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Acts 8:26-40

Earlier this week we had an appliance repair person over because the washing machine was not working. The repair person looks at the machine, turns some knobs, pushes some buttons. Lo and behold the machine is working again.

         I said, “I’ve tried this three times on separate days and I couldn’t get it to work.”

         They replied, “I see what your problem is, you’ve got the machine set on “normal.” Turn it to a different setting and it works. You see we’re not living in a normal time so your machine is not working on “normal.”

         Then he compared fixing washing machines to massage therapy. About how we get all hunched up and balled up. He said, “We might feel pain in our back, but the problem is in our chest.” He could have been describing a spiritual renewal or awakening. I didn’t expect a whole life lesson in a repair visit.

             They also said, “you need to trick these new machines into putting more water into the drum. They’re stingy on water to be green, but that doesn’t always get your clothes washed. Here push this, turn this, you get a little more water to wash your clothes. You think agitating a bunch of dry clothes is going to get them clean? It doesn’t work.”

         After the repair visit the washing machine still doesn’t work on “normal” but pretty much every other setting works fine.  

The repair person reminds me of Philip in our first reading from Acts, helping the Eunuch from Ethiopia solve a problem reading from the prophet Isaiah.

         We note that as Christians we are going to interpret the passage differently than the Jewish audience for which Isaiah was written. Together with Philip and the New Testament we read Isaiah as pointing towards Jesus, but we recognize that is a later interpretation and that other interpretations exist.  

A few quick takeaways from this scene in Acts:

         The Spirit sends Philip unexpectedly. The Spirit tells Philip to go to the chariot and join the conversation. God intervenes in unexpected ways.

         The Eunuch is a powerful person, in charge of the treasury of the queen. Ordinary people did not have chariots. Inviting Philip into the chariot is a big invitation.  

And a bigger takeaway:

         The eunuch helps us think today about how we are sent to serve alongside non-binary and trans people today. There were not the same names or understanding in ancient times. But eunuchs were often entrusted with powerful roles within the royal court. And eunuchs do not fit within binary gender roles. The eunuch helps us think about ways we can fully welcome non-binary and trans people. And not just in instrumental ways of how we get people to become members of the congregation, although that’s important too, but to think about how we can share God’s love and Jesus’ grace more widely.

         Some of the more unexpected conversations I’ve had in the last year have been with trans people interested in thinking through Christian faith on the other side of churches that historically have systematically excluded them. But here’s the thing, they rightly get the gospel that it doesn’t belong to churches. Jesus’ love and grace overflows and they know it belongs to them too. That’s why the eunuch in Acts immediately asks Philip to baptize them after hearing about Jesus’ boundless love. They get the gospel in ways in which we’re sometimes sitting on the fence, not sure if we’re all in.          

Here is an excerpt the Rev. Lenny Duncan shared from his sermon on this passage in Acts: “Once you realize that only a fool lets oppression set the table, and that you aren’t coming to the table to ask for scraps but a rich banquet that only wicked people have denied you, well then a much fuller vision of Queer Theology and Ethic is everywhere in scripture. You can’t escape it. You can’t deny it.”

         The Eunuch doesn’t ask whether the gospel is for them. Philip proclaims the good news of Jesus in a way that immediately Eunuch understands it’s not for humans to deny. The banquet is definitely for them in the same way the free gift of baptism is definitely for them. There is no delay, because the Spirit intervenes immediately. Now all that is left is living more fully into the life of following Jesus.

         At the BC study conference the other week at which Lenny Duncan spoke, he said that queer people are done waiting to be invited to the table. They’re setting their own table because the love of God compels them. Our task as church is to realize we don’t own or control God’s love and grace. This is why the whole conversation about queer inclusion in the church has been backwards from the beginning. Years and years of debate as to whether queer folks deserve to be at the table, to be baptized and affirmed in their identities, to be ordained, not to be told they first need to change themselves in some way.

—> The fact that the institutional church has behaved as though we control who is worthy of God’s love, reveals we haven’t understood grace. And to some extent we still don’t understand it, given we are still having this conversation about whether a congregation is queer affirming. Whether that is simply said out of politeness or whether we and other congregations truly are willing to call trans and non-binary people to serve as pastors and deacons. We might interject that we are in fact there at Church of the Cross. And yet we know that as a whole within in BC Synod and the national church as a whole we are not there. As church bodies we only issue tepid words around love and inclusion for fear of alienating congregations who are not queer affirming. The argument is that we have to hold the centre together, that we can’t afford to lose congregations and members if at a broader church level we start leading with the same courage we showing on the ground. But we’re not fooling anyone if we thing the wider public doesn’t see through tepid commitments.

         In the same way the wash machine repair person saw through the machine’s settings to restrict the flow of water. And I realize there may be environmentally sound reasons for these settings. The repair person said, the machine is set to be stingy. You’ve got to set the machine yourself if you want abundant water. If you want the waters of baptism to overflow. —>

You want that machine agitating the clothes filled with suds if you want those clothes to get clean. You’ve got to short-circuit the way it’s been designed.

         The reality is that non-binary, trans, and queer folks are already setting their own table. We’re already doing this work at Church of the Cross to set the table alongside queer cousins. But we know we’re part of a larger church structure that is full of a lot of nice and good people, but who are bound by the realities church structures that difficult to disrupt.

         Lenny Duncan said that if he became a national bishop within two months he’d also be looking at the bottom line, he’d say we need to go slower. His inbox would be filling with angry e-mails and he’d probably adjust his tone and posture as well. That’s part of the nature of structures and power. And yet we want to find ways to celebrate the fullness of Jesus’ grace. For those baptismal waters to overflow when a trans or non-binary asks to be baptized or even be ordained that we rejoice and accompany them on that journey.

         I know Pr. Lyle and I have talked with many of you who celebrate this direction of ministry and I am filled with joy. There are a lot of people hungry for faith and a church home even during a pandemic. Thank you for the support as we continue setting the table with all our queer cousins.      

Wrapping Up

         After the Eunuch was baptized by Philip, suddenly the Holy Spirit teleports Philip to Azotus and proclaims the good news there. We’re told the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing.

         In our laundry room, I turned around and the repair person was gone. The washing machine is agitating up a storm, with water overflowing in abundant love. Amen. Lyndon