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Signs and Wonders… See What Happens Next

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You can watch the video of Pastor Kris’ sermon “Signs and Wonders… See What Happens Next” HERE.

The Bible reading in Acts is packed with embracing the unknown.

The eunuch has embarked on a pilgrimage, filled with the unknowns of travel. He has visited Jerusalem, where we know there was unrest. Just last week we read about Stephen, a Jesus follower who spoke out against the hypocrisies and power grabs religious and community leaders were committing. This meant a significant group of people, women, going without food. Systemic problems with food distribution meant many were hungry.

Stephen’s criticism and attempt to change things led to his death by stoning. But the violence and unsettling did not end there. Reading on, the verses sandwiched between last Sunday and today’s story tell us, “That day a severe persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout the countryside of Judea and Samaria… Now those who were scattered went from place to place, proclaiming the word” (Acts 8:1, 4, NRSV).

This was the unlikely beginning of the early Christian church, and Philip has responded to a Holy nudge. Previously in Acts he had been a part of Stephen’s ministry group, called to feed the hungry widows. But now he has heard another voice, one which has told him to “get up and go” (Acts 8:26).

Not a lot of specifics in this nudging, but Philip “got up and went” (Acts 8:27a).

Following the Holy Spirit is a lot like that. You sense that nudge. A stirring. A push. Sometimes a shove. And like Philip you may not know where you are going, or why… and what it all means… but if you listen carefully… sooner or later you go. Last week I mentioned in the sermon that as we continue our pandemic pilgrimage, I believe we are now the seventh phase of our own journey, that of embracing the unknown. As we near a return to worshiping together in person, we are not sure what we will encounter ahead. Today, both the eunuch (who remains unnamed) and Philip have reached out to that same Spirit of the unfamiliar, embraced it, and become a part of it.

In the ancient world, eunuchs in royal courts were people (men) who lived in a space of “both-and-ed-ness.” They were entrusted to high-level positions, for after they were maimed… castrated… they were no longer a threat to the king through procreation. Yet in the power welding setting of the royal court, they were also seen as a marginal person. Not fully welcomed into society.

Out on a wilderness road, this God moment between Philip and the eunuch is not one either of them could have predicted.

“What does this mean?” I love that their relationship begins with questions.

Reading scripture. Sharing their own life stories. Leads to new insight. New understanding. Then a “let’s jump in.” A newly baptized child of God welcomed and loved without conditions. God’s grace imparted through water and promise.

What can prevent it this movement of the Spirit? Nothing.

Absolutely nothing.

This is a story of God as relationship. God as relationship waiting to be encountered. An interconnectedness with all of creation. In the global-ness of our time, we are learning all too well that if a strand in the web is severed, we all suffer. And if a filament of the life web is made whole, we all benefit.

This past week, many of us held our breaths as we waited for the verdict to be returned in the Derek Chauvin trial. As I caught snippets of the proceedings, I read the words in Acts from the prophet Isaiah out loud, just as the eunuch had eons ago in a similarly disruptive time. Just like many of you, I saw the videos of George Floyd’s last moments and heard:

Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’ (Acts 8:32-33)

Who can describe our time, our culture, our systems, as video after video show the death of people who are Black? As anti-Asian, anti-Sematic, anti-immigrant, and transphobic attacks continue to rise?

God has long said, “get up and go.” There has long been a need for us in the Church to get up and advocate for justice.

In regard to racial inequities this means being white allies, but also “more than.” It means thinking about becoming what our siblings who are Black challenged us to at the rally at our state Capitol last June… to be co-conspirators in the work for racial justice.

I am white. Listening to the podcast our General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ, the Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer put out this week, I was drawn to his comment that “White people cannot ever know the existential pain we force every black and brown body in America to live with… whites control America: its courts, its elections, its media, its military, its police force, its economy, its banks, its schools. Anywhere wealth and power accumulate, or anywhere an application of an institutional outcome can affect where wealth and power accumulate, whites maintain control.” And in this space of economic and institutional power, Black bodies can’t be suspected of handing over a counterfeit $20 bill, run down a street in broad daylight, wear a hoodie, drive a car with temporary plates, or step off a sidewalk…”[1]

Dorhauer goes on to say that we who are white are living with our “own untended and unrecognized existential wound, a spiritual emptiness known by the oppressor class that has exchanged the truth for a lie… (and that) Spiritual healing, true healing for all will only come when whites name their own existential wound and then get out of the way while those whom we have oppressed do what they must to heal themselves from the wound whites have forced them to carry for centuries.”[2]

This spring I have been participating in a Racial Reconciliation group of area faith leaders. We read Jemar Tisby’s book, The Color of Compromise: The Truth About the American Church’s Complicity in Racism. Tisby calls on us… we who profess to be followers of Jesus… to “develop relationships across racial and ethnic lines… (for) Jesus crossed every barrier between people, including the greatest barrier of all—the division between God and humankind… those who believe in Jesus not only have God’s presence with us but in us through the Holy Spirit.”[3]

We are all interconnected. If a strand in the web is broken, hungry, homeless, unwelcome, unemployed, underemployed, sick, incarcerated, killed… we all suffer.

And God says, “Get up and go. See what happens next.”

See what happens next.

In a moment, we are going to see what happens next when a small group of passionate people hear God’s call to go someplace new. Our Green Team will be asking us to participate in a series of actions, from considering a Creation Justice covenant, to changing how we use products and recycle materials, and to welcome the Earth into full membership in the life of our church. In an email conversation, someone responded to this idea that we would be affirming the Earth as an integral part of our faith community by saying, “I’m delighted to welcome the Earth to Church membership. The Earth has been coming to all our services for a long time.”

So… Memorial UCC… in what ways is it time for us to get up and go?

What are the signs we see… and hear… around us?

For God is relationship waiting to be encountered.

Thus, I ask you to continue purposefully thinking about—talking about—praying about—the relationships God is calling us into as the Body of Christ. Feel God’s nudges and tugs… to Get Up and Go!

And then see… see what happens next…

~Pastor Kris

Reflection on Acts 8:26-39 offered April 25, 2021

[1] John Dorhauer, “Into the Mystic: An Existential Wound,” United Church of Christ, April 22, 2021, https://www.ucc.org/into-the-mystic-an-existential-wound/?fbclid=IwAR0FR_yq6RhMYkEj_D3cNKkwfznipMqUiacX1vcZOzHDigY1SHbCJtuHVCY.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Jemar Tisby, COLOR OF COMPROMISE: the Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2019), 213, 215.