A Lutheran Says What?

Sermons and random thoughts on God, the world and the intersection of the two

Rooted Sermon on Acts 8 and John 15 May 2, 2021

This sermon was proclaimed for the community of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT on May 2, 2021. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC.

The texts were:

Acts 8: 26-40
John 15: 1-8
ELCA Social Statements: Human Sexuality: Gift and Trust
Faith, Sexism and Justice

Young Friends message:

You might remember or know that I grew up in the military, in the Air Force to be exact. My family moved quite often, we would uproot and go to a new place. I went to five elementary schools, one middle school and two high schools. So I was the new girl all the time. And to be honest, I was a bit odd, maybe because of moving so often, but really, probably because I was me. I was a kid who loved to sing and did so everywhere I went. I loved playing my violin, was horrible at sports, loved reading books, and was the opposite of cool in so many ways. I was also a bit odd as I loved church, I mean, I LOVED Church! Everywhere we moved, it turned out that God was the same and there! I was that teenager that sang the liturgy, attended every church function even when my parents didn’t, and started teaching Sunday school at 15. I mean I loved Church. I felt rooted there, I felt like it was the only place where I was loved for being odd, and for being well, me. When I was in confirmation, we picked our own confirmation verses. I was in the youth choir, of course, and we had a piece we were singing called “Vine and Branches” based off of our Gospel story for today. I fell in love with those words, “I am the vine and you are the branches, you who abide in me and I in them.” I picked that verse because I am connected to that vine whether I live in CA, ND, Guam, NE or here in Utah. A few weeks after I was confirmed at First Lutheran in Minot, we uprooted again and moved to NE. But I knew that I stayed connected to Jesus no matter what. And so are you! I want you to know that no matter what, what you grow up to do, who you grow up and choose to live with and be a family with, how you dress, cut your hair, no matter what, you can’t be uprooted from Jesus. God says so. Here’s a piece of twine to remind you that you are connected and rooted in Jesus’ love.

I’ve spent a lot of my life uncomfortable, so you’d think I’d be good at it. Like I shared with our younger friends, it has been most of my living experience. I actually don’t like being uncomfortable, do you? When I’m in an uncomfortable place, or conversation, my instinct is to separate myself from that discomfort. Maybe it’s physically relocating, or not speak my truth, or assume my discomfort is not important, or blame the other person for my discomfort. The end result is the same, separation, disconnection feeling cut off. It’s harder when I’m uncomfortable with myself, maybe I’m ashamed of a feeling, how I look, my thoughts, my actions, my dreams. And I try to forget, push away, or ignore that discomfort-I separate or compartmentalize pieces of myself, I don’t want to get to the hard truth, the root of my discomfort, as then I would have to deal with it, and who wants to do that hard work? But as I’ve gotten older, and maybe wiser or at least gained some experience, I realize that separation within myself, denial of who I am at my root, at my core is a dangerous thing. When I’m not fully connected to myself, I can’t connect authentically or in a healthy way with others. Yet, this isn’t how we operate day to day is it? We deny and shy away from anything that makes us uncomfortable: people, conversations, situations, feelings, etc. What’s the old adage? Never discuss religion or politics? Well, we’re going to do a bit of both this morning, so hold on. If we can’t practice having hard conversations here among each other, as God’s people, then how are we going to do this in our day to day lives? And to make this even harder, you’re welcome, we’re going to add sexuality into this mix. Don’t leave! It’ll be ok, I promise.
The Bible is filled with these uncomfortable conversations and stories, but we ignore the parts that make us uncomfortable, until we can’t. I love this story in Acts 8 today for so many reasons. First, let’s just name that it’s kinda weird and uncomfortable. The Holy Spirit talks to Philip who actually listens and obeys, (What?) goes to the wilderness (this was a road through nowhere),and encounters a stranger, a person only named by their physical traits, an Ethiopian Eunuch. So much to unpack here and I’ll give you a sliver. Ethiopian doesn’t refer to the country of Ethiopia as we know it today, it only refers to the geography south of Egypt. It refers to his dark skin color and would be used to highlight that he is indeed “not from around these parts.” We’re told he’s a Eunuch, ok stay with me, that can mean one of a few things: he was born without male sexual organs, he is a slave who was castrated for the purpose of serving the King and his harem of women without fear of sexual promiscuity, or he was not castrated but had an effeminate manner that allowed him to move in more female dominated spaces. We don’t know which it is, but we know this: in ancient Roman times, he would have been mocked, bullied, considered nonmale, nonbinary, and not accepted. We read that he was returning from worship in Jerusalem: and we know from Levitical law, that being a eunuch, he would have been excluded from being in the inner courts of the Temple. It’s possible that he was a practicing Jew, and it’s also possible that he was what was referred to as a “God-fearer.” Someone who is not a full practicing Jew but liked the idea of God.
We also know that he had access to money as he had a chariot and a scroll of Isaiah. Philip encounters him reading the scroll aloud, a common ancient practice, and asks him if he knows what he’s reading about? The Ethiopian Eunuch responds with a question: How could I since no one will interpret for me? We don’t have the details of what Philip tells him, other than he tells him of the good news of Jesus. We do know the Ethiopian Eunuch’s next question: What prevents me from being baptized right now? He got right to the root of following Jesus.It can be heard as rhetorical, as the answer is, of course, nothing. But we need to uncomfortably admit that we also know that isn’t always true. The Church, yes, the supposed beloved people of God, has given a myriad of answers to that question throughout history, that is anything but a yes. You want to belong? First dress appropriately (according to whom?), pray correctly, know the same hymns that we do, stand up and sit down at the correct times, stay in your gender or age role, don’t be a different color, sexual orientation, or partisan persuasion, like all the same food we do, all the same books, all the same music. Fit in this box and cut yourself off from everything that doesn’t fit in the box. Then you’re welcomed, then you belong, then you are loved.
I’ve been told that. Disconnect from the part of me that isn’t feminine enough, acts too confident and bold. Don’t think that you have an equal say, don’t be bossy, but you should speak up more, don’t dress so girly, or masculine or dowdy. Why do you wear make up? Why don’t you wear some lipstick? My daughter who is queer and marrying a wonderful young woman has been told even uglier things. LBGTQIA+ people in our society and yes, in churches, have been told to cut off the part of themselves that might make others uncomfortable or we mistakenly think are in the bible. An aside: the word “homosexuality” didn’t appear in the English bible until 1946, it’s a bad translation from the Hebrew and the Greek. Jesus says nothing about same gender relationships, and to really make you uncomfortable, the gospel of John talks about the “beloved disciple of Jesus” who leaned on his bosom. Maybe that was Jesus’ partner? We don’t know. But Jesus does say love and care for your neighbor, over and over and over and over again. Yet, we focus on a handful of passages that are badly translated to ensure some sort of hierarchy in the church and world. Just sayin’.

In 2009, the ELCA, at Churchwide assembly, adopted the social statement: Human sexuality a gift and trust. It removed the barriers, the disconnection for our siblings who are LBGTQIA+ to serve in the Church as rostered leaders. I will personally add, that the part of “bound conscious” in this document I find problematic. It means that if a congregation doesn’t want a woman or an LBGTQIA person to serve as their pastor, they can reject such a candidate. I don’t think that is faithful or biblical. Jesus came to unbind us from such sin. I don’t think we should affirm people who are indeed bound and determined to exclude, judge and cut off anyone from the community of Jesus followers.
And in 2019, the ELCA adopted the social statement Faith, Sexism and Justice. These documents answered the question: what is to prevent me from following God’s call to serve in my life for women, femmes and LBGTQIA+ folks with the words, “nothing.” And what’s more, affirmed that all people are created in Imago Dei, in God’s very image. We gloss over in Genesis 1:26 where it states, “let US make humanity in OUR own image.” Plural. We have a God of diversity, pluralism and variety. We have a God who wants wholeness, unity and hope not only between all parts of creation but within ourselves. These documents got to the root of the issue, and challenge us to recover God’s mission of wholeness, that we can’t cut off or compartmentalize aspects of ourselves for comfort or convenience. That includes our sexuality. It’s part of who we are as much as our personality, hair color, height, likes, dislikes, gifts, and foibles. We are challenged to fully live into our baptismal promises to seek this wholeness, God’s justice for all people. We can’t change who God created us to be, God calls us to be the most authentic, loving, whole and holy version of who God created us to be.

We’re going to chat about this now for a few minutes in small groups. If you don’t get to all the questions, no problem!

  1. All humans are made in the image of God. How does the variety of people you know/interact with reflect who God is for you? Does your image of God change when you consider this?
  2. How does our language for God perpetuate our images of God?
  3. Talk about how our theological convictions (that is what we think about God and how God works in the world) shape how we might understand and live into justice for LBGTQIA+ people in our society.

The Ethiopian Eunuch more likely literally had parts of him cut off by a power structure to make him useful to the powers and yet outcast from the power structure. It had its desired effect, to dehumanize him and make him separate, to uproot him from society. What he heard from Philip, is that is not God’s will and Jesus came to connect, to not have anyone deny that the root of who they are is connected to the root of all creation, God. And that connection didn’t depend on him changing anything about himself first. He was connected to the root of life just as he was. Jesus is indeed the vine, that connects and nourishes us all. And not only to one another but to connect us to ourselves, the real us whom God created in God’ own image. The Ethiopian Eunuch heard this, he already knew that he belonged no ifs, ands, buts or rules. His sexuality, his body, was as important to God as his spirit and heart. They were one in the same and couldn’t be separated. And were fully loved. He should be called by his root identity, child of God. Philip needed to hear this as much as the child of God before him did, as much as we do. Philip went toward the discomfort of the wilderness, of the stranger, of the person considered less than, and was reminded of his own humanity, of God’s vast welcome and affirmation of all who and what God has created and of being connected to the true vine, that connects all the branches of every shape, kind, and purpose, to the root of all life, love and mercy for all people and all creation: God.