The incident between the Ethiopian eunuch and Philip, in Acts 8, gives us a chance to make an observation about our Christian faith; which is that it is both welcoming and life changing and how it calls for a movement from inclusion (come as you are) to transformation.
So let’s take a look.
The Ethiopian eunuch was the ultimate outsider; he was a gentile, a person of color unable to be circumcised. He had been to Jerusalem to worship Israel’s God, but he wouldn’t have been allowed to celebrate the festival.
Physically unfit, ritually excluded; all that way and no entrance ticket. He could have prayed at a distance but that was it. Yet Israel’s God still so captivates him that on his way home in his chariot he’s reading Isaiah chapter 53:
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?
What does it mean, the eunuch wondered who is the passage referring to?
Well Philip, who thanks to the Holy Spirit, happened to be around, helped interpret the scripture for the eunuch. Philip told him that the passage referred to Jesus of Nazareth-who is the Lamb of God and because of his death the barriers between God and humanity, Jew and gentile are now torn down. Philip announced to the black eunuch that in Jesus, Israel’s God has revealed his universal welcome; suddenly the eunuch’s physical social and cultic exclusion is overturned. He is embraced by the God who is revealed in the crucified Jesus.
Not always practiced of course, sometimes Christianity degenerates into a holy huddle,, but in fact it is a religion of radical inclusion; it wants everyone to know Jesus, sees everyone is a potential member; seeks the outsider; Archbishop Temple Church exists for those who do not belong to it; so the Christian faith, the church naturally says, “Welcome Mr. Eunuch”.
But that is not the end of the story.
“What is preventing me from being baptized? What is preventing me from being fully immersed in this new religion asked the Eunuch; I want a new life, a new way of living, I want to say good-bye to the old ways. Of course baptism is the symbol of that, isn’t it? Immerse, cleanse, wash; putting on the new clothes of growing faith. Favorite scenes in James Bond- Goldfinger, “Expect you to die, Mr. Bond.” As Paul wrote, “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” The expectation is movement-from the old to the new.
Christianity is a religion that welcomes you as you are and radically says it will not leave you the same- seeks to have you be a new creation; it says to all who enter into its doors, “do not be conformed to the ways of this world but be transformed by the renewal of your minds.”
What does this mean for us-individually and as a parish? Jesus, the vine, the source of life and giver of new growth, is determined to lead His people into the fullness of the life he has promised for us. For Philip it meant getting out there on the highways and byways, sharing the good news with seekers. For the eunuch it meant going back to his native land rejoicing in the power of God.
For you and me it might mean stepping up as a leader or engaging in a new ministry. It might mean choosing to trust God while going through a difficult time. It might mean being proactive about telling friends about how Grace Church and its ministries have made a big difference in your life. Bottom line: it’s awesome to see how Christ leads his people, often pushing them beyond their comfort zone in order to experience the abundant life he desires for us.
All too often we hear that the Church is welcoming and inclusive. Great-let us be a parish that befriends people just as they are; But we fail in the spirit of the one who died for us so that we might flourish if that’s all we’re about. So let us be a parish that welcomes everyone but also understands that our mission also includes ministries and personal interaction that help people grow deeper in their Christian faith.
So how about this for a new denominational slogan; Episcopal Church welcomes you and promises to provide the seeds that will foster your growth in the knowledge and love of the Lord. Amen