September 18, 2011: Where is God Leading You-US?

Posted on : Sep 16th, 2011 | By | Category: This Sunday's Service

There has always been something about the Biblical story of the Ethiopian Eunuch that led me to suspect this guy was gay.  But let me take us on a little diversion, then I’ll come back to this “gaydar experience” I had.

In the early 1990’s I was having a conversation with members of the gay and lesbian clergy association of LA that Rabbi Denise Eger and I formed.  I shared with my colleagues that I was bored to death with explaining how the five “texts of terror” (the five primary passages in the Christian Scriptures that are used to oppress and denigrate gay and lesbian people) had no relevancy to our current understanding of homosexuality.  From the conversation that ensued, I knew I had just spoken of a burden we were all carrying.

Here’s the Biblical problem in its simplest form:  What has been referred to in the Jewish and Christian scriptures as homosexuality has no similarity to what we know about sexual orientation or “homosexuality” today.  Plain and simple.  It’s like comparing apples and oranges.

Robin Scroggs, a Professor of New Testament at Chicago Theological Seminary wrote a wonderful book many years ago, “The New Testament and Homosexuality.”  In the last chapter of his book he takes on the issue more simply and clearly than anyone else I’ve ever read (and I have read and written a lot on these texts).  He said:

The fact remains, however, that the basic model in today’s Christian homosexual community is so different from the model attacked by the New Testament that the criterion of reasonable similarity of context is not met.  The conclusion I have to draw seems inevitable:  Biblical judgments against homosexually are not relevant to today’s debate. They should no longer be used in denominational discussion about homosexuality, should in no way be a weapon to justify refusal of ordination, not because the Bible is not authoritative, but simply because it does not address the issue involved.  (p. 127)

Bingo!  BTW, Dr. Scroggs wrote that in 1983!  And he’s heterosexual.

So I said to my colleagues, from now on, I will no longer participate in Bible studies where only the texts of terror are debated.  We need to start presenting gay and lesbian people from the Bible who are included in the story of faith.  And so we began a new conversation.  In 1995 my friend and colleague, Rev. Nancy Wilson wrote the book for us: “Our Tribe:  Queer folks, God, Jesus, and the Bible.”

And sure enough, my gaydar was right!  Nancy “outed” the Ethiopian Eunuch.   For two thousand years, the church has focused on the fact that the Ethiopian (a black man from Ethiopia, Africa) was one of the first non-Jewish folk to be Baptized by the disciples after the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The first followers of Christ, who were given the name “Christians,” were all Jewish.  They had a fit at the very thought that non-Jewish folk would be baptized into “their community!”  In fact, this expanding of the community of faith was so controversial that many of the disciples and apostles were put to death for baptizing non-Jews, i.e. gentiles.  So all the attention gets placed on the fact the guy is Ethiopian.  But he is also a Eunuch!  And that is what makes this story so unbelievable profound.

Philip knows exactly who and what this man represents.  But the Holy Spirit has specifically led Philip to the man so that Phillip could explain the “sacred story of the life, death and resurrection” to him.  Phillip does, and as Phillip is concluding his teaching, the Eunuch sees water and rhetorically asks, “Is there anything to keep me from being baptized?”

Philip knows if he baptizes this guy, he’s in big trouble!  But he trusts the leading of the Holy Spirit over the established traditions of the faith!  THANK YOU, PHILIP!  It’s that faith and courage that we are going to look at this Sunday as we conclude our series on Spiritual Discernment.  “Where is the Holy Spirit Leading You?  Where is the Holy Spirit Leading Us?”  Do we follow in faith or recoil in fear?

More on Sunday!



This Sunday’s Scriptures

Conflicting teachings about eunuchs and “their place” in the household of God.

Deuteronomy 23: 1

He whose testicles are crushed or whose male member is cut off shall not enter the assembly of our God.

Isaiah 56: 3-7

Do not let the foreigner joined to our God say, “God will surely separate me from God’s people”; and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.”

For thus says the Holy One, your God,

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.

And the foreigners who join themselves to God, to minster to God, who love the name of our God and who are God’s servants, all who keep the Sabbath, and do not profane it, and hold fast my covenant – these I will bring to my holy mountain and make them joyful in my house of prayer; their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Acts 8: 26-39

Following the Holy Spirit’s leading, Philip violated all the rules and baptized an Ethiopian Eunuch.

An angel of God spoke to Philip and said, “Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes to Gaza, the desert road.” So Philip began his journey.

It happened that an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official in charge of the entire treasury of Candace, the Queen of Ethiopia, had come to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage and was returning home.  He was sitting in his carriage and reading the prophet Isaiah.

The Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and meet that carriage.”

When Philip ran up, he heard the eunuch reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”

“How can I,” the eunuch replied, “unless someone explains it to me?”  With that, he invited Philip to get in the carriage with him.  This was the passage of scripture being read:

“You are like a sheep being led to slaughter,

You are like a lamb that is mute in front of its shearers:

Like them, you never open your mouth.

You have been humiliated and have no one to defend you.

Who will ever talk about your descendants, since your life on earth has been cut short?”

The eunuch said to Philip, “tell me, if you will, about whom the prophet is talking – himself or someone else?”

So Philip proceeded to explain the Good News about Jesus to him.

Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is some water right there.  Is there anything to keep me from being baptized?”

He ordered the carriage to stop; then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.  When they came out of the water, the Spirit of God snatched Philip away; the eunuch didn’t see him anymore, and went on his way rejoicing.

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