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2018

 

J Nichols Adams et al

April 29, 2018—Fifth Sunday of Easter

 

 

LectionAid 2nd Quarter 2018

April 29, 2018—Fifth Sunday of Easter

The Un-includables

Acts 8:26-40; 1 John 4:7-21; John 15:1-8; Psalms 22:25-31

Theme: Genuine Love

Top of Page ILLUMINATING AND THINKING ABOUT THE SERMON

Starting Thoughts

In last couple of presidential elections, we have had one side call the other side, not my kind of people. A good candidate includes everyone, but to tell the truth that is almost impossible. Jesus very much understood the human sin of excluding others.
Romney, a former Massachusetts governor, spoke in detail about remarks he made during a private event, regarding not being able to reach 47 percent of voters, which critics exploited late in the campaign.
“It was a very unfortunate statement,” Romney told Fox. “It's not what I meant. I didn't express myself as I wished I would have. You know, when you speak in private, uh, you don't spend as much time thinking about how something could be twisted and distorted. And it could come out wrong. … There's no question that hurt and did real damage to my campaign.
He also acknowledges he and his campaign failed to reach out to minorities as well as the Obama campaign.
“We weren't effective in my message primarily to minority voters, to Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans, other minorities,” Romney said. “That was a real mistake.” (http://www.foxnews.com/politics/2013/03/03/romney-still-disappointed-over-loss-admits-mistakes-critical-obama-second-term.html)
The conventional wisdom is that "47 percent" hurt so much because it played directly into the stereotype of Romney as an out-of-touch rich guy that President Obama and his campaign were playing up. And, that's true. But, there's more there when it comes to why the comments were so incredibly damaging. The truly terrible thing for Romney was that the remarks not only came directly out of Romney's mouth but were also documented on video. In an age in which average people assume all political ads are mostly (or totally) false, there are very few things that cut through the clutter. A candidate saying something as controversial as 47 percent of the country is dependent on the government is the sort of thing that makes even almost anyone turn and look at the TV. And that's the whole ballgame for a political campaign. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2013/03/04/why-mitt-romneys-47-percent-comment-was-so-bad/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.a7593cb39152)
Just to show that neither major party is shielded from this kind of thinking. We find the Democratic candidate doing the same thing. Speaking at a fundraiser in New York City on Friday, Hillary Clinton said half of Donald Trump’s supporters belong in a “basket of deplorables” characterized by “racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic” views. “You know, to just be grossly generalist, you could put half of Trump’s supporters into what I call the basket of deplorables. Right?” Clinton said. “The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic—you name it. And unfortunately, there are people like that. And he has lifted them up.”
She said the other half of Trump’s supporters “feel that the government has let them down” and are “desperate for change.” “Those are people we have to understand and empathize with as well,” she said. Trump’s campaign criticized her comments. “Just when Hillary Clinton said she was going to start running a positive campaign, she ripped off her mask and revealed her true contempt for everyday Americans,” Jason Miller, senior communications adviser for Trump’s campaign, said in a statement (http://time.com/4486502/hillary-clinton-basket-of-deplorables-transcript/)
"Basket of deplorables" is a phrase from a 2016 presidential election campaign speech delivered by Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton on September 9, 2016, at a campaign fundraising event, which Clinton used to describe a significantly large faction of supporters of her general election opponent, Republican nominee Donald Trump. Clinton later said that she "regrets saying half [of Trump's supporters]", and the Trump campaign repeatedly used the phrase against her during and after the 2016 presidential election. Many Trump supporters adopted the "Deplorable" moniker for themselves. After Clinton's loss, some journalists and political analysts questioned whether or not the speech played a role in the election's outcome; Clinton herself wrote in her book What Happened that it was one of the factors for her loss.
We see the same thing happening in our lection this morning. The eunuchs are not only peers with God's people; they are God's people! The blessing of God is for the eunuchs. God will do for them what man has made impossible by castration: He will give them a name that will endure. One is sure that his thirst for God's Word was only beginning to be awakened by this lesson from Philip.
The eunuch went on his way rejoicing according to the Scripture. No longer hanging around the fringes of God's kingdom, no longer an outsider, no longer unclean and not allowed in the assembly, no longer knocking upon locked doors with bloody knuckles, now he had been given a share of the children's inheritance by being adopted into the family. He had a place at the table. He had a right to read his name into the acts of salvation by our mighty God. What a difference a day makes. On his way down from `trying' to worship God in Jerusalem Philip just happened to come his way. Rejoicing replaced shame and confusion.
Where did Philip get the wisdom to do what he did with the eunuch? Remember, he hung around with Jesus for three years. Our text today prepared Philip, as it prepares us for our encounters with the outcasts, outlanders, and outsiders. In 2b the fruit of abiding is understood as bearing witness to the shared life with Jesus and The Father by loving one another. Bearing much fruit (vs 8) is loving outside the community as provincially understood?
It is to include the "unincludables" . Philip remembers Jesus' words," As the Father has sent me, so I send you." (John 20:21). In remembering, he knew what Jesus him would have to do for the eunuch.
It was an act of baptism that fulfilled the text in Isaiah 56. Can I be included? Philip's actions in Jesus' name forever ruled out the validity of our regional, provincial, political votes concerning inclusion in the Kingdom of God. The inclusive love of God moves outward in ever widening circles. Those in the kingdom are holding hands in a circle of community. Holding hands, yes, but looking outward for those whom they can include. Can I be included? The answer will always be," Yes!"

Exegetical Comments

There is no good news in the Old Testament about being an Ethiopian. (see Isa. 20:5; Eze. 30:4; 2 Chron. 14:12; Amos 9:7 for examples.) Ethiopia was the ancient version of Timbuktu. It was the last jumping off place on earth.
Eunuchs fared worse than Ethiopians in the Old Testament. (see Lev. 21:20; Deut. 23:1 for examples.) "He may not be included in the assembly of the Lord." Deut. 23:1b NLT. It certainly was not very likely that one who became an eunuch was born a Jew. He certainly could not meet the standards for converting to the Jewish faith.
The lesson states," This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship." Acts 8:27b. Worship where? Worship how? Worship with whom? What part of "may not be included" did he misunderstand? One can imagine his day in Jerusalem. He was a powerful official, so getting in through the gates was not a problem. As he moved toward the temple mount, it became more obvious that he was one of the "not-my-people" referred to in the Old Testament. Dr. Fred Craddock once said in a sermon about this fellow: "he was poking around, looking through windows, rattling locked doors, and finding overwhelming evidence that he was in the wrong place." Did he have any shame? He could never have children.
There could be no heirs. His name would be forgotten in time. Yet, he had gone up to worship. Hanging around the fringes, praying for the crumbs from the children's table, revealing to all who saw him an object of pity and disdain, these were the ways he spent his time in Jerusalem.
He was able to acquire something precious during his stay in Jerusalem. He was a person of means and bought for himself a scroll of the book of Isaiah. Only the wealthiest Jews had personal scrolls. They went to the Synagogues and listened to one another read from the Torah and the Prophets. The eunuch went I am sure, but he was not allowed in the assembly. If only all the law was a clear and as concise as the one related to eunuchs in the assembly of the Lord, then life would be a lost less complicated! So, he gave up and left Jerusalem, reading from his precious scroll of Isaiah. He could not understand it. No one in any official capacity would ever think of teaching him. He and his driver rolled along sharing their ignorance.
Of all the scrolls he had chosen the right one. He was reading from Isaiah 53:7,8. Could he ever relate to this one spoken of in the text? "Led like a sheep to the slaughter" (53:7a). The eunuch had been castrated. "Silent...he did not open his mouth" (53:7b). The eunuch had been all day foraging around the fringes of the people of God afraid to say anything that would call more attention to himself. "In his humiliation" (53:8a). The eunuch had found a brother, if he just could learn who the man was in the text. "Who can speak of his descendants?" (53:8b). The eunuch would have no legacies either upon this earth.
Then Philip under direct orders met up with the Ethiopian. Philip asks," Do you understand what you are reading?" (Acts 8:30b). But he does have his question focused: Who is he talking about in this text? Philip began with this passage and explained to him the good news about Jesus. Being familiar with the scroll of Isaiah, one is sure that in this explanation Philip flipped over to Isaiah 56:3-5. Here Philip relates the One spoken of in Isaiah 53 to the eunuch.
"And my blessing are also for the eunuchs. They are as much mine as anyone else. For I say this to the eunuchs who keep my Sabbath days holy, who choose to do what pleases me and commit their lives to me: I will give them—in my house, within my walls—a memorial and a name far greater than the honor they would have received by having sons and daughters. For the name I give them is an everlasting one. It will never disappear!" (Isa 56:3b-5).

Preaching Possibilities

This week is all about including everyone. The whole idea of all of us holding hands in the community of love, the community of Jesus the community of the church has never been achieved. Today is all about helping us see that as a goal to reach.
Today in Jerusalem the Ethiopian Christians worship on the top of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. They are forbidden from worshipping in front of the altar. This place is reserved for Catholics. Behind the altar is reserved for the Greek Orthodox worshippers. The Ethiopians worship above the altar. It was the only place left for them, but ever since Philip had Sunday school with the eunuch, they have never doubted that they had a place in the Kingdom of God. I wonder where the rest of Christianity worships, a lot of us are left out.

Top of Page ILLUSTRATING THE SERMON

Different Sermon Illustrations

Desmond Tutu frequently uses an example of how foolish prejudice is, whereby insiders go to great lengths to avoid contact with outsiders. To poke fun at the South African system that admitted only whites to certain universities, Tutu invites people to imagine a university that admitted only people with big noses. Accordingly, if someone had a small nose and wanted to attend that school, they would have to make a special application to the Director of Small Nose Affairs. If we wouldn't think of segregating people based on the size of our noses, which is a physical characteristic, Tutu asks, why would we segregate people one from another based on the color of their skin?

A TV program in Argentina is seeking to help to those who have been left on the outside by the recent financial upheaval in that nation. The hour-long program Human Resources pits two unemployed people in a contest, with the victor winning a six-month work contract. More than a tropical vacation or a new car, many people in Argentina hope for a paying job than anything else. Until a few years ago, Argentina was one of the most prosperous nations in the hemisphere. But a recent downturn has sent its economy into the equivalent of a Great Depression. The unemployment rate stands well over 20%. Each August there is a feast day for San Cayetano, the patron saint of workers. Some families spend weeks camping in unheated tents outside the sanctuary to the saint, intending that to be an offering to the saint, with the hope the saint will help them find a job.

One of the challenges of ministering to those on the outside is to find a common language with which to communicate. Those who are only used to associating with other Christians often find it difficult to find common ground with those unfamiliar with the faith. Researchers at the University of Michigan are theorizing that if humans engage in extended space travel, there is a strong chance that by the time they return, the language they speak will differ from the language they will return to. Just like English-speaking people around the world develop their own distinct dialects that are often incomprehensible to English-speaking people from other regions, so also space voyagers would quite likely develop their own dialect, which may or may not be understood by other humans when they returned.

One of the ways that Jews and Muslims attempt to distinguish insiders from outsiders is through strict dietary regulations. Both religions, for instance, forbid their adherents from eating pork, and they strongly discourage any association at all with pigs, which are considered to be ritually unclean animals. Some Muslim mothers have asked a British baby store, Mothercare, to change one of its products. The item in question is a Winnie the Pooh doll which comes attached to a Piglet doll. The Muslim parents want to be able to purchase Winnie the Pooh without the unclean Piglet tagging along.

Sometimes it takes people on the outside to get insiders to do some self-evaluation. In a nationwide survey conducted by Oxford Health Plans, of 1450 adults questioned, 17% described their health as being excellent. When researchers probed those results, however, they found that many of those people were in fact taking less than excellent care of themselves. Of that group, 55% were at least 25 pounds overweight, 31% smoked, 21% drank at least three glasses of alcohol per day, and 36% never exercised. "Denial is dangerous when it comes to your health," an Oxford executive commented.

Like Philip, we might hesitate to speak with other people about important matters unless we're duly motivated. In the case of Philip, it was the Holy Spirit's prompting that caused him to strike up a conversation with the Ethiopian eunuch. Many doctors, though, even when they have important news to share with their patients, often fail to communicate it. One study found that 40% of doctors do not tell their patients they are suffering from a terminal illness unless the patient or family specifically requests to be told. One physician remarked, "Traditionally, oncologists are paid to give chemotherapy, not to have long conversations."

Although Jesus readily associated with outsiders during his ministry, we are often less eager to encourage that kind of fraternizing today. The Rev. Thomas Bouterie was forced to resign from his parish following an uproar that took place when a book was published, which included a picture of him shirtless at a New Orleans Mardi Gras celebration standing next to a drag queen and men in biking shorts. A parishioner defended him by saying; "If Jesus came to Mardi Gras, where would he be? I have a feeling he would be right there."

How good of a job is the Christian church doing at caring for those on the outside? While Christians make up about one-third of the world's population, we receive around two-thirds of the world's total income each year. But of that vast amount of resources, we spend approximately 97% of it on ourselves. We give 1% to various secular charities, leaving only a small 2% that is given to churches and other Christian causes, most of which is spent on ourselves maintaining our buildings and providing services for church members.

There always seems to be limits on how inclusive we are willing to be. In 1776, the Continental Congress appointed John Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson with the task of designing a seal for the United States. They decided upon an emblem that included Americans of English, Scottish, Irish, French, German, and Dutch origin. Noticeably absent from the seal were any blacks or Native Americans.

A Teamsters union found itself the target of protests because they decided to be more inclusive than some people thought they should be. According to a Houston Chronicle report, Teamsters Local 988 opened a brand-new meeting hall in Houston this past August. Construction workers, plumbers, electricians, and other union workers heavily criticized the local, however. The reason for the protests: the Teamsters used nonunion labor because union workers were too expensive.

The Bible Society in Australia has developed a new way to bear witness to an outsider group in that nation—surfers. The organization recently published a "Surfer's Bible," which is a combination of the New Testament, glossy photographs, and testimonials from Christian surfers. The Bible Society of Australia initially printed 10,000 copies of the special Bible, which will sell at a cost of about $5. With thousands of Christian surfers in Australia, the Bible Society believes the Bibles will be rapidly purchased. An earlier surfer-friendly version of the Gospel of Mark sold over 60,000 copies. The Bible Society decided to focus on the surfers, because they have a reputation for indulging in drugs and alcohol.

Russian authorities are somewhat concerned about how far inclusiveness might go in their society. This past November the Russian Duma ratified legislation that made Cyrillic the only legal alphabet in Russia. The move was designed to curb ethnic independence movements within the nation, such as in Chechnya. Various groups use the Cyrillic, Latin, and Arabic alphabets across Russia. Earlier in the year the Russian legislature considered various bills that would have sought to combat the inclusion of English words into the language.

The fifth Sunday after Easter is traditionally known as Rogate Sunday. The name comes from the Latin word for "pray." Dating back to at least the eighth century in Europe, Christians would journey out into the fields on Rogate Sunday and offer prayers, including prayers for the upcoming growing season.

"The will to give ourselves to others and `welcome' them, to readjust our identities to make space for them, is prior to any judgment about others, except that of identifying them in their humanity" (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation [Nashville: Abingdon, 1996], p. 29).

"Equality may perhaps be a right, but no power on earth can ever turn it into a fact" (Honore de Balzac).

"Freedom! Equality! Brotherhood!" (Motto of the French Revolution).

"We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" (Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence).

"When your head droops at night, let a page of Scripture pillow it" (Jerome).

Part of what keeps many people from reaching out to the different "other" is fear of taking a risk. Fear keeps people from any physical contact with AIDS patients or the homeless. This same fear kept people in my community from befriending a Vietnamese refugee family who moved into town. Yet Philip showed not a minute of fear in speaking to a stranger, a foreigner, and a man of different social and economic class than himself. Taking a risk to overcome fear changes things. A popular T-shirt around our Little League fields reads "You'll never get to second if you keep your foot on first."

A new man came to town. He had not met anyone, except the bank directors from whom he had bought the largest bank in town. He went across the street to look at the new Buicks. A salesman reading the newspaper saw him on the lot, but continued to read. Mr. Greene approached him and asked if he could look at the new Buicks. The salesman said, "Yes." "But they are all locked, and I would like to see inside." replied Mr. Greene. Still not getting up the salesman said, "Looking is free and does not include my unlocking the cars for you." Mr. Greene went back across the street to his bank and asked who owned the dealership. He then called Mr. Williams and inquired if it was for sale. It was. Three hours later he returned to what would be from here after called Greene Motors and summarily fired the newspaper-reading salesman. One cannot go by appearances.

Lord Churchill had a country place in Scotland. His family spent their summers there. His son Winston was fond of an older boy, Alex, who was the caretaker's son. One day, as Winston was trying to swim across the pond, he panicked. Alex dove in and saved his life.
Lord Churchill sent for Alex and his father to come up to the manor house that evening. The father was in the dark and thought the worst. When Lord Churchill expressed his gratitude, the father was relieved. "What are you dreams, Alex?" Lord Churchill asked. "When I finish normal school, I would like to be a doctor, sir." he replied. Lord Churchill responded by offering him a scholarship to Oxford, if his grades supported his being admitted. Time passed, and Alex became a doctor through the largess of the Churchills. Years later Winston was dying of fever in South Africa on the eve of World War II. A miracle drug had been developed called penicillin. It was rushed to him and saved his life. The discoverer of penicillin was Alexander Fleming, the boy who had saved his life in the pond. Thanks to his father following through on his commitment to school Alex was able to save his life a second time. Who needs you to lift them?

Rosa Parks had just finished her long day of cleaning houses. She went to her bus stop from which she would return to her side of town. When she got on the bus there was only a seat near the front of the bus. She knew that the front was reserved for white people and that if the back was full she should stand up in the back of the bus rather than occupy a privileged seat. Today was different. Rosa was tired. She had paid the same fare as the white riders. It was crystallized for her in that moment. I am just as worthy as anyone to sit down on this bus. She took her seat and began what was to be called the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott. Her civil rights had been violated, and she resolved not to give up until she saw justice done. Rosa Parks was one of the pioneers of the civil rights movement in the 20th century.

The South Georgia Annual Conference of the Methodist Church meeting in Valdosta, Georgia, voted to not integrate their churches. Bishop John Owen Smith who served as Bishop over the two Georgia conferences had the long ride in defeat from Valdosta to Atlanta after the meeting. He knew that the church was in denial of her Lord in voting to remain segregated. He and many others tirelessly worked until the merger with the black Georgia Conference became a reality in 1968. The church as a circle of fellowship facing inward is doomed to wither on the vine, but the church as a circle of fellowship facing outward, looking for others whom she may include, is eternal and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against her.

There is a picture in Life Magazine from 1944, showing the D-Day invasion in a panoramic view. The sky is black with planes, the sea almost solid with ships and boats of every sort, and the men are pouring out onto the beach. The caption reads, "What could Hitler have been thinking when he declared war on America?" A long-suffering, peace-loving people had finally been engaged in the life and death struggle of war. As the Ethiopian eunuch tried to find a place upon the mount of the Lord to worship, what were the leaders of the religious community thinking as they blocked him at every turn? If someone can be excluded from the love of God expressed by God's people, how can anyone be sure he or she is included? God, who is the advocate of the widow, orphan, and yes, the eunuch, is long-suffering and peace loving. God's desire that none be lost forces him to engage people every time they circle the wagons against a people whom they self-righteously exclude.
It could have been said of the leaders of the Temple Worship that day in Acts: What could they have been thinking when they declared that there would be no place for the Ethiopian eunuch to worship on the Mount of the Lord God?

"Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout,
They drew a circle and kept me out.
But God and I had the wit to win,
I drew a circle that took them in."
(public domain)
"What I ask for is absurd: that life shall have meaning.
What I strive for is impossible:
that my life shall acquire a meaning.
I dare not believe, I do not see how I shall ever be able
to believe: that I am not alone." (Dag Hammarskjold, Markings, New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc., 1964).

Everyone does not see the "Philip" sent to them. George Reeves played Superman on the TV series from the 1950s and early 60s. I used to watch him and marvel at how his super powers were always just what was needed to get the bad guys and save the world.
After his run as Superman, George did not get other TV or movie roles. He was stereotyped and could not break out. He became despondent. One evening, while he had friends over being entertained in his house, he went upstairs and lodged a bullet in his brain.
Who knows where the confused, rejected eunuch was going, or what he was going to do after leaving Jerusalem? Philip entered his chariot and his life, and we know his story 2000 years later!

Keith Taylor wrote a paraphrase of Scripture for his children, so they could understand the Bible better. He thought other children might benefit from such a paraphrase. He went to one publishing house and was told what he had done was heretical and arrogant. Who was he to be changing scripture? He went to every major publishing house in America. He got over 35 rejections for his efforts. Did he give up? No. He decided that God was not only urging him to publish his Living Bible, but to also start a new publishing house! He set up Tyndale House Publishing Company. Years ago his Living bible passed the 500 million mark in sales.

Gandhi was a student in South Africa. He was fascinated by the words of Jesus. He presented himself at the door of the Anglican Church in Johannesburg as an inquirer.
He was told that people of color were not welcome in their church. As an Indian, he would be considered in the same category as the black South Africans. Gandhi never attempted to enter a church again for the purpose of being taught. Rev. E. Stanley Jones missionary to India, became a friend of Gandhi's and reported him saying once, "You Christians really have someone in Jesus Christ, but you do not know it, and you do not use His power that is available to you." Listen; can you hear the knocking at the door?

Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech rings in America's ears after nearly forty years. "I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up—live out the true meaning of its creed that `All men are created equal'...that sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together...This is our hope." (Martin Luther King Jr., I have a dream, The Dolphin Book of Speeches, Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Co., Inc., 1965, pp.176-77). Bloody knuckles are knocking everywhere, if one only has the ears to hear the knocking and the heart to open the door.

Top of Page prayers (WorshipAid)

Call to Worship (Based on Ps. 22:27-31)

Leader: All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord.
People: For dominion belongs to the Lord, and God rules over the nations.
Leader: Before the Lord, who raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down.
People: Posterity will serve God, and future generations will be told about the Lord.
All: We will proclaim with our songs and our words the deliverance of God, even to those who are yet to be born.

Prayer of Confession

Gracious God, we know that we have been grafted into Christ, the True Vine, but by our thoughts, words, and deeds we have tried to separate ourselves from him. We have lived heedless of his word, thinking unkind thoughts about family and neighbors; failing to do kind deeds for them; and hurting others by cruel words. Forgive us for all of our shortcomings and restore us to the One who is able to forgive and renew. Send us forth like Philip, ready to do your will and able to make our witness to your saving grace. We ask this in Christ's name. Amen.

Prayer of Dedication

Obeying your Son, O God, who has bid us to bear much fruit, we bring these gifts to you, asking that you bless and use them in the work of your kingdom. Amen.

Pastoral Prayer

Dear God, we come as your grateful people, having heard your word in Scripture, sermon and song. May we be as faithful as those who first heard you and wrote down your wonderful deeds. We thank you for great figures of the faith such as Philip who obeyed your call and shared your word with the traveler from a distant land. May we be as willing to share our faith with the person next door or across the aisle from us at work or school. We live in a world that still draws tight circles to include the desirables and exclude those who are "different." Help us to join your Son, as Philip did, by enlarging the circle so that all will be welcomed in loving acceptance. May your Spirit be with those who are ill; who feel left out or behind; who have to beg for their food or shelter; who are victimized by tyranny and prejudice; in short, with all of bleeding, broken humanity who need not just words, but deeds of comfort and support. Be with the leaders of our nation, upholding them when they follow your will, and rebuking when they stray. Bless your church and its leaders, and especially guide and direct our congregation, that we might be faithful and fruitful in the work of your kingdom. We ask this in the name of Jesus Christ, the great head of the church. Amen.