Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Fifth Sunday of Easter: 6 May 2012

This week's readings from the Revised Common Lectionary are an embarrassment of riches: the vine and the branches (gospel); God is love (epistle); the Ethiopian eunuch (first lesson). Any preacher worth their salt could go on all day about any one of them. 
In the Eastertide issue of Homily Service in 2009, John Rollefson chose to focus upon the fascinating character of the Ethiopian eunuch from the first lesson. Luke introduces this man with seven descriptive phrases, outlining his social location remarkably concisely as one who is:
  • African
  • Castrated
  • A highly-placed government official
  • A worshipper of Israel’s God
  • Wealthy
  • Literate
It is a wonderful story, literally a story of wonder. But particularly wondrous in my estimation is that having introduced us to this exotic person with his seven descriptive phrases, it is the man’s sexual condition as a eunuch by which Luke chooses to label or identify the man subsequently four times - a person formally excluded by the worshiping community of Israel according to Deuteronomy 23:1. This is underlined by the fact that the eunuch is found reading the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, just a short turn of the scroll earlier than chapter 56, which reverses Deuteronomy’s exclusion of eunuchs and explicitly welcomes them into the covenant community of Israel with “a name better than sons and daughter...an everlasting name that will not be cut off” (v 5) Ouch!
The welcome of eunuchs into the faith community is not the issue on the frontier of the church’s mission with sexual minorities in our day. But we know what is! “What is to prevent?” Now that is a good question. Certainly not the Spirit of God, which is always wafting the church into new encounters along “the Way.” Sing Marty Haugen’s “All Are Welcome” in celebration of this Gospel mandate.
From this week’s banquet of scripture, will you serve your congregation primarily from Acts, I John or John’s gospel? If you will focus on the text from Acts, will you use the opportunity to discuss the state of the church’s ministry with sexual minorities?

John Rollefson (2008): 10 May 2009; Easter 5, Homily Service, 42:2, 141.

John Rollefson is an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

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