Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Sermon: Justice Was Taken Away From Him

Acts 8:26-40

The baptism of the Ethiopian Eunuch reminds us that in Christ there is no room for racism, there is no room for oppression, there is no room for exclusion of people from the religious fellowship of our Lord and Savior. This African man is reading the book of Isaiah. Clearly he wants to know God, but he could not.

You see, the bible says a few different things about eunuchs. And I realize the topic makes us uncomfortable in many ways, but we need to get through it to understand the deeper message.

So, on the one hand the bible says in Isaiah 56:4-5, “For thus says the Lord: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose the things that please me and hold fast my covenant, I will give in my house and within my walls a monument and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.” Unfortunately in another place it says in Deuteronomy 23:1 it also says: “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.” In Jesus’ day, the book of Deuteronomy held more sway and more importance than Isaiah and so that was the predominant view, eunuchs were forbidden from participating in religious life. So there is the first strike against this man who wants to know more about God.

Further, let’s be honest. There was a fear of foreigners in those days too. We didn’t start the foolishness of treating people differently because they came from a different place.

That has been around for a long time. Although evidence does suggest that the people of that time did not care much about a person’s skin color, they did care about their national origin. There are whole sections of scripture about not marrying foreign women, foreign people being forbidden from joining in the Passover and so on. But the whole idea of opening up religion to the gentiles, the non-Jews was on the cusp of emerging with the Apostle Paul. Unfortunately, it hadn’t happened yet. This passage is setting up the revolutionary ideas that Paul will bring over the next few pages of the book of Acts. So at this time, the Ethiopian would have been an outsider, a non-Jew.

So here he is: judged for being a eunuch and a gentile, and he is reading a passage in Isaiah, about a man who is humiliated, and who has justice taken away from him. My guess is that the man relates to him, and wants to know more about him. Who is this person who has an experience like mine?

Most of us, can on some level, understand what the Ethiopian eunuch is thinking and feeling. Most of us understand what it means to be the outsider, the one who is not welcomed, the one who is bullied or shunned, the one who is judged for things that are beyond our control. We have been there, we know what it is like.

Watch this video. [play Judged]

Most of us, can on some level understand what it means to be judged and excluded. Sometimes it is even at the hands of religious folk, people who are supposed to live their lives around the principles of love, that we receive the worst treatment. The video shows that well. But it is not how it should be.

In our biblical story what happens next for the man in the story is amazing. He is reading the passage aloud, and Philip overhears him. Philip immediately reaches out to him – this is new! A religious person who is crossing the barriers, who isn’t judging him. Philip then explains that the one that we as Christians follow, the Christ, was the one spoken of in the passage.

Sadly, we don’t get the exact explanation that Philip uses, but we can guess that he talks about how Jesus was unfairly tried, and yet how he gave himself up, like a sheep led to the slaughter, and then how God raised him from the dead. He probably explained further that in Jesus’ resurrection all of us who had no hope, all of us who did not find justice, all of us who were humiliated in this life are offered God’s love and acceptance. After all that is the good news.

So here is this man who has felt like he has never been treated justly by religious people, hearing for the first time that forgiveness is poured out, shame is erased, and new life is given to us. He can be welcomed in the assembly of the Lord. The words of the other passage in Isaiah are finally going to be heard for him – there is a place and an everlasting name for him. Hearing this from Philip, the Ethiopian man immediately wants to be baptized. And I don’t blame him. After being mistreated and cast out, here he is being offered a chance to belong and be a part of God’s people – of course he wants to join!

Like I said at the beginning of the sermon. This passage reminds us that the good news of Jesus Christ is that there is more than one way of reading the bible and it’s laws. It can be read through the lens of separation from God, of holy purity only available for a select few, like the Pharisees that Jesus often argued with.

Or it can be read through the lens of Jesus’ grace which welcomes the sinners and the outcast. This passage suggests that as Christians we are to read it that scripture the second way – that we are to open the doors of the assembly to all people who want to learn God’s ways, who want to grow in their relationship with God, who want to be in covenant with God. That there is no excuse for racism or exclusion of people based upon their nationality, nor are we to judge those who love God.

For those of us who have been humiliated at any time, for those of us who have been unloved, unaccepted, unwelcomed; this is what we refer to as amazing grace! Through Christ, who also experienced suffering, injustice and humiliation, there is a place for us in Christ’s church. This is the good news, and it should so inspire us that we immediately respond, “What is stopping me from being baptized?” What is stopping me from being part of the assembly of the Lord? To which Christ answers – “nothing”, not even Deuteronomy.

And that is a pretty radical statement. It is no wonder that the Pharisees did not like the Christians – they were challenging scripture itself by suggesting that we interpret it through a new lens. A lens of Jesus’ death and resurrection. A lens of grace rather a lens of law. It becomes the great foundation for Paul’s life work, for his writing, and quite honestly is still one of our greatest struggles in the church.

Yet, the death and resurrection should have the final word. When love and injustice collide, love should be our choice. When grace and law collide, grace wins. When we are caught being judgment and acceptance, Christ still accepts us. We are here only by love and grace, we must allow others the same. To celebrate that – we are going to sing about the one who sets us free, the chain breaker that Philip explained to the Ethiopian that day. The one who welcomes us into the Assembly of the Lord, our savior Jesus Christ.

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