Sunday, May 06, 2012

Sermon, Easter 5: How wide the resurrection?

How wide the resurrection?
Christ is risen
he is risen indeed, alleluia.

         When I read in Acts about how the Greek gentile Philip told the good news about Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch, and when I read about the Ethiopian Eunuch’s response to those words,
questions of who is in and who is out/
Questions about how far the church is willing to stretch itself for the sake of finding itself/
Questions about how Christ’s life, death, and resurrection is for all people,
come to mind.
         This last week the ELCA’s Full Communion partner, the United Methodist Church, met for their General Conference and struggled together with the question of who can be a minister and who cannot—specifically, can gay-folk be Christian ministers.
         These are the type questions the church has been grappling with since there was a church—and questions the church will continue to grapple with, until such time as we turn and find ourselves face to face, at the last, with the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Slain Lamb of God.
         And ultimately the question becomes: “How wide is the resurrection?” How wide is the resurrection?

         How wide is the resurrection?
         You might expect me to begin with the Eunuch, after all, at first glance, it would seem the resurrection would have to be pretty darn wide, to include him.
         But, I think it would be instructive for us to pan out from this moment in time. That is, expand out our vision to encompass the entire scope of Philip’s ministry as recorded in the book of Acts.
         Because when we do that, we see that this question “How wide is the resurrection?” follows Philip wherever he goes.
         Back in the 6th chapter of Acts a crisis arises. While the Widows of Jewish decent were being fed by the earliest church, the Greek-speaking widows—the gentiles, were not being fed.
         As you may remember the gentiles, the non-Jews, were allowed to join the Christian church after Peter proclaimed the gospel to three thousand of them on Pentecost.
         And that was one thing, but feeding their widows was another thing altogether.
         I’m sure some of the Apostles asked themselves, “How wide is the resurrection?” Is it wide enough to take from our meager treasury and time to feed these latecomers?
         Their solution was that this church’s namesake, Stephen—St. Stephen, along with six other gentile men, among them Philip—would take care of distributing food to the gentile widows. To “wait on tables,” as the disciples somewhat dismissively described the task.

         Now, I’m friends with a conservative man who left his church because it allowed women to be communion assistants… he said if that was allowed, the next thing you know they’ll be allowed to preach God’s Word. And if the book of Acts is any indication, he’s right.
         You see, these gentiles didn’t stop at waiting on tables. Before too long they were preaching. Not long after that Stephen became the first Christian martyr—dying while proclaiming Christ crucified and raised.
         Again, I can imagine the early church seeing these gentiles preaching, and these gentiles laying down their lives for the gospel, and asking, “How wide is the resurrection?” Wide enough to let unclean lips proclaim perfect peace? Wide enough for Stephen to share in Jesus’ resurrection?

         But it doesn’t stop there. Later Philip preaches so powerfully in the district of Samaria that a Sorcerer by the name of Simon is so stirred by his words that he is baptized.
         Yet again, I can imagine the church looking at this convert of Philip’s and asking, “How wide is the resurrection?” Is it wide enough that a man that the Book of Exodus says ought to be put to death, a sorcerer, might partake in it? Did we make a mistake, was letting gentiles become Christians the beginning of a slippery slope?

         And finally, in the 22nd chapter of the book of Acts, we find Philip living with his family, which included four daughters… four daughters that scripture describe as “prophetic.”
         Now I don’t want to overplay how male dominated the ancient world was, but, you can imagine someone asking, “How wide is the resurrection?” Is it wide enough to include women prophets? Did the Prophet Joel really mean it when we said both, “your sons and your daughters shall prophecy”?

         From first to last, Philip’s ministry involved expanding the types of people who were brought close to God through Christ. Expanding the church’s understanding of whom Christ died for. Widening the meaning of the statement that the resurrection changes everything.
         And today’s reading is no different.

         Philip is in the wilderness. He approaches a man in a government issued vehicle—there was probably a secret service agent driving that chariot, touching his ear every now and again, wishing someone would hurry up and invent the ear piece and sunglasses.
         Philip approaches a man of a different race and a different ethnicity than his own. Philip was named after the Macadonian father of Alexander the Great, that man was likely named after his Ethiopian Queen—probably named something like Abdi-Malkah.
         Philip approaches a man, also, who was a Eunuch—meaning someone neutered him so that he could be trusted with the entire treasury of his queen—
after all the point of taking over a queendom would be to pass it on to your daughter or son. If it was impossible to have children, the thinking went, it was also impossible to control a country.

         And Philip rides along the Wilderness Road with this Eunuch reading scripture together and proclaiming Christ as risen Lord.
         Then they stop, and the Eunuch asks, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”
         And that persistent question could have popped up in Philip’s mind, “How wide is the resurrection?” Wide enough for a Eunuch—who Leviticus says may not come near God, and Deuteronomy says can not be amongst God’s people?
         Philip could have barred this man from baptism on account of him being a Eunuch.
         For that matter, he could have said, “I can’t baptize you because there were no Ethiopians present when the three thousand converted on Pentecost.”
         He could have made up excuses based on the man’s position as Treasurer.

         But that’s not what happened.  He did baptize the Eunuch. And if the tradition of the Ethiopian church is to be believed that Eunuch in turn brought The Faith to his country, and that faith continues on in the lives of 38 million Ethiopians today.
         How wide is the resurrection? So wide that table service becomes proclamation.
         So wide that Sorcerers are baptized and daughters prophecy.
         So wide that race, ethnicity, treasures, and Eunuch-hood are not a barrier to the Kingdom.

         How wide is the resurrection?
So wide that Christ is raised and dies no more.
         So wide that he broke death’s fearful hold and turned our despair into blazing joy.
         So wide that by water we share in his saving death.
         So wide that we share his Easter life and live as members of our Savior.
         So wide that the Spirit shakes the church of God.
         So wide that a new creation comes to life and grows.
         So wide that the universe, restored and whole, will sing Hallelujah.