Monday, May 7, 2012

"What is to Prevent Me From Being Baptized?"

"As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?'"
                                                                            Acts 8:36

The above question comes from a story in the eighth chapter of Acts (Acts 8:26-40) which was the assigned first reading for the Fifth Sunday of Easter. It's a great story: Phillip, a follower of Jesus Christ, has left Jerusalem and is sort of wandering around the middle east at the direction of the Holy Spirit. In his journey, he encounters an Ethiopian eunuch. The eunuch is a real big shot--he's Secretary of the Treasury and a pretty important guy. He's got his own chariot and driver, and he's sitting by the road reading from the prophet Isaiah.

No two people in the ancient world could be more different than Phillip and this stranger (alas, unnamed in the bible). One is a wandering Jewish peasant, the other a high official from sub-Saharan Africa. They are of different races, social classes, cultures, and (need I mention it?) sexuality. And yet, this unlikely pair become comrades on the road, united by a love of God and holy literature. Phillip's desire to share his relationship with Jesus transcends the barriers that would, within the culture of the day, keep these two men at arms' length. And this is what the church--at her best--should really be about: loving acceptance and reconciliation. This is a picture of the radical hospitality which  characterizes the Kingdom of God.

When the eunuch asks "What is to prevent me from being baptized?" he's not just asking a rhetorical question. This fellow has come to Jerusalem to worship. Although it is not said so explicitly in the text, the original readers of Acts would have known that the eunuch would have been prevented from full participation in the Jewish assembly precisely because he was a eunuch (see Deuteronomy 23:1). Despite this man's achievements and social position, he is looked down upon as a sexual freak and an abomination by people outside of his culture. But in Jesus, there are no barriers. There is nothing to prevent this man from being a loved part of the community of fellow believers.

Recently, a member of my parish whom I'll call "Laura" (because that's her name), had a conversation with a twenty-seven year old man in her ceramics class. They were talking about godparents (or "baptismal sponsors" if you will). The young man lamented that he had no godparents because he had never been baptized. He told Laura that he really wanted to go deeper into his faith, and that he wanted to be baptized. Seizing the moment, Laura volunteered her pastor (that would be me) and her congregation as vehicles to welcome this young seeker sacramentally into the Christian faith.

I should mention that the young ceramic artist is a partnered gay man. Regretably, there are still some Christian communities which would take issue with individuals over the the matter of sexual orientation. I think the 2009 (and still ongoing in some places) upheaval in my own denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, over questions of human sexuality and inclusivity is evidence of this very point. To me, however, the story of Phillip and the eunuch illustrates that the grace of Jesus supersedes the purity codes of Hebrew Scripture. We are called to be welcoming to all, for in Christ there are no distinctions.

" I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd."
                                                                               John 10:16

Thanks for reading, my friends. Please drop me a note if you're able.


  1. Finally found your blog. Great!!!

  2. John the Baptist was sent by God to spread the news of the coming Messiah—Jesus Christ. John was directed by God (John 1:33) to baptize those who accepted his message. John’s baptizing is called “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Mark 1:4 (NIV). Those baptized by John acknowledged their sins and professed their faith that through the coming Messiah they would be forgiven. Baptism then is significant in that it represents the forgiveness and cleansing from sin that comes through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
    1 Corinthians 6:9-10 (NIV): "Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
    With that being said- my question is this. How does your Lutheran teachings stand up to Biblical truths about baptism and knowingly living a live of sin- which is the separating factor between us and God. I agree that there are no distinctions for Christ accepting us- but we have to accept Christ's teachings and those Biblical truths- just like the eunich did in this Bible passage. It was clear that the eunich wanted to know more and be baptized and asked what he had to do. A homosexual who is living that lifestyle is not accepting Christ's teachings on this subject?? Sin is ...sin and the old cliche' love the sinner- not the sin. Do you not call homosexuality a sin?
    I just believe that as Christians- we need to be careful to represent the truths of the Bible very clearly and not just what people want to hear. Perhaps I just don't understand the teachings of the Lutheran church.
    thank you for your time. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts.
    ..Faith Lutheran Church Philadelphia PA is typing ....

    1. Having read the above comments by Nancy and your response to her, I must conclude that Nancy is correct in her thinking. Jesus came to save the world from sin - not in its sin. His mission was to save 'whosoever will' and that message, as you said, is inclusive. However, Christ told the woman at the well "go and sin NO MORE."
      If we believe we as Christians sin word, thought, and deed daily our lives in Christ Jesus is far from the abundant life He promised those who believe.

    2. "Simul justus et peccator." Look it up.

  3. And thank you, Nancy, for your excellent and thoughtful comment. The main question here, it seems to me, is, "Is homosexuality a sin?" Clearly, St. Paul seemed to think it was (As did the author of Leviticus 18:22). But this only begs the question of how we interpret the scriptures. Although Paul condemns homosexuality, he has no problem at all with the practice of slavery (Col. 3:22 for example), which we in the 21st Century would also find an abomination. I would, therefore, suggest that we be very careful when we approach the scriptures in a purely literal way. I do not claim to be an expert on the nature of same-gender orientation, but, I suspect, neither was St. Paul. He was speaking from his own cultural context. Can a person with a same-gender orientation live an honest, decent, chaste life which is pleasing to God within the framework of their own sexual idnetity? I would hope the answer to this question is "yes." As a Lutheran, the foundation of my Christianity is justification with God through faith in God's grace manifested in the cross of Jesus Christ. I would rather err on the side of mercy and inclusion for all people. Baptized though I am, I am still a sinner in thought, word, and deed and dependent on the mercy of God every day. I cannot stand in judgment of others. Personally, I do not believe it is possible to "pray away the gay." But I do believe that the grace of Jesus Christ can bring us all to live righteous lives consistent with our own sexual orientation. Thank you again for your very courteous comment.

    1. I won't quote scriptures but I will speak my feelings. "Sins" well to me that means really bad things I won't go into them we all know what I mean. We've all committed a sin one here one there. Is there anyone out there who can cast the first stone, I think not!. Above the Pastor states"I would rather err on the side of mercy and inclusion for all People. Baptized though I am, I am still a sinner in thought, word, and deed and dependent on the mercy of God every day." God created us all different but we share 2 things our love for the Lord and we all belong to the Human Race. All people are entitled to happiness, love, and a sense of belonging. Remember all that had to be fought for, like the right to vote, ladies, equality, the words of Martin Luther King Jr mean the same. He prayed that his children would not be judged by the color of their skin but by the strength of their character. I know that's not exactly what he said but its close. Acceptance and peace is something we all deserve. Thank you Pastor Owen you truly give me hope that one day we will accept everyones differences. Thank you for your time.