Invitation

Mystic and boa 221

Do you ever read ahead in the novel?
Take a quick peek at the end or the half-way point?
Does the book ever just happen to fall open at a place that captivates you;
Five minutes later you discover you have stood there,
your elbows on the counter, engrossed and out of sequence.
In a sense that’s what we’re invited to this morning
as the lectionary jumps over the beginning chapters of Acts.


It begins near the middle and circles back to arrive three Sundays hence in the gathered room of wind and fire.

So I invite you this morning into this almost middle place.
I invite you to get caught up in the poignant questions
and powerful narrative of the eunuch
somewhere near the centre of the book,
and to be swept by the Spirit into the deep waters of inclusion.

This text is often received as one more step
along the triumphant spread of the Christian Gospel outwards.
Throughout Acts we might count the number of hits the Gospel receives as though it was a You tube video.

And it is doing well.
As Acts unfolds it appears to be going viral.
There are, we are told, as many as 3000 converts in one telling.

But like any story of God with us that we tell,
it can come to be interpreted through the glitter of its own success
rather than by reference to the deep impulse of its origin
in the creating, gathering nature of God.

So, I want to turn this conversion story inside out,
to shake out of the sometime Hollywood quality of Acts
the power of mutual encounter to make us more deeply who we are in God’s eyes.
I want us to see the Ethiopian Eunuch not as just representative of another category checked off the list of conversions: Samaritans, eunuchs, gentiles,
but as one who has lived on the sharp edge of the Mosaic law all his life,
the words of Deuteronomy 23.1, strictly excluding eunuchs from God’s assembly,
tempered somewhat by the words from Isaiah 56 that gather in all who keep Sabbath and love covenant.

I want us to see one man meet another
and to imagine what the meeting held for each of them
So, I invite you to listen to the movement in the text
and notice from whom invitation comes.

What captivates me in this passage is, first, the text the eunuch is reading.
You are like a sheep being led to slaughter,
You are like a lamb that is mute in front of its shearers:
Like them, you never open your mouth.
You have been humiliated
And have no one to defend you.
Who will ever talk about your descendants
Since your life on earth has been cut short?

Has anyone noticed that this passage could have been about the eunuch;
who though holding a powerful position is in fact not powerful,
who in the very manner of his command of obeisance, castration, is humiliated,
who by one of the primary identity makers of his time; progeny, is of no account and undefended.
who, through his lack of descendants, knows the end of his life as complete erasure.

Does it occur to us that he might feel the exclusion of the Suffering One more powerfully than many and so inhabit the life of Christ more immediately?

Can you hear the longing in his question?
Tell me about whom the prophet is speaking?
Is he speaking about himself or someone else?
Is he perhaps speaking about me?
or about someone in whose life my own could live?
Of whom is the prophet speaking in the text,
this humiliated one, undefended and silent with no descendants.

Years ago I read this story in Acts and was so powerfully moved by a sense of the eunuch’s isolation,  his parallel running alongside the life of his society,
his vital attendance to a religious code that kept him on the edge at best,
that I longed to write his story.
He is that outside of things.
What bravery he would need to refrain from bitterness,
to keep searching.

Does this occur to Philip,
or to the church
or only to the knowing and turbulent Spirit
who sweeps Philip and eunuch together;
who sweeps us  together with those who make more of us,
those into whose carriage we might never think to climb..
Who is the eunuch who in their chariot will convey us to deeper life in God, even as we imagine we are conveying them.

The word eunuch has a particular meaning and resonance in the historical context from which we read it
but from that place it draws us into a deeper understanding of all those who are for some reason excluded
or who have been taught to deny or suppress or hate parts of themselves.

As we mine this passage its yield is about far more than gender identity.
It’s about affirming the deepest truest identity of each person,
each one’s true self in God.
It is about rooting deep in our underlying belovedness
Rooting in that belovedness prior to any issues of gender, culture, or sexuality, rooting in one’s foundational core as a child of God.

The eunuch asks powerful questions
that the church,
as it is led by the Spirit into its future,
through table
and font
and Word
and in deep compassion, must hold.

Who is this passage about?
What is to prevent me from being baptized?

Philip baptizes the eunuch;
but before that he rides in the eunuch’s conveyance
and he hears the eunuch’s questions.
The budding church is invited and hosted by the eunuch.

Walter Bruggemann in his book Mandate to Difference cites a book written several decades ago but still relevant to the church’s task today.

The book is titled The Corporate Eunuch and it describes those who ” . . .in order to receive the largess of the corporation;. . .”
are pushed to live with ” . . . the relentless pressure of meeting endlessly increasing quotas for production. . . (53)”

Somewhat perhaps like our high court eunuch,
in charge of the royal treasury,
“They end . . with a loss of self,
including in many cases,  . . . the energy to maintain the sexuality of their life” (53,54).
In this way Bruggemann reminds us the inclusion of eunuchs pertains to any “ground down to lost self”.
The task of the church will be to live as a community that offers an alternative to whatever grinds down,
whatever divides self and community from the root of life in God.

We are to continually invite
and to receive invitation.
And we are called to live Sabbath and covenant that sustains.

The Spirit knows.
One minute we are trudging our way along a wilderness road;
not an easy road
not certain road,
but one to which we were sent.
And the next we are running alongside the bus
hollering to someone we really don’t know how to talk to;
but somehow we find common ground
and together we share the stuff of life,
our words mingled in the Word,
our bodies drawn close in the waters of baptism
our selves lifted by the Spirit to places we could never have imagined;
good news
in Jesus Christ

Amen.

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