Sermon, September 8: Prodigal

Jesus told a story of a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.

After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs.  He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.

When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death!  I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me one of your hired servants.’

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, “Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet.  Let’s have a feast and celebrate.”

The dictionaries don’t agree on what “prodigal” means. It’s about something done either extravagantly or wastefully. We could say that the father in this story loved his sons extravagantly while the younger son treated the family money wastefully. What contrast is Jesus making? Henri Nowen wrote a book based on Rembrandt’s famous painting of this story. In the book, he remembers that as a young man, he identified with the younger son and in middle age, he felt more drawn to the older one, but toward the end of his life, he began to identify with the father. Maybe this is a conscious kind of progression that many of us make.

Or not. Jesus told the story first from the father’s point and then from the younger son’s and then switched back to the father’s. Maybe some of it needs a little translating for us who came later. In first century Jerusalem, the younger son’s behavior meant something like “I want to be so gone from this family that I wish you had already died and I had my money.” Now of course, the father did not die. But in a way, the son did because any son who said something like that would have been shunned by the entire village. And, in the community-centered first century, to be without a village, was to be as good as dead.

Listen to the only words the father ever said about his younger son, and he said them twice. When he organized the feast, he said to the servants “This son of mine was dead and is alive again.” Later on he said to his first born, “This brother of yours was dead and has come to life.” We can’t begin to understand what this story might be saying unless we really hear what the father was saying when he used those words.

After the younger son wished his father dead, the story says, he took every dime he got to a far country and wasted it. He took the best his father could give him and did the worst with it and ended up with the pigs. And the pig – to this day, in Jewish understanding – is unclean. Sinfully, shamefully unclean and a perfect symbol for the younger son’s behavior.

So now the prodigal has a new dimension to his personality and it’s a tough motivator. Shame is not just a conviction that we’ve done something wrong – it’s an overwhelming feeling that we are something wrong. Shame is very different from regret or repentance. The irrational thing about shame is that while it convinces us that we are unlovable, at the same time it convinces us that we must try as hard as we can to make ourselves lovable. And so we become paralyzed. If there is a love strong enough to save this father’s son, it needs to be a love that is stronger than shame.

So far, the story has presented us with three different ways of being. We can be independent and self-centered while we follow our own ragged path to self-fulfillment like the younger son. Or, we can be defined by attention to the letter of the law – never looking left or right like the older son. Or, we can be loving and reach out to rescue the ones we love, even and especially as they hurt us.

The story makes no judgement. It doesn’t even tell us how it ended. Do you think the brothers ever learned to love each other? Did the town respect the man who gave up half the family’s land and allowed his son to shame the family name? Do you really know who you identify with or is each and every complex one of us capable of all three ways of being at any given time in our lives?

Here’s the question that really matters – does God really love as profligately as the patriarch? Maybe the parable doesn’t exactly say. Maybe for that answer, we need to look to Jesus’ life instead of his stories. For what his life tells us is that ours is a God who will endure anything and everything, to bring each of us safely home.   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, September 1, 2019: Bread

I read an article in the Times on Friday by Thomas Egan, It was named “Why People Hate Religion.” Its point was that lots of people talk about good and evil, but holy people simply do for others in Christ’s name. It ended by saying that “faith is not all that complicated. Religion is.

Almost as if to prove his point, I came across a message saying that “views concerning Communionrun the gamut from those who believe that Christ is symbolically present in the blessed bread and cup to those who believe that we are sharing a simple meal that Jesus invited us to in memory of him.What does than mean and how on Earth would we prove it?

Faith is not that complicated. Religion surely is. But let’s set aside theological constructs for a moment and focus on what we all know first hand bread. We know the smell of it baking, the crunch of it chewing, the comfort of it nourishing.

Another thing we know – but this is one we seldom think about we know that the wheat has long been celebrated as a symbol of the mystery of living and dying and rising to new life. As long ago as the worship of the Egyptian god Osiriswhich was around 6000 to 3150 BCEwheat kernels were placed in graves to symbolize the hope of well-being of the departedLet’s think a little this morning about why, deep within us, we still link these ancient symbols of bread and of Christ together. Faith is not complicated.

The background that nurtures is is the Old Testament story of God sending manna – bread – from heaven. The New Testament will go on to name the town where tradition tells us that Jesus was born. It of course is Bethlehem: bethwhich means “house of”, and lechemwhich means bread. Beth -lechem– the house of bread. So the narrative of the Bible is set up from the beginning to associate Jesus with the life giving characteristics of bread. But the symbol evolves when John claims it for Jesus’ own and bread evolves into a sign of the quintessential gift from God.

The key biblical passages that pass on the church’s conscious understanding of bread and cup are the words Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. The essence of it, no matter what words we use in any particular moment, because – as he says – their meaning is deeper than words. “I received from the Lord,” Paul told the Corinthians, “what I pass on to you: that the Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in memory of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in memory of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord.”

Four things: take, thank, break and share. It’s about doing, and in the doing, conscious action and non-conscious longing are joined together. Memories and hopes are joined together. .Why do we “do this”? We do it to remember Jesus. And the heart of this remembering has to do with what it is that we remember about Jesus.

Religion will tell you that it was common for a time in the church’s history of Holy Communion to understand the sacrament only in terms of the crucifixion. But central to remembering the crucifixion is the awareness that the cross would be long forgotten if it weren’t visible always and only in the light of Easter morning. This is crucial: if Jesus is Christ, then his crucifixion and resurrection can never be separated.

It’s not complicated, Jesus said. Trust the story. Break the bread. Do this. Sense the well-being. Do it so we might recognize the One whose presence creates a space where all can come together and join in a moment when sharing the gifts of the earth becomes the way toward sharing the love of the eternal God.   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, August 11: Mine, All Mine

Luke 12:13-21

Someone in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me.”…Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have treasured, whose will they be?’

Continue reading →

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, August 5: Bread

From earliest times, wheat been considered sacred because it is understood as bearing the mystery of living and dying and rising to new life.As long ago as the worship of the Egyptian god Osiris –  around 6000 to 3150 BCE – wheat kernels were placed in graves to symbolize the future well-being of the departed.

We just heard the story of God sending manna from heaven. The New Testament will go on to name the town where Jesus was born, Bethlehem: which is “beth” – which means house of, and “lechem:, which is bread.  Beth -lechem – the house of bread. The Bible is set up from the beginning to associate Jesus with the life giving characteristics of bread. But the symbol evolves when Jesus claims it for his own and bread becomes the sign of the essence of the quintessential gift from God to humankind – the body of Christ.

The key biblical passages that pass on the church’s understanding of bread and cup are the words Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. They’re essence of it all, no matter what words we use in a particular moment , because their meaning is deeper than words. “For I received from the Lord,” Paul told the Corinthians, “what I pass on to you:

The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me. For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord until he comes.”

Four things: take, thank, break and share. It’s about doing, and – in the doing – memories and hope are joined together. Why do we “do this”? We do it to remember Jesus. And the heart of this remembering has to do with what it is that we remember about Jesus.

It was common for a time in the church’s history of Holy Communion to to understand the sacrament only in terms of the crucifixion. But central to remembering the crucifixion is the vital awareness that the cross would be long forgotten if it weren’t visible always and only in the light of Easter morning. This is crucial: if Jesus is Christ, then crucifixion and resurrection can never be separated.

Trust the story, Jesus said. Break the bread. Do this. Do it so we might recognize him as the One whose presence creates a space where all can come together and join in a moment in time when sharing the gifts of the earth becomes the way toward sharing the love of the eternal God.   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, June 28: Just One Thing

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said, but Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Well, of course, Martha was distracted. How would you feel if Jesus and his disciples dropped in for lunch? We probably all grew up hearing that Mary was concerned with Jesus and Martha was worrying about worldly things, but is that really what Luke is saying here?

“Martha, Martha,” Jesus said, “you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing.” Do you really think that what he meant was “stop fussing – take out would have been fine”? Or that what he was saying “Stop fussing. I know you’re working hard to make me welcome, but I’d just as soon you didn’t bother.” No.

What was he saying that made listening the better part when his culture insisted that the kind of hospitality Abraham showed the angels was the better part? Luke doesn’t directly say. He tells us about Martha trying to get Jesus to tell Mary to help in the kitchen, but he never tells us what Jesus was saying while Mary sat at his feet and listening.

Perhaps it would help if we thought back to what Jesus has been saying all along. Right before this, was the story we heard last week – the one about the lawyer who first asked what he must do to inherit eternal life, and then answered his own question with quotes he joined from the Scriptures:  “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.” It has to matter that these were separate thoughts until he read them together.

Then that same lawyer wondered out loud about who might be his neighbor, and Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan. The neighbor, he pointed out, is the one who showed compassion in the face of all the rules of the day about nationality and race and religion. The one who let the boundaries between them dissolve so the other’s need became his need, even perhaps, became God’s need. 

Maybe Jesus was telling Mary and Martha that story all over again. Maybe he was talking again about loving God with heart and soul and mind and strength, and loving the stranger as yourself. If you were Mary, sitting at Jesus’ feet, what would you want to hear him say? Probably not something like “Get in the kitchen and help your sister, for heaven’s sake!” Probably not even something like “sitting here in a dreamy haze is the only place you ever need to be. Forget your connection to anything or anyone else on this planet…”

 “Only one thing is needed.” But what is the one thing? Only one thing to gain eternal life? One thing to make you a real person? One thing about how to change the way we treat people at our southern border? How do you “love the stranger as yourself”?

Maybe the one thing needed to love God with your heart and soul and strength is to either sit still or go do, but to do either by opening an space for the other in your heart. Focus on the person, not the situation. Because placing the other at the center of your concern changes everything, doesn’t it? You’ll see need, not confrontation. Humanity, not ancient barriers.

This “one thing that is needed” varies from person to person and from time to time. Maybe what one of us needs at this moment, in order to be loving God and loving neighbor, is to come out of the kitchen and sit with Jesus. Maybe another, in order to be loving God and loving neighbor, needs to get into the kitchen and start serving in his name. What doesn’t ever change is the central importance of the other in our own hearts.

Because here’s the one thing: God didn’t make you to fill a role. God made you so you might come to express – with your own life – “how you see God loving the world.”  For then – only then – can we go and live God’s love.   Amen. 

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon – June 16: 3×1 = 1

Some find it easy – especially on Fathers’ Day –  to think of God as monolithic, as father, as all-powerful. It surely was easier in ancient times. People imagined a god on every hill and under every tree. The Greek and Roman gods lived in the heavens. The Semitic gods went along with their people when they travelled. Everyone determined truth based on their own experiences and because ancient times were controlled by monolithic all-powerful male rulers, images of God blended comfortably with images of men.

Later we began to understand life as more complex. A scientist of our century named Julian Jaynes documents the ancient evolution in a book called The Origin of Consciousness that argues for a change in the structure of the human brain between 900 and 300 BCE. He believes that the change resulted in humanity becoming able to tell the difference between the voices of their own heads and the voice of God.

The Bible tells us that this time span in Israel corresponds to people’s growing certainty that there is one God whose name is YHWH. One of the certainties of ancient Israel and their central prayer is pronounced as: “Hear O Israel, the LORD our God; the LORD is one.”

The people of Jesus’ time said “Yes, this is so.. the LORD is God, the LORD is one…But – big but. Because in this man some discovered a new understanding of their God. It was as if God’s own Son had come to bring them a new way of knowing the Holy One.

And then their world fell apart. “We had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel,” said the traveleron the road to Emmaus, “but he was handed over and crucified…”

Yet, as we’ve been hearing these last few weeks, they sensed that God’s spirit was still with them, granting them courage to shout out the good news to anyone who would listen. They developedmultifaceted ways of speaking the truth of the one God and some people began to tell their truth with different stories. If we were to forget the stories of Jesus, then we would lose something of the richness of his story and the healing power of his life. As a result, God would be the same, but we would not be.

And if we forget the stories of the Spirit, God would not be lessened, but we would be diminished. So what do these Christian stories say collectively and what new understanding do they add to the nature of the one God?

Well, they all say something slightly different – the letters of Paul’s and the gospel stories point to Christ the redeemer. What we learn from John isdifferent – mystical, otherworldly, love centered. But all the stories point away from the notion of a monolithic, distant creator/warrior god. Instead, they point towards to a growing conviction that God exists in relationship. Name God any way you like – Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Creator, Redeemer, Sustainer, – there are many words you can use, but there’s no way to describe God that is simply monolithic if we stay true to Christian experience.

Let’s take a breath here and remember what we know about the nature of relationships. Psychology tells us that – from the moment of birth – creaturesfind their identity only in one another. An infant’s first truth is the total bond in which he lives with his mother. An infant’s first task is discovering his father, a separate person from the mommy-and-me dyad. None of us can ever know ourselves except as we relate to another. I am pastor, sister, mother, friend. And in none of these ways of being can I name myself without naming another.

So we live in relationship, created, the Bible says, in the image of God. What being made in the image of God means is that the relational energy within God spills over into human life, opening us to the truth that – within the being of God and the being of us– the One and the Other are of equal value and are equally loved.

Whatever threatens this balance of loving and being loved is unhealthy in the vocabulary of the psychologist and sinful in the vocabulary of the theologian. Despite differences in kind or power or culture, everyone is to be equally cherished and comforted for no less a reason than that it is God’s own nature to do so.

So what we are saying is this: Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Hear this: whoever has seen the Christ has seen the Creator. Hear this: God will not leave you orphaned; the Spirit will guide you into truth; the truth of the One God.   Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, June 2: But…

Elisha, says our first reading, was willing to take on Elijah’s mantle and his role as God’s prophet to Israel, but he wanted to say good-bye to his parents first. “Go ahead,” Elijah said, “I’ll wait.”

Centuries later, a man said to Jesus, “I will follow you, but first let me say good-bye to my folks.” “No way,” said Jesus. What changed? What happened in the meantime to make this complete difference in responses?

It’s worth noting that this week – the one between the commemoration of the ascension and the celebration of Pentecost, the story looks back to a moment before, a moment when Jesus made his extraordinary choice.

Up till the time he felt this choice was necessary, Jesus’ ministry in Galilee had made him incredibly popular. When he had healed a man with leprosy, he began to draw even greater crowds; and then, when he healed a paralyzed man, the people were filled with awe. By the time he gave his famous Sermon on the Mount, he was drawing crowds from all over the empire.

And so it went, in the golden days in Galilee, until ordinary stories of grace filled encounters morphed into extraordinary tales meant to convey a sense of Jesus as other, with mastery over storms and demons, even life and death itself.

But through all this, the disciples had been mystified. Again and again, Jesus pleaded with them: “If anyone has ears, let them hear.” He wanted his friends to understand that his new consciousness – what he called the Kingdom of God was worth dying for.

But it seems that Jesus’ new understanding was often too much for human minds to cope with, and so the disciples tried to protected themselves by arguing about human priorities, such as who might be the greatest among them – much like we still do today.

Then we come to this odd twist in the story. As Jesus and the others continued their journey, they met people who wanted to join them. Jesus said to one of them, “Follow me.” He answered, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead…”

Some people read this story and what they hear is a warning – not only to the early disciples – but also to us. It goes something like this: “If you want to follow Jesus you must do so absolutely wholeheartedly. There is no middle ground. You cannot proclaim the good news unless you’ve left everyone and everything else behind.”

These are the people who insist on a celibate clergy or a strict adherence to keeping all the laws of kosher or any other fanatical allegiance to denominational purity. If Jesus’ message depended on extraordinary people practicing flawless non-attachment, then I wonder if anyone but Jesus ever proclaimed it.

Jesus’ way of seeing reality is so different from ordinary perception that it turns ordinary common sense self-interest upside down. But ordinary common sense activities are what ordinary people know, so they were what the disciples – then and now – keep trying to do. But is it what the gospel stories are saying?

Maybe the people who understand these words to mean “you’re not good enough to follow Jesus, don’t even try,” don’t have it right. Maybe what they need to consider is that Jesus was about living out the extravagant love of God wherever it took him, whether he understood it or not.

If we could touch the holy without considering our ties to this world, we might be living examples of the kingdom of heaven here and now. But it matters more, I think, that we throw our hearts into the way we choose to be church today, even if we would perhaps prefer our community to be different somehow – bigger, maybe, or more traditional or more progressive or more single-minded. It’s not the size or the doctrine of a church that matters most, I think. It’s the heart. It’s the willingness to go on with Jesus on the journey no matter where it leads. It’s the coming of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Sermon, May 26: Footprints

Separation starts in deepest pain. The ripping apart of a loving relationship leaves the ones left behind with a singular focus and it is on their loss. And their loss is so large that it turns all their living into grief.
Surely that’s how Jesus’ friends felt in those long difficult days. They comforted each other with stories of Mary’s conversation with the mysterious gardener and Thomas’s meeting with the One who encouraged him to touch his wounded body so he might believe. And then one day – the bible says 40 days which means a time of completion – Jesus was not there any longer. The separation had become a way of living. Yet – as clear as it was that he was gone from them – they also sensed just as strongly that they had not been abandoned. That there still was a link between them and that link could be trusted.
How to share the essence of this new and crucial sense was spoken among them as story. If we think about the post-Easter stories, one thing we’ll notice is that Jesus didn’t ever seem to be where he used to be. He was not in the tomb when the women went to leave their flowers, but risen and gone ahead of them to Galilee. He was not on his way to Galilee, but walking and talking on the road to Emmaus. And now he was no longer with them in Bethany, was no longer even on earth, but risen beyond human comprehension.
He had become the one no longer subject to the pull of mortal constraints, the one who – even against the laws of nature – has been pulled straight into the heart of God, bringing his human identity along too: No longer the friend who walked along the road or the teller of parables, but the risen Savior, even the one who “in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.”
And so, the men in dazzling white robes turn to us with their question. “Why do you hang around, just staring into space?” How are we to understand Jesus saying that “the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth”?
How on earth might we be witness? Where’s the connection to be found, if Jesus is gone from sight? Well, one image I have loved for a long time is a woodcut of the ascension scene. It’s an image of Jesus rising up and the disciples watching him disappear into the clouds. But you can also look down and see precise footprints, clearly etched in the earth. Perhaps the artist is asking us that same odd question that the men in dazzling white asked the first disciples so long ago – “Why do you hang around, just staring into space?”.
Where might we look, if we were to look for Jesus’ footprints on the earth, today? Dietrich Bonhoeffer was the one who first said “The body of Christ takes up space on the earth.” The body of Christ makes footprints, you might say. He goes on to add that “a truth, a doctrine, or a religion need no space for themselves. They are disembodied entities, that is all. But the incarnate Christ needs living people who will follow him.”
Needs, Bonhoeffer said. Christ needs us, you and me, because we are the only hands and hearts and voices God has in our time. Needs, he said, another way of saying that – at the heart of all life – is an unending, mutual longing for connection.
This longing for connection is what is targeted by separation. Most of us have experienced, as the poet Jan Richardson suggests, that separation evolves. The movement will be slow but certain – until finally all that exists between the parted ones is blessing and all that beats between them is grace. Perhaps a primary motivator for that evolving is Holy Spirit, the One whom Jesus promised you recognize because God’s spirit dwells in you, and your spirit dwells in God.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments

Our Donations to the Bethany Children’s Home

Our church, in the interests of justice and reaching out to those in need, has been donating to the Bethany Children’s Home. They will be taking in refugee children who have come to the United States in need, and been separated from their parents.

This important task allows the children to be fed, clothed, sheltered, and taken care of until their parents can be found and the families be restored.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Works, 0 comments

Sermon, May 19: Unknown Apostles

What does it mean to be a holy people today, when life has become so different? That’s an enormous question, but not just for us. It had troubled Luke as well. The Book of Acts was probably written towards the end of the first century and there had been plenty of time for conversation between Christians and Jews and their becoming-separated holy books. Conflicts were emerging – was Christianity the fulfillment of Judaism so Mosaic law must be obeyed? Or was God doing a new thing, so that the law might be re-interpreted?
While the story of Jesus is how we understand this new kind of thinking, it’s a story with a beginning and an end. God’s own spirit who is emerging as the primary motivating force in early Christianity. As we’ve been hearing in these weeks since Easter, because of the Holy Spirit, Peter found the courage to speak, and the ability to heal.
The twelve apostles felt compelled to devote their time to prayer and preaching and chose seven people to be deacons – among them, a man named Philip. But conflict with the religious authorities escalated, persecution broke out and the fledgling church was scattered. Philip went to Samaria.
And this story of the events on a wilderness road in Samaria is where we find him. All we know about Philip is his willingness to say yes to whatever he feels is a call from God. What we know about Philip is that when he was asked to be a deacon, to wait on tables and feed the poor, he said yes. When he was asked to leave his home and family and go to heal the hated Samaritans, he said yes. When the angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to that wilderness road” he went – and met the Ethiopian.
Now, the Ethiopian had quite a story. He was the treasurer of the sovereign state of Ethiopia – today’s Sudan – and he had just travelled hundreds of miles to worship the God of Israel in Jerusalem.
He might have been attracted to Judaism because of its moral and ethical teachings. He might even have been someone who’d call himself, “spiritual, but not religious.” In any event, he reached out to a religious institution that would have rejected him simply because of his sexuality. And now he was heading home, reading Isaiah’s poem about the Holy One who was humiliated and deprived of justice in this world. The Ethiopian eunuch would have known a lot about humiliation and being deprived of justice.
“Tell me, please,” he asked Philip, “who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?” Or – translated – “Is this a story about some outcast in Isaiah’s time or is this a word from God to me?”
So, Philip told him about Jesus – told him that not only does God know and understand humiliation, but that Jesus had taken that pain on himself.
“What can stand in the way of my being baptized?” the Ethiopian eunuch asked. Asked it when he surely knew that there were many answers to that question and they were all negative – he belonged to the wrong nation, held the wrong job, had the wrong sexuality.
What can stand in the way? “Nothing, nothing at all, “ whispered the Holy Spirit. And so water miraculously appeared in the desert and he was baptized. Can we even begin to imagine what this baptism meant to him? A few years later Paul would say it this way: “In Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, not male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are heirs according to the promise.”
Heirs, according to the promise – the promise as Philip heard it in Isaiah’s poem, in the Ethiopian’s questions, in the whispers of God’s Spirit. It was enough to send the Ethiopian on his way rejoicing – to share his faith with the people at home. There are unlikely apostles everywhere, known only to the Spirit – perhaps even here, even now.
Because the Spirit is still whispering, even – maybe especially – in places and situations that seem most God-forsaken. So listen, really listen when you sense that God is telling you to go to that unlikely place, to pay attention to those unlikely people, to share the goodness of God as you yourself have known it.
You will know God’s voice when you hear it, be it ever so faint and far-away because it will be saying over and over “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are my holy people, welcome here, welcome now.” Amen.

Posted by Rev. Barbara Ewton in Sermons, 0 comments