How Will You Make a Difference

How Will You Make a Difference

Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch
Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:

   “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.”

The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him.

Acts 8:26-38 (NRSVUE)

Today’s story is about hospitality, welcome, inclusion, kindness, change, invitation, asking for help, new directions, baptism, and utter joy. But interestingly enough, none of those things would have happened without people taking chances, making choices, and deciding to make a difference. The story could have worked out very differently had people been afraid to take a chance or had different decisions been made, and folks, the same is true with our everyday lives.

The Book of Acts tells us of a strange meeting between two people who usually would never have met. They didn’t have a lot in common, and they could have easily ignored one another and gone their own way, but they didn’t. They took a chance. They tried something new. And they each chose to make a difference in their own life and the life of another. The truth is, our faith calls us to do that sometimes, doesn’t it?

The Ethiopian was an upper-class, educated person who made choices in his life that made him able to serve his Queen, which was not only an honor but a very respectable way of life. He was far away from home on the Gaza road. His ethnicity, his social class, his culture, his religion, his gender, his financial status, and the place he called home were very, very different from Phillip’s. But on that day, they each took a chance, and they both decided to put those differences aside.

Now, Phillip was a follower of Jesus. And he had been given a very specific job. You see, in the early church, everyone shared what they had to feed and care for the community, but somehow, some of the widows were being neglected. It was Phillip’s job as a deacon, along with six other men, to make sure that everyone was being fed equitably. So there were many reasons for Phillip and the Ethiopian to stay in their own lanes and to let each other simply do their own thing.

But just think of the joy and life-changing events that happened because both Phillip and the eunuch took a chance, chose to make a difference, took the time to think outside the box, and looked at each other simply as human beings, not as a skin color, gender, religion, culture, social status, or way of life.

In our storybook today, What Do You Do with a Chance, the little boy was offered several chances. Now, we don’t know what those chances were, but we do know that to take the chances, the little boy had to step out of his comfort zone. He had to try something new, and he had to be brave, not worrying about what others would think of him. And in our scripture reading, the same was true. Phillip had to reach out to someone very different than him, and the eunuch had to invite or ask Phillip, who was also very different, to help him. They both needed to look beyond their individual differences to make a bigger, more beautiful difference in the world. There were so many situations where Phillip or the eunuch could have said no. There were so many situations where Phillip or the eunuch could have judged one another and looked down their noses. There were so many situations where Phillip or the eunuch could have thought that the other didn’t belong, or wasn’t good enough, or lacked status, or wasn’t one of the chosen.

Every time I read this scripture, I get goosebumps when I hear the eunuch ask, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” To me, there is nothing more exciting than someone who genuinely wants to take steps forward in their faith, whether that means attending worship for the first time, asking questions, being baptized, joining the church, taking on a leadership role, or simply trying something new. However, as we heard in our storybook, when a chance opens the door for excitement, it also opens the door for fear. So when I hear the eunuch ask, “What prevents me from being baptized?” I find myself holding my breath, worrying about what Phillip’s answer will be.

Folks, so many times, people take chances with their faith. They feel brave enough to walk through the door of a new church, and rather than being welcomed with open arms, they feel judged or unworthy or, even worse, no one talks to them.

The church universal–meaning not just the Oldtown Church, but Christian churches throughout the world–has a bad reputation as being a place of judgment. Many people think that the church is simply a place of rules, a place where you need to be good enough, a place where you need to dress a certain way and look a certain way, and where you need to know the right words to say. They think it’s a place where perfection is expected, and messiness, mistakes, and questions are not allowed. But friends, I don’t think there could be anything further than the truth. The church should always be a place of welcome, “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey.” The church is not a place of perfection where you need to look a certain way, dress a certain way, and know all the answers. NO! It’s a place to come as you are. It’s a safe place to practice being who God created you to be, and it’s a place to ask questions and to wonder and imagine.

Unfortunately, there are some churches, some clergy, and some faith communities where if the eunuch asked to be baptized, he would be told that he had to first jump through a bunch of hoops to make sure that he was worthy. And in the end, the answer might be no. Ugh!! What happened to grace? You know, the gift we can never earn but can only receive?

Folks, there was a time in my life not too long ago when I was so frustrated with the harmful things that were said and done in the name of Jesus that I thought about leaving the ministry. But then I realized that complaining about the things that other people do and say or walking away out of frustration doesn’t help anything. I realized it’s up to ME to make a difference! It’s up to ME to show people what it feels like to experience a warm welcome, unconditional love, and the joy of living in each moment. It’s up to ME to share the good news, to love my neighbor, and to find creative new ways for people to be the church.

So, I decided to take a chance, to not give up, but instead to be bold and brave, not worrying about what other people will think, just sharing the love of God as best I can. Does that mean everything always goes as planned? No. Does that mean that everyone agrees with me? No. Does that mean that the world, the church, and every Christian will look at their faith differently? Absolutely not. But taking a chance and sharing a warm welcome, a smile, and God’s unconditional love with the people I meet makes a difference to me, and I hope maybe it does to you, too.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, I urge you to take a chance. First, put your judgment aside, whatever that judgment might be. Then, try something new and choose to make a difference in the world. Folks, we all walk a different path and feel called to serve others in different ways. So, take some time to think about what kind of difference you can make, because the world needs you, and the amazing gifts that you have to share.

My friends, may it be so. Thank be to God, Amen!!


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