“What is to Prevent Me?” A Sermon on Acts 8

+ A sermon in a preaching lab for Easter 5B at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Chicago, IL on May 6, 2015 +

Text: Acts 8:26-40


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our risen Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

I think it’s safe to say that we are all in a transitional time right now. The semester ends tomorrow. I know I, for one, am pretty tired after a very busy middler year, I’m sure some of you can relate. Now after these classes are finished, many of us will be embarking on the next phase of our ministry. Today in chapel we gave thanks at the end of the call for our pastor and those leaving our community. Last week, the new interns were sent forth from this place. Tomorrow we will send the final year students who will be preparing for first call or the job search. We have professors who are preparing for retirement or sabbatical while the community eagerly awaits new faculty members. It seems that as soon as we finally get to know the community that forms over the course of a school year, summer comes and by fall, a new community is beginning to form. I’ve learned that seminary is full of these times. Full of comings and goings. A life of ministry is full of these times, I’d imagine.

In today’s reading from Acts, Philip is also embarking on the next phase of his ministry. In the preceding verses, he had traveled to Samaria to proclaim the gospel there and baptized many Samaritans. The author of Acts doesn’t specify how long it was after Philip’s return to Jerusalem before he was again sent forth to the wilderness road to Gaza, but it doesn’t seem to be very long. Maybe he was just getting home, tired from his journey, and then he gets sent out again. While he’s going along the road, the Spirit of God sends him to meet this Ethiopian eunuch.

Now we don’t know a lot about this fellow traveler, not even his name. But there are some things we can surmise.
This man was a foreigner and a person of color.
He was a high-ranking official in the Ethiopian court, a man of means who could read and afford to have a chariot take him to and from Jerusalem.
It’s possible that he was a Jew – he was reading Isaiah and had just come from the holy city where he had gone to worship.
He was a eunuch. It’s not exactly clear what this term means for him. It’s possible he had been castrated as a young boy so he would be “safe” to serve in the royal court. Maybe he was born a eunuch. What is clear is that he is outside of the sexual and societal norm.

After Philip taught him about the gospel of Christ, the eunuch asked him, “What is to prevent me from getting baptized?”

What is to prevent him?

Well, let’s see…
He’s a foreigner, an official in a foreign court.
He’s a rich man who has not given his possessions to the poor.
He may be a Jew, but that’s unclear.
He can’t be a full Jew, that’s for sure.
Because he is a eunuch!
Deuteronomy 23:1 clearly states that eunuchs “shall not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.”
How could this man be a part of the church? He’s not even allowed in the temple.

What does he mean ‘what’s to prevent him?’
Scripture itself!
And yet, this is where the Spirit led –to this man and to this water in along this desert road.
So, the traveler and Philip go down to the water and the eunuch is baptized.

There is no doubt in my mind that each of us will encounter people in our ministry that feel barred from the church. I’m sure many of us have already.
Historically, the church universal has been good at excluding people from its universality.

We will encounter people who will not ask us what prevents them from being baptized, because they already know.
We will encounter people who will not ask us what prevents them from church leadership, because they have read Deuteronomy 23:1 or Leviticus 18:22 or 1 Timothy 2:9-15.
We will encounter people who will not ask us what prevents them from being loved by God, because the church has already told them.

But Acts tells us that it was the Spirit of God that brought Philip to this eunuch. The Spirit, God Godself, brought Philip to this queer man of color who was rejected by both Scripture and the community to tell him that he was loved by God.

It’s clear in this story that the Holy Spirit is the primary actor. Philip is kind of an accessory to the action. He doesn’t choose where to go, but the Spirit send Philip onto the road. He didn’t seek out this man, but the Spirit encouraged him to meet the eunuch. He didn’t even choose to leave – the Spirit snatched him away onto the next stop in his mission.

Siblings in Christ, we profess that it is this same Spirit that sends us from this seminary into our places of ministry. We don’t always get to choose where we are sent or the people we meet. We may not always have the words to say.
It is this same Spirit of God that brings us into connection with those who have been rejected by their families, their communities, and their churches.
Where will she lead us? Who will she introduce us to? Where will we be sent to proclaim God’s love and acceptance?

When Philip first found the eunuch, he had been reading what is now known as part of Isaiah 53. Perhaps, as Philip was explaining the scriptures to him, he scrolled over a few pages and showed him Isaiah 56, which says that God will welcome the foreigner and give eunuchs “a monument and a name better than sons and daughters…an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.”

We, like Philip, are now called to go forth and teach through the power of the Spirit. We are called to proclaim gospel to those struggling with Scripture and to give comfort and love to the rejected. We have the opportunity to greet these siblings in Christ’s name by the power of the Spirit and send them on their way rejoicing.

Thanks be to God.

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