, then, when the Holy Spirit completely and totally upends our expectations, does something new and radical, and does it through the most unlikely people!

Let us pray: God of surprises, you took someone like Peter and made him a powerful preacher, teacher, leader, and evangelist for your Gospel. Mold us, imperfect as we are, as you see fit, to see visions, dream dreams, prophesy, and work for justice in a world just as imperfect as we are. In the name of your Son we pray. Amen.

Featured Image: “Jester Hat” by Ed Schipul is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.