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After the resurrection, Jesus’ followers had a lot of things to figure out. One of the biggest questions they had to answer – was what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. What were the criteria? What did you have to do? Who did you have to be?
All of Jesus’ disciples were Jewish. They grew up believing that to be the people of God was a special thing. And it was defined by blood. And family. And ethnicity. And ritual. The people of Israel – the faithful – God’s chosen people – Were a tribe – that shared a way of life – not only a system of belief and religious practice. They followed very strict rules. They lived in very particular ways – and within the confines of specific cultural boundaries. They lived together by carefully following the law – a set of rules – that dictated everything – from what they ate – to how they washed – to who they were allowed to be with – to touch – to eat with. And before we turn to this story in Acts – we have to try to put ourselves in that place – a very particular kind of life and mindset. Where everyone knows the rules. Everyone knows who counts and who doesn’t. Who’s in and who’s out.
But there was something fundamentally different about the Jesus movement. And we see it in this story in Acts.
An angel sends Philip out to the middle of nowhere. And he comes across an Ethiopian eunuch. Someone from a totally different part of the world. Who’s skin color is different. Who’s way of life is different. Who is part of a different nation – a different group of people. Someone who follows none of the Jewish laws. Not in his family life. Not in the way he eats – or washes – or lives – not in any way. This eunuch is likely different than anyone Philip has ever met before. And he certainly is not part of what Philip would think of as “God’s chosen people.”
And yet – an angel tells Philip where to go. And the eunuch wants to be baptized. He hears the good news that Philip shares. And it means something to him. So much – that he wants to take it on – In that very moment – To die with Christ in the waters of baptism. And to be born again.
This is one of the first moments when the early church changed. When it was clear that the Jesus movement – the good news of Jesus – Was really for everyone. The disciples go out – as Jesus tells them to in the great commission – And welcomes everyone.
No matter how different. No barrier is too great. This eunuch was in many ways Philip’s opposite – And yet God sends Philip directly to him. God constantly calls us out – out into the city – Out onto the wilderness roads – Outside of these walls – to find even those who are our opposites –The Gospel always calls us out – to find, to welcome, to include everyone. Everyone.
No boundaries. No limits. No one left outside. Everyone. This inclusion of the eunuch would have been absolutely mind-blowing for Philip’s contemporaries. Most people wouldn’t have believed it was possible. But with God…all things are possible. Even the kind of social – and systemic change – that was necessary for the early church – as it struggled – as it stretched – As it learned to welcome and care for all people.
That kind of cultural change is hard – and we can see – throughout the book of Acts – that it didn’t happen over night. Justice – and equality – are hard-earned gifts. But they are what God wants for us – what God intends for us.
I spent a good bit of time this week on the phone with friends and colleagues of mine in Baltimore. Clergy, mostly – who have been part of the rallies. Who have protested – peacefully – crying out for justice – and for equality. For due process. And for peace. I have been asked to tell you that not everything you see on TV is true. There were many peaceful protests.
This is not the only time recently when our headlines have been taken over by these struggles. When we have watched as whole cities have been plunged into violence and distress over the issues of racism – prejudice – and privilege. And what we hear about this on the news – and in the media – Is all about picking one side or the other. It’s all about who’s right – and who’s wrong. No matter who you listen to – and which side they favor – The way that the media has told all of these stories has been about drawing lines – creating sides – splitting people up. It has been about lumping people together – into big groups. And making broad – general statements – often racist statements - about who acts in certain ways – about who people are – and what they do – And what can be expected of them – based on the color of their skin.
And while there is a lot to say about these situations – And there are some aspects of it that might be complicated – Our part in it is really quite simple. We need only look at the story of the eunuch.
Every person. Every single person. No matter who they are – or where they come from – or what color their skin is – No matter their ethnicity – their class – their level of education – No matter who they love – or what they do for a living – or what crimes they may have committed in the past. Every single person matters to God. And like Philip – we are sent out – to bear witness to the fact that every life matters. Every life.
And every person deserves to hear the good news – and for us to invite them in to a new kind of community – a new kind of life. In which we, too, are working for that justice and equality that God intends for us.
Like Philip – we are sent out to share the good news – and hopefully – we know it well enough by now…that we can feel deep within us – that in God there are no sides. There is no north – or south – no east – or west. No right or wrong. No winner no loser. Only one flock. And one shepherd. One side – for all of us. And it is for us to bear witness to this truth – and to help bring God’s people together. To do all that - we have to work at seeing each individual person – encountering each one as a unique child of God. Not as part of a particular group or stereotype. Not as one brush stroke within a much larger painting. But as one person. Able to make their own decisions.
And it means that if we are people who believe in love – And we believe that love makes resurrection possible –
Then we – with God’s help – can make resurrection and reconciliation possible in the world around us – by loving – And by living and abiding in that sacrificial love that Jesus gave to us.
And by not getting sucked into the us and them paradigm - We have to not let anyone convince us that we are different somehow – or better – or removed from a situation in which our brothers and sisters are suffering. And we have to believe – so much that we let our love make a difference – In the way that we live – in the way that we vote – in the way that we participate in society – in the way that we teach our kids – and the way we walk around in the world… We are called to partner with God to bring people together – And to respect the dignity of every human being.
Because to God – every life matters. Every child deserves to have enough to eat. To grow up in a safe home. To be educated – and given the same opportunity – as kids who live in a different part of the city. And we – as people – as faithful people – have the power to make that happen. We have the power to feed the hungry – To care for the poor – and to love our neighbor. Treating everyone we encounter as an individual – and not as a stereotype. Not as a caricature. But as a beloved child of God. And when we do this – when we love like this – then resurrection will be all around us. And then – when we abide in God’s love – and bear this good fruit – the fruits of love – and of reconciliation – Then we will know what it truly means to be disciples of Jesus Christ.
To be followers of the Messiah who welcomed the stranger – touched the sick – ate with the poor – and was the first to say – every life matters. Amen.