The bible is complicated. Don’t get me wrong. It isn’t hard to read or understand but it is complicated. The stories are interesting, exciting, emotional and funny. The poetry is beautiful and speaks to the depths of our souls and it describes a God who loves us and wants us to live the best lives possible.
Last week during confirmation, the girls and I were talking about how to read the bible. One of the reasons it is so complicated is because we try to read it as one big book, written by the same author in an orderly and chronological manner, but it’s not. It is composed of different books written over more than 3000 years, by different people, in different circumstances and these circumstances affected how that person and the community the book or poem was written for perceived God. This can make scripture very confusing.
Because things are so confusing, we typically try to simplify the complexities of life, scripture and God to something that is easier to understand. We break it down to a list of dos and don’ts. Keep the 10 commandments, and stay away from as many of the behaviors Paul warns us about as possible while still doing all the good things Jesus tells us we should.
We do this as we try to understand people too. We look at the protests in Ferguson or Baltimore and because it is too difficult to try and understand the years of oppression and anger they feel it is easier to simply label them all as hoodlums and troublemakers. We do this when we deal with children and teenagers.
Kids that don’t do their homework or clean there room are labeled as stupid or lazy because it is easier than listening and trying to understand why they do or don’t do what is asked. We need an interpreter. Someone who speaks both languages and lives in both worlds to understand. We need a Philip.
When we do this with God or scripture. Instead of looking at the big picture or trying to understand why different scriptures say different things we look at scripture and ignore the parts we do that are labeled as wrong but then focus all our attention on what others do that we don’t like. If we like it then God didn’t really mean it, if we don’t like it then it’s a sin.
We can get away with doing this as long as we don’t think too hard about it and don’t look too closely.
When you really start digging into scripture – that’s when it gets confusing. At school we call this “losing our Jesus” It is when all those things we thought we knew come unraveled at our feet as we dig into the scriptures and we start questioning why it says what it says and we begin to articulate and defend what we believe. Our professors become our Philip.
This crossroads is where we find the Ethiopian eunuch in our story. He is confused. He is a God fearer- meaning he believed that our God, was the one true God but yet he was not a full participant in Jewish life. He was dedicated to learning about God, he had traveled many miles to Jerusalem to worship and yet he wasn’t allowed in. He could believe in God but because of either his nationality, his sexuality or both, he was not allowed to worship in the temple.
The Temple was simply following the rules. Deuteronomy tells us that men like this Ethiopian could not be a part of the assembly- whether he was born Jewish or not, because he wasn’t a whole man.
Many Christians still do this. We have simplified the Bible down to the list of dos and don’ts and if you fit into the list of don’ts you aren’t really welcome in our churches. You can believe in Jesus, but don’t try to be part of us! Church, school, employers, even parents do this. We judge people by the way they look, dress, or act and we file them into a category of acceptable or unacceptable.
You dress like that- you’re not going to date MY daughter! You’ve been to prison- we’ll we will pray for you from a distance, you have tattoos- well you won’t work here! You look or act different- well we don’t want you. We are simply following the rules of society right? We think are allowed to be mean, hurtful and exclude people we don’t like or people we don’t think fit into our mold.
But, then, we start reading scripture. The Ethiopian eunuch has been told all his life that he isn’t wanted or welcomed even though he is smart, wealthy and dedicated. But now, he is reading Isaiah, and he learns information that contradicts what he has always been told. Isaiah 56 tells him that he of all people is actually exalted, not excluded. Eunuchs who are faithful will receive a name better than sons and daughters!
And here in the scripture that Philip overhears he reads of someone who has been rejected, humiliated and despised and yet blessed and in his pain others are made whole. It is confusing! Which is it? Is he ostracized or exalted? And, who is this person whom Isaiah talks about as taking on the pain of the world so that the world might find wholeness and healing?
The Ethiopian needed someone to open his eyes and explain it and God placed Philip there for just that purpose. Philip was sent by God to be the bridge for this man to understand scripture in fresh new ways and to see the scriptures through the lens of Jesus. Scripture is complicated, life is complicated, people are complicated, but Love is simple. God’s love is clear and pure- the Ethiopian just needed someone who knew Jesus to help him see God’s love and acceptance of him.
We need interpreters to help us to understand too. God has given us study partners, pastors, friends and teachers to help us remember that God is bigger than words on a page and bigger than rules that include or exclude. God has put us in the lives of others to help them see that the love of God, the Good News of Jesus Christ is available to everyone. God is calling us to look past simple judgments and past the dusty covers of books to take time to get to know people who are different than we are and who we may not understand. God is calling us to share the word of healing that Philip shared as he spoke with the Ethiopian man.
When you feel excluded, unwanted and different, Jesus loves you and accepts you for who you are and who God created you to be. When you feel broken, bullied or oppressed there is healing and wholeness in a relationship with Christ. God calls the church to be that place and those people who love, honor and accept all those around us, especially those who have been excluded and cast out. The love of Jesus is simple, it is available to everyone.
Welcoming and loving people in the name Christ is not easy- like understanding scripture it takes practice, hard work and determination but the call is simple. Allow yourself to lose your religion- the Jesus you will find is greater and more loving than you would ever expect.
The Jesus you will find will love not only those you love but will allow you to love those parts of yourself that you feel are broken and missing and will bring you a whole new world of hope and healing and give you the courage to love those whom you never thought were loveable.
Philip disappeared after sharing the good news with the Ethiopian man, never to cross paths again but the man was forever changed by this encounter. You may never see the results of your actions but the love, welcome and acceptance we offer in Jesus name will always have an impact long after we are gone. Take advantage of your teachers, share the good news with others – there is no telling what kind of difference your love will make in the lives of those you meet.