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
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.