Including the excluded :Easter 5
I’m still between posts and it’s been a long time since I last celebrated mass (palm Sunday) so I was hugely grateful for the invitation from my fabulous friend Simon to visit St Peter’s Mill End to preach & preside. I did a placement here during my curacy which was the most amazing growing God filled time, a total oasis of friendship worship learning & collegiality. I learnt so much in those weeks about my own vocation, the priest I was and wanted to be, and so it was with a real serve of anticipation that I drove through hideously storm swept motorways yesterday to get to St Peter’s.
I have to be honest, I don’t know of anywhere else that I have felt the presence of God so consistently and so tangibly as here. It hits you as you walk in the door. Even sat in the car about to leave after a wonderful afternoon of lunch & catching up with Simon & the family the church and that sense of presence was pulling me, like gravity is the only way I can describe it.
It was wonderful to be back, it really did feel like home, such a privilege to minister, to speak, and to receive far more than I gave and once more to have such affirmation & confirmation of my own vocation on going. Thank you all, and here’s my sermon notes! (it did get a bit expanded, but it didn’t make marathon times!!)
I’m sure many of you watched the coverage on TV of the London marathon last weekend, maybe you were even running it – or knew someone who was.
Election distraction !
New distraction =Royal baby
It’s quite a spectacle and of all the city Marathons all over the world, London is the one that has the reputation for being the quirkiest, the one where you’re as likely to see a Gherkin, or Princess Elsa or a slice of toast taking part in the race as you are an elite Olympic runner.
To my knowledge – and I’m happy to be corrected, I’ve never known someone preach a sermon while running (and I promise this one isn’t coming in around the 3 hour mark!) I’m not sure, even if I was much of a runner that leading a bible study or preaching would come into my “top things to do while running” I doubt that had entered Philip’s head either when he was sent by the spirit to the wilderness road between Jerusalem and Gaza..
Of course all this talk of running rather presupposes that the Ethiopian in today’s reading from Acts was actually travelling in his chariot, rather than having taken a break at the side of the road, and that in order to speak to him Phillip had to run alongside, until thankfully he was invited to join the Official in the chariot –if they were moving what a relief that must have been!
The really challenging thing about this story though is not whether or not Philip could preach & run, but about his inclusive and obedient response to God’s call.
He is called out, to the wild place, the wilderness.
Outside of civilisation and cities, away from what feels like home, and safe.
But he goes, not knowing what lies ahead, at that point with not much idea of what God is asking if him, but he is obedient to the call “so he got up and went”
Often we hear God’s prompting, but we’re unsure – we want the whole picture, the road map. We want to know that the ending will be ok and that there will be a reason and a point that we can articulate.
God’s call is not often this way. He calls us to obedience, step by step. He calls us out of our comfort, to trust that HE is in control.
Sometimes we do not feel up to what we think is ahead, sometimes we might feel it is less than we’re capable of. Our first step is to get up, and begin to respond. God takes care of the rest.
Philip was pointed to this Ethiopian official, out here in the desert, in the wilderness, outside of safety.
This placement is no accident – it underlines for us the exclusion of this man, a Gentile, who has been to worship in Jerusalem, but despite his searching and his questing, his desire of understanding and his recognition of God in worship he would have been excluded, considered an outsider.
three times on the outside,
he was a foreigner, – race,
He was a gentile, a non Jew, however devout , his religion separated him
And he was a Eunuch, a castrated man, whether for personal, social or status reasons ,
his sexual identity puts him on the outside.
This outsider, out in the desert is longing for more of God, he is studying scripture, and Philip, in answering this unknown call of God is now here at the right time, in a place where no one should have been, but he is.
And he explains, he teaches he answers the questions the man has on this passage from Isaiah.
Philip responds to the spirit of God in the Ethiopian,
He responds to the prompting of the Spirit of God within himself,
And he chooses to include,
In this place of exclusion, of outsideness, Philip talks about Jesus and his good news his grace and his love and inclusion.
And when the Ethiopian understands and requests to be baptised in response, there is no hesitation on Philips part, no need to check, to tick boxes, to fulfil criteria.
The man has found faith in Jesus, of course he should be baptised!
I wonder perhaps whether in the tone of that question” what is to stop me from being baptised” the Official thought that there might indeed be a reason why not,
But there isn’t, because the grace of Jesus includes everyone.
Philip was learning this lesson, he was part of a church that was trying to work out what it meant to live the way Jesus wanted them to, it wasn’t easy as Jews and Gentiles worked out how to do that together
But as he responded to God’s call he learnt again that story of grace and mercy that is for everyone, regardless. No exceptions.
we ponder our own callings and learn to step out as we hear God,
we consider how we might vote this coming week
we work out what it means to live rooted fully in the grace and mercy of God,
How will we treat those who our church, our society, our world puts on the outside?
How will we act to live out the Gospel of Grace for us all?