Run, Don’t Walk!

run fast

Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalm 63:1-8 (9-11), 98; Ecclesiastes 1:1-11; Acts 8:26-40; Luke 11:1-13

The Acts of The Apostles, chronicling the formation and earliest days of the church, tells a story of an ever-widening circle of inclusion.

Philip the Evangelist was one of seven people selected by the Apostles to care for poor Christians in Jerusalem. One day, Acts tells us, an angel instructed Philip to go to a certain place. In that place was a eunuch who served as a court official to Kandake, queen of Ethiopia. The Spirit urged Philip to run to the chariot where the eunuch was reading aloud a passage from Isaiah. Philip offered to explain the passage, and the eunuch gratefully accepted. After Philip used this scripture to share the good news of Jesus, the eunuch was eager to be baptized. When they saw some water, the eunuch stopped the chariot, then Philip baptized him and went on his way leaving a joyous convert behind.

Because of their modified genitals, eunuchs were considered impure under the Levitical code and therefore not allowed full participation in the life of the temple. They could wait in the outer courtyard with women and non-Jews, could but not go in with the other men. Baptism, by contrast, signified full participation in the body of Christ. This man was a Gentile, an African, and a member of an “impure” sexual minority, yet because of Christ, Philip eagerly welcomed him. Before you say, “well of course,” remember we still draw lines in the sand over Biblical interpretation. This type of inclusion was – and still is – radical.

Who are today’s eunuchs? Certainly there are parallels with the exclusion of the LGBT community, and churches continue to be some of the most racially segregated institutions in America. In most places, bilingual church services – including sign language – are a rarity. The list of human-made division goes on. Our exclusion may be less explicit, but our implicit lack of inclusion speaks volumes. Where are the Philips running to greet them? When we do encounter them, do we brand these present-day Philips as evangelists or heretics?

Did Jesus ever condemn anyone for being too inclusive? Rather than ignore our modern eunuchs, let’s run to them with the good news. The worst that can happen? Someone hears it.

Comfort: We’re all outsiders to someone. We’re all insiders to Christ.

Challenge: Start a discussion within your faith community about who you are intentionally or unintentionally excluding, and brainstorm ways to be more inclusive.

Prayer: God of love and abundance, teach me to see Christ in all your children.

Discussion: Who do you have trouble accepting into the body of Christ?

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Clashing Symbols


Today’s readings (click to open in a new window):
Psalms 123; 146, Genesis 9:1-17, Hebrews 5:7-14, John 3:16-21

When the great flood ended, God made a covenant with Noah and his family never to drown the world again. He set his bow – the rainbow – in the sky to remind him of the covenant every time he gathered clouds. All who saw the rainbow were reminded of God’s promise not to destroy the world again.

Symbols are important to us. A simple image can evoke complex ideas, emotions, and memories. The most prominent Christian symbol is the cross. It reminds us of death and resurrection. It identifies fellow believers. It marks a spot where we can lay down our burdens. Like all effective symbols, it is easily recognized – two simple lines! – and is rich with meaning.

Corporations spend millions of dollars to develop recognizable logos that communicate the essence of their business and inspire loyalty. Who in America doesn’t immediately recognize the Golden Arches and what they stand for? We wear clothes with symbols to telegraph our status, cultural or counter-cultural affiliations, team loyalties, and peer groups. We exchange a lot of information in the shorthand of symbols.

How do we distinguish truly meaningful symbols from the visual noise bombarding us each day? Are religious symbols nothing more than a brand logo? Let’s consider the rainbow. It only appears in the rain, the very thing it is meant to protect us against. And what about the cross? It was an instrument of death, but it is now a symbol of new life. We revisit and ritualize these symbols because they are about transformation, and about movement from struggle to victory. The Nike swoosh can only aspire to such heights.

Let’s use our symbols wisely and appropriately. If the rainbow was in the sky 24/7, it wouldn’t be nearly as powerful. If we slap a Jesus fish or “John 3:16” on everything we own, its power to transport us to a deeper emotional or spiritual frame of mind is diluted, as is the message it sends to others. They are not like flags or team jerseys that define Team Jesus. The symbols of our faith should be like beacons inviting others home.

Comfort: The symbols of our faith can bring us comfort and help remind us of important things.

Challenge: Symbols can confuse or alienate people who don’t understand them. Be thoughtful about using them to welcome rather than to exclude.

Prayer: God of truth, help me to see beyond symbols to the truths behind them. Amen.

Discussion: What symbols are meaningful to you? Why?

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