Who is in?
May 3, 2015
Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane

I have to admit that I was excited when I saw that this lesson was a part of the lectionary for today because I had a dream about it. Usually I do not remember my dreams.  But this one was so specific and so realistic that I couldn’t forget it.  I was preaching on this lesson from Acts right here at Faith-Lilac Way.  I must have been having an interactive sermon because I had you turn to your neighbor to discuss baptism. At the end of the very short conversation, one young man stood up and asked, “What is to prevent this girl from being baptized right now?” Mouth open…I stammered, “Nothing!”  So he brought up this beautiful 8 year old girl with long blond hair along with her mother who was nodding her consent and we baptized her right then and there. 

That… to a pastor… is the perfect dream.

But it doesn’t usually happen that way – not my dreams and not our actions.  Truth be told, most of the time we are too busy living our own lives and walking and talking in our own circles that we aren’t really about the business of seeking ways to welcome people into the faith, of showing a radical welcome. 

Have you ever belonged to a club?  There are some clubs that take anyone – like our book club. We’ll take anyone.  You don’t even have to read the book.  

But there are other clubs that have exclusive qualifications.  For example, the “Ejection Tie Club.”  To join this club of 5,800 members, you must have been fired out of a military plane by an ejection seat – and lived to tell the tale. So in an emergency situation, if the ejection seat works… you get a tie and membership in the Ejection Tie Club.  If it doesn’t work… well… best hope for the tie.

That’s a pretty exclusive club – and one that I hope never to be in a position that I would need to hope to qualify.  But there are even more ultra-exclusive clubs – take the International Giga Society: Worldwide, there are currently 7 members. Seven. Membership is not determined by money, age, gender or background. The limiting factor is that you have to be smarter than .999999999 of the population to join. According to their web site this means, “in theory one in a billion individuals can qualify”.

Clubs.  Groups. From the time that we were in Kindergarten or listened to Sesame street, we learned to distinguish between what is alike and what is different.   This can be a helpful tool for living in society.  If you live in some areas, its important to know a rattlesnake from a garter snake for example.  The problem is, in our “sorting,” we often make distinctions and sort people as to who is IN and who is OUT.

Outsider…  That’s what the Ethiopian eunich was to the Temple in Jerusalem.  In fact, he could not have been more “outside.” Culturally…. Ethnically…. Nationally…. Sexually… Racially… the Ethiopian – a black African from Ethiopia who was eunich and served some other queen who probably served some other god, was an outsider by definition.  Yet… the Spirit had drawn him to Jerusalem. He was a seeker.  He was also educated – after all, he was reading from Isaiah in Hebrew.  But he did not understand.

The Spirit was also working on Philip.  Philip has just come from Samaria.  You may remember that there was a great distrust of Samaritans – remember the story that Jesus told of the Good Samaritan?  That was a hard lesson for the Israelites to take.  You see, the Samaritans were related to the Israelites – Samaritans were the ones who had stayed in the land while the Israelites had been taken off into exile.  While they were apart, they developed two different ways of worshipping – and so when the Israelites returned, the Israelites felt that the Samaritans had “sold out” and the Samaritans felt that the Israelites no longer belonged there.

Yet, after the Holy Spirit came, the disciples were on fire with God’s message and just HAD to share it.  So, when they were persecuted in Jerusalem, they went out into the surrounding community.  Phillip went to Samaria.  He preached the word and the Samaritans believed and suddenly, people who were outsiders were now being embraced as brothers and sisters in Christ.

So coming from embracing a people that he had been taught to hate, perhaps Phillip was prepared to welcome another outsider.  Or maybe if an angel gives you directions – you simply go. However Philip got there, it is interesting that he shows no hesitation in climbing into a chariot with the ultimate outsider – an Ethiopian eunich.

Or his part, the Ethiopian eunich is also amazingly open to being taught by this hitchhiker who seems to know his Bible.  Somehow, the Holy Spirit is at work in this.  For after Philip has proclaimed the Good News to the Ethiopian, they come across water and the Ethiopian proclaims, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

Philip doesn’t say a word.  They both simply climb out of the chariot and Philip baptizes the Ethiopian Eunich – the man who would not have qualified ethnically, racially, sexually, nationally or any other way in Philip’s past way of “sorting people.”  But now Philip proclaims him “Child of God.”

“Child of God.” Who qualifies as a child of God?  The beautiful blond little girl would be an easy sell to this crowd.  But would we be as welcoming of someone else? What about the men from the HIV positive house that is being built in Robbinsdale? What about the recent rioters and protestors? What about the police? Would we want them at the same time?

Who is in? Who is out? Who is on the “right” side? Would we choose?  I’m not sure who said it first, but I’ve heard from a number of wise pastors that every time you draw a line of who is worthy, who is righteous, who is welcome… every time you set some ‘standards’ … you better know that “Jesus is on the other side of the line.”

Jesus made a habit of eating with the “wrong” people – whether that was rich tax collectors or poor women and criminals and fishermen. Maybe, as we open up our church to the community for last Sunday of the month breakfasts, we can follow Jesus’ lead.  Maybe we can invite a stranger or simply someone “not like us” – whatever that may be.  Maybe we can simply eat pancakes with someone we don’t know.  It’s a start. It’s a move in the direction that I think Jesus wants us to go – it’s radically welcoming the “other,” the one who maybe makes us uncomfortable. Because Jesus, the one that is always on the “other” side of the line, declares: that one is a child of God too.  And who knows? Maybe you will be the one to say, “What is to prevent her or him from being baptized?” And I’ll say, “Nothing!” And together, we will celebrate with a brand new child of God.  Amen.

Pastor Pamela Stalheim Lane
May 3, 2015