Or the Conversion of Phillip?
New Testament Reading: Acts 8:26-40
For Sunday, May 6, 2012 Year B—Easter 5
In my childhood Bible, this text was titled “The Conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch.” I was always told that the message of this text was that we should tell everyone we meet about Jesus because in doing so we might save them. We might convert them. We might change them into being us.
But today I’m not so sure.
One Sunday a few years back, my parishioner Stuart showed up to liturgy wearing slacks and button down shirt rather than his iconic Grease Monkey jacket and jeans.
Earlier that day he had stood as godfather and baptismal sponsor for the child of his friends, a straight couple who have known Stuart for a number of years.
Apparently, after the baptism, there was a little reception back at this couple’s house. To Stuart’s surprise his friends got all of their guest’s attention so they could say a few words about why they had chosen Stuart as their child’s godparent.
“We chose you Stuart,” they said, “because for most of your life you have pursued Christ and Christ’s church even though, as a gay man, all you’ve heard from the church is that ‘there is no love for you here.’”
Being Converted—Again and Again
I heard that story as his friends saying to him “you, Stuart, convert us again and again to this faith”
This is what makes me wonder if this text was mis-titled in my Bible. Because if the Eunuch was reading Isaiah as he returned from Jerusalem having gone there to worship, then I would bet he was also familiar with Deuteronomy, specifically 23:1—“No one whose testicles are cut off or whose penis is cut off shall be admitted to the assembly of the Lord” (otherwise known as the very best memory verse ever).
This law strictly forbids a Eunuch from entering the assembly of the Lord. Their transgression of gender binaries and the inability to fit in proper categories made them profane by nature. They do not fit. But despite the fact that in all likelihood he would be turned away by the religious establishment, the Ethiopian Eunuch sought God anyway.
I wonder if, when the Spirit guided Phillip to that road in the desert, if she guided him to his own conversion.
The Hardest Question
Here’s the hardest question for me about this text: When Phillip joined this person who sought to worship God despite his exclusion, was it perhaps Phillip himself who was converted to the faith?
Was it perhaps even a mutual conversion? Maybe because they simply asked each other questions in the desert.
Look at the text again—the only imperatives came from the Holy Spirit. Phillip and the Eunuch only asked each other questions. The only command came from God and the command was go and join.
Go and join the other.
What we don’t know is if the Spirit also gave the Eunuch a command to invite. Invite this nice Jewish boy—representative of all that clings to the law and rejects you from God’s house. Invite him to sit by you.
Did Phillip, in his encounter with this gender transgressive foreigner, perhaps learn what seeking the Lord looks like?
Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado. Nobody really believes she’s an ordained pastor in the ELCA. Maybe it’s the sleeve tattoos or the fact that she swears like a truck driver. Either way…she’s fine with it. Nadia lives in Denver with her family of four. She is the author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury, 2008) and blogs at www.sarcasticlutheran.com and www.patheos.com/blogs/nadiabolzweber . Connect with Nadia’s latest project, animate | FAITH, by going to http://www.facebook.com/AnimateSeries