why are religious people so easily offended?

13 01 2015

I don’t like being described as religious. But when religious-inspired catastrophe happens, I find myself guilty-by-association. Us God-botherers with our irrational beliefs and Kalashnikovs. Justify yourself and your medieval sensibilities!, I hear the secularist voices shout.

It’s crap. I can’t explain why some people kill others. But perhaps I can give a glimpse into why “we” – religious types – get offended, and can react all out of proportion. This is not to justify it, but to give an insight into it.  

To outsiders, non-believers, religious belief seems like a moral or ethical decision. A choice, that can be questioned and debated without any real challenge to our core being. When I studied theology at university with mostly non-religious people, to them questions about God and belief were an interesting exploration of human character; to me, sometimes an assault on my very being. An assault I willingly put myself through, because I wanted to test my beliefs to the limit. Not everyone wants that. Not everyone invites that. 

My relationship with God is core. It’s not very rational, but don’t be fooled into thinking we all make rational choices except about religion. Why you choose your car, your coffee chain or your partner are rarely based on rational fact-based objective data. I talk about loving God; I also talk about loving my wife. If you tell me I do not love my wife, but am simply a slave to rational chemical reactions and twitches in my synapses rather than the irrational beauty of love then you’re beginning to dispute my core feeling of love.

If you take it further and not only dispute my feeling of love, but insult & ridicule my wife, whom you have never met, yet deem it ok to call her foul names or publish offensive cartoons of her… Now you’ve crossed a line. You’ve offended me. Religious people will often hold our beliefs as dearly as we hold beliefs about family, and sometimes more strongly. And as anyone who watches Eastenders knows, insult me as much as you like, but if you insult our family and we are likely to become irrational.

It’s hard to find something to compare the strength of religious belief and the way it can form our core identity. Ironically for religious debate, sexuality may be one. Or national pride. This is why religious people may not always look wholly in favour of ‘free speech’. But then, neither is our society. We pick & choose. We can support deeply offending Muslims in public cartoons, but not the right of black footballers to send tweets with jokes about race; suddenly our politicians ‘suis Charlie’, but few will highlight the massacres of Christians that have occurred in the last 3 years in Iraq and Syria.

Because we don’t actually mean ‘free speech’, we mean the freedom to be critical, to challenge, to question. Those are hallmarks of an open, free and democratic society, but they are not easy to manage, and neither should they be.  

Je suis Ahmed

As a follower of Jesus, he said when we are publicly offended with a humiliating backhanded slap in the face, we should turn the other cheek. We should not respond with violence, whether verbal or physical. We do not respond to offence by offending back. Jesus said love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you. We do not all resort to violence. 

So, us ‘religious types’ may become more offended that seems rational, because our beliefs about God are tied up with our core identity far more than many realise. And maybe we are frightened of being unravelled, just as atheists who have a religious experience are. But it’s your job as a non-believer to pick the threads of our beliefs, and our responsibility to let you. The tapestry of faith looks better with frayed edges.  

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I have come to replace you

24 10 2014

I have come to replace you. That is what babies are really saying when looking adoringly into your eyes. And, of course, where’s my lunch? Though perhaps then it’s not the eyes they are looking at.

I have come to replace you. When put like that, it sounds like a sci-fi film. But it is reality. We will not live forever. This is not our world to clutch hold of tightly like an angry toddler. Instead we are guardians of it, like parents, tending, caring, nurturing, but the whole point is we then let go.

I have some to replace you. Here’s the nub. Are we brave enough to embrace and nurture those who will change everything? Because that’s what we do with babies. They will take our jobs, our money, and yes, our church. Yet it is our responsibility to nurture them. So, do we make it easy, or make it hard?

I have come to replace you. As we get older we often fear change more. As Christians, who follow a God of change, who journeys with his people through desert and sea via occupation and liberation and ending in resurrection, we do not need to fear change.

I have come to replace you. Whatever position you hold in your church, look at those who will replace you. They may be much younger than you now. Don’t fear them. But consider how you can nurture them, encourage them, and how you can shape the world they will take over from you. Why? So that when they do, they will be grateful to you. That’s dangerous thinking for grown-ups who like to clutch church like angry toddlers, rather than letting the real toddlers in. 

I have come to replace you. Yes, and you are most welcome.





a complicated relationship with pride

1 10 2014

We church leaders have a complicated relationship with pride. We want to do things well; often we do do things well; and when when we do do things well, we worry more about whether everyone went away laughing at the word do-do than being proud that we did well.

None of us – hopefully – want to be ‘proud’. Not that bad sort of proud that lives on a pedestal and becomes arrogance. So, we easily fall into false humility instead. No no, it wasn’t me, it was the Lord! Bless the Lord for my wonderful preaching! I mean his wonderful speaking through this broken vessel…

And we’re back to do-do.

Snowdon.001

I thought long and hard about this when I finished my Snowdon challenge. Because I was proud. Seriously proud. Not badly, not arrogantly. Look, see, I’m already defending it. I was interested because I allowed myself to be proud. This was ok to be proud about. Why? Because I had worked flipping’ hard, trained for 3 months, run further and faster than ever before, taken on a big challenge, and succeeded. Yay!

So, why is that different from, say, feeling proud after a successful fun day, or assembly, or service. I put loads of work into all those; some are massive challenges. Challenge, success, pride. Yay! No?

It is different because we are not ‘meant’ to say that ‘we’ have done those things. Because without God, we couldn’t. And without God, I could have run Snowdon. Probably. But I think so many of us do ourselves down because we won’t let ourselves be proud at our achievements, because we fear becoming arrogant, self-serving, and, well, proud. And we all know what comes after pride…

But I am proud. Hopefully in a gentle, humble, but confident way, I am proud. Proud when I have played a part in helping someone stay dry from an addiction for several years; proud in being part of leading a church that has changed from 14 older ladies to enough for a harvest lunch for 50 (and that not being everyone) (eek, pride); proud to see young people we have influenced doing so well; proud when people grow and develop their faith; proud to have managed to hold together a diverse and complicated community, along with family and other responsibilities; proud to win Banstead Woods parkrun.

Are you proud?

Proud? Yes. And I think that God says, yes, be proud. Celebrate what is good. But temper it with humility, absorbing praise and then reflecting it upwards; knowing that we do all things in his strength, not our own. Because none of us want to be the arrogant church leader who looks down on everyone else’s church or ministry or lighting system. And anyway, most of us are not really arrogant, we’re insecure; we’re not proud, we’re terrified. But we are the people God has made us, with gifts and talents, and when God uses them, and when we work with him to hone them, that is something to be proud of.

We are not meant to be faceless, identikit personality-void vending machines of God-iness. We are meant to be ourselves, partnering with God, for the kingdom. So let’s be confident and tender and proud and humble.

I said it was complicated.    





babylon and baby heads: revenge and Psalm 137

6 07 2014

I love words. Words have this amazing ability to paint pictures in our minds. All I have to say is “Tower Bridge” and there it is in your mind. Or The Shard, or a mountain top, the seaside, Bugs Bunny, love, hate, war, revenge and that feeling you have when you think you’ve left the house without your pants on. 

Some things we all see the same – say, for example, my hand – but then, our imaginations and experiences can take a simple word like hand and transform it. If your last memory of this hand is that I hit you with it; or held your hand; or fed you; or pointed you in the right direction, then how you describe this hand will change. So words might look the same, but they can take us to very different places. 

IMG_3072

The Psalms use words to describe feelings, but more than feelings – they use words to describe their very being. The Psalms cover life and death and love and faith and faithlessness and doubt and when everything is fine and when everything has gone wrong. The Psalms are the song and lyric book of faith, they aren’t always pretty, but they are always honest. The Psalms are almost without fail addressed to ’you’, the ‘you’ being Yahweh, the God of Israel. You are this, you are that, we blame you, we love you, we worship you… they are nothing like the prayers of nations around them, always trying to appease and flatter their gods, but they are addressed to Yahweh who is trustworthy enough to be angry at and to be vulnerable with. They’re not just meditations on life, they are prayers to God; and not any old spiritual presence or vague hope, but Yahweh, the I Am, the God of Israel.

Psalm 137 is pretty honest. This has one of the most well-known first lines and least-liked last lines. ‘By the rivers of Babylon’ obviously brings to mind Boney M; and the less well-known ‘happy are those who seize your babies, and dash them against the rocks.’ That’s never taken off as a catchy line. Its awkward. It’s written from a different time and different place, a world of tribal warfare, of more immediate violence, and also a culture of directness of expression. It doesn’t mean they would actually go and dash babies heads; although it might mean they wouldn’t argue if someone else does it; and it certainly means that what they feel like.

The Psalm tells a story of a people who have been humiliated and captured and what we want now is revenge. Revenge on Babylon, revenge on everyone. Who hasn’t wanted revenge? 

Harnessing our feelings, and pouring them out to God, is so important, so valuable, even the most unattractive ones. Worship and faith is about being real, not presenting a veneer of respectability whilst inside we seethe with unspoken rage. Once spoken, the feelings that need redeeming, changing, or taken away can have that done. God is thick-skinned. And, because he’s not a magic we can control he won’t go and do what we’ve asked just because we’ve said ava kadava and summoned a patronus.

God is not just God when everything is working out well. God is not absent when things have gone belly up. I struggle with the absence of God, the inaction of God. Like the Psalmist I can stand on a high mountain and be overawed by God’s creation and his wonderfulness; and I can be in the depths of sorrow or anger when I see injustice and poverty and loneliness and my own ineptitude and feel lonely in a crowd and want to crawl into a hole and everything to just stop.

Like the Psalmist, when we see people destroy what we love most – for them it was Jerusalem and the temple, for us it might be our families, ourselves, our homes, our safety – we are hurt and angry and want revenge.

That is where we come back to Jesus, who took on himself at the cross all that anger and those thoughts for revenge, who broke that cycle of revenge and violence with his grace, grace that gives the power to forgive, the power to hand over anger and revenge to him, him who took it to the cross. Otherwise it sticks to us, and when it sticks to us, it defines us. We become bitter and twisted and end up only singing this one Psalm. 

Let’s be honest with God, and let’s be poetic, let’s express ourselves and be a bit less British and reserved and a bit more Middle-Eastern about it, and let’s trust that God can handle it, that it is good for us, and that he can take our sadness, disappointment, rage, and thirst for revenge and transform it into something beautiful.

 

 





intentional generosity: a christian challenge to punitive welfare reforms

8 04 2013

It goes without saying that a minority will take for granted the generosity of the welfare state. It also goes without saying that the majority will not. What we have to decide is: does that matter? Yes, of course. So what then do we do… Do we take away benefits from everyone because of the bad choices – and yes, sometimes criminal behaviour – of the few? Do we offer support to those in need even when we know that support may well be abused?

Yes. Yes, not because we are woolly-minded liberals who are happy to be taken for a ride. Yes, because our model for love is Jesus and is by definition self-giving. We give in full knowledge of rejection. We are taken advantage of, and we give again. We do it because we believe that love gives. Of course there are consequences for its abuse. Of course there is no bottomless pit of money. Of course when we see people deliberately milking the system that must be challenged. At the poorest AND the richest end. 

But we believe that we help those at the bottom, whether they are there because of their own bad choices or not. When I worked in a drop-in centre for street homeless people we knew full well there was a tiny minority for whom this was a lifestyle choice we were enabling. But we also knew the true stories that put the majority there. We knew there were those who were genuine, and truly needed help. To help those, you must help the others. To truly show love, you give without prejudice, in the knowledge that there are those who cannot and will not survive without it.

Yes, some will abuse it. Yes, that rightly makes us angry. Does it make us withdraw help? No. We give knowing that our gift will be abused by some, and taken for granted by others. Our model is Jesus, and he gave everything. Punitive Welfare reforms that target the most vulnerable in our society are not acceptable within this model of thinking. Neither is the vindictive and divisive language against the poor, by elected politicians, writing then all off as thieving, idle drunks.

Bringing Jesus into it doesn’t make it easy, by the way. It’s not like a naive belief in fairies that makes you want to treat everyone like a flower. No. This is hard. This is no doormat philosophy. Faith isn’t a vain superstition or a crutch for the weak and indecisive. And this is where we show it. Faith necessarily prompts a conscious and intentional decision to show generous love in the face of possible rejection and abuse. Compassion comes from the Latin for ‘suffering with’. It has a cost we willingly accept – generous love. Worked out in the Welfare system. 

Madness? Maybe. Fairness? Probably not. The right thing to do? Without doubt.





magnetic attraction to stigmatised people

10 10 2012

Several comments and conversations after yesterday’s post, I want to offer some depth to what I was feeling, because I’m just a local vicar trying to work out my faith rather than being a politician or an economist, and I’ve always aimed to have something positive to say rather than just being another angry blog voice. 

So, here are some stories. 

  • There was a woman who sold sex. Not by choice. She could only hang out with others ‘like her’. Though she wanted to worship, she was always stigmatised for not having a proper job, a proper life. Scum, slag, whore. One day some people came along and actively sought to engage with her, and not for sex. Instead of humiliating her publicly as was the sport of their day, they humiliated the pious who stood in judgement over her. They showed her love.
  •  There was a woman who had had multiple partners. She was stigmatised by others who would not spend time with her. Multiple fathers for your children and a substance abuse problem lost you friends, made you defiant, lonely and stuck in a spiral of hopelessness. The community had given up on her. Failure. Alkie. One day some people came along who would not allow her to be defined by society’s labels even though their own reputations were at stake. That was part of the change that turned her life around. They showed her love. 
  • There was a man who was disabled. Society pitied him and those who could, supported him. He knew it was especially good to beg near where the religious gathered, as they were known to be generous. One day instead of begging outside the gates, he was able to dance in. Someone forgotten, abandoned, judged and shunned suddenly placed at the centre of God’s healing of the world. He had been shown love. 
  • There was a man with mental health problems. He was a bit wild, lived alone, and was stigmatised and best avoided. Loon, head-case, failure. One day some people came along who listened to him even when he ranted at them, who welcomed him into their homes and even bandaged his wounds (well, put a plaster on his toe). For a time he was part of their community, though he was very difficult to love. But he knew he was welcome.  They showed him love.  
  • There was a young man who had grown up with money, and did his best to be good. What he didn’t understand was that being good and showing love are very different. When he was told a story about love for your very different neighbour, it was too much, because given the choice between his personal wealth and loving his neighbour, the wealth would probably win. Showing love is costly. 
  • There was a parent who hadn’t worked for 15 years, who was de-skilled, who struggled with debt, with substance abuse, and was therefore difficult to employ. Accidentally coming across some people who cared about him even though society labelled him, stigmatised him and gave up on him – with good reason – he began to see hope, began to receive training, and maybe one day will work. They showed him love. 

All of these stories are about Jesus; some of them are old real stories, and some of them are new real stories. I tell them not because they ‘prove’ any political point. I tell them because time and time again Jesus had a magnetic attraction to stigmatised people. He came to show the world that God had not abandoned them, and he did that by going to the abandoned and showing them love. It was a love that challenged them (go, and sin no more), but it was first and foremost a love that went to them before the challenge. To challenge someone, make sure they know they are loved. 

We can’t go to Jesus for a model of politics. But we can go to him for a model of society. Not colluding in conversations that stigmatise and demonise another group is a start, because if Jesus were to walk in on those conversations or read those blogs he would probably start talking about specks and planks and humiliate us in front of our friends. 

Our society is heavily in debt, and the government need to do something, of course. Whatever they do, we are the people on the ground, we are the people who can help the people. The church is the biggest people-movement on the planet. The local church is the hope of the world. Let’s be hope. 





re-discovering the human

18 09 2012

We know what it is to dehumanise. When we remove that essential characteristic we can never quite define that makes us… human. Conscience. Love. Altruism. Lateral thinking. Sudoku. Jeremy Kyle.

We know baddies do it to their victims to make their crimes easier to commit. The lynch mob also do it to their victims to make them easier to attack. The media do it to anyone ‘other’, especially Muslims, young people, the unemployed or worse of all: a young, unemployed Muslim. We all do it to any group we look down on or despise and call ‘them’ rather than ‘us’. 

It happens increasingly in politics. In Mitt Romney‘s secretly filmed talk he describes 47% of the country he wants to represent as

[they] are dependent upon government, [they] believe that they are victims, who believe that government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it… And so my job is not to worry about those people. I’ll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives.

That’s an extreme (and American) example, but I don’t think Cameron and the Coalition think much differently about the UK. Young people are called NEETs, everybody has to ‘get back to work’, whether or not they are ill or disabled. The government support ‘hard-working families’, so presumably not those who are not in families, or don’t particularly want to work hard. Those who don’t work (or can’t work) are demonised and stigmatised, and it is a desperate situation when 40% of appeals against an ATOS declaration of being ‘fit to work’ are upheld. Nearly half! These are people’s lives we are messing with, not just numbers we need off the welfare books. We need to do better than basically flip a coin when deciding someone’s fitness to work.    

The God of the Age who must be appeased at all costs is called Economy, who feeds on markets (except when they go wrong); when in reality there is no such thing as an economy as a distinct entity, only humans relating to other by relational transactions. Humans! People! 

In politics and economics and media and religion and in fact everywhere we need to rediscover the human. We need to rediscover the wonder that is the individual, and the unpredictability that is community, which cannot be prescribed by formulas or dictated by markets because actually we think for ourselves. 

We are all humans who are in this together and it is so easy to set ourselves above another group, which is the beginning of dehumanising. Carl Medearis set a great challenge in the Huffington Post this week when talking about ways we can genuinely make a difference to global politics especially with regard to the fear of ‘other’, the dehumanising of opposing groups:

Make a commitment to yourself, your family, your closest work colleagues and friends NOT to pass on emails, videos, blogs and films that make you afraid or angry. If you watch or read something and you have one of those emotions (fear or anger) simply delete it. Surprisingly, this may be the most difficult thing for you to commit to. It’s fun to spread fear, anger, suspicion and lies. It’s the age-old art of gossip and it’s enjoyable. But don’t. Commit to not doing that even if you think it might be true. All truth isn’t helpful all the time — and now is the time to be wise in what we say, watch and read.

Could we do that? Could we be different even on our own tiny levels as we relate to friends, family, on Facebook and Twitter and anywhere else? If we want it on a large scale we must do it on a small scale. 

It’s all about rediscovering the human in the world, re-humanising what so easily becomes dehumanised, whether it’s Muslims or paedophiles or Chelsea fans or Eton old-boys in the cabinet.

If only we had a story in which God did that. 

Photograph: Philip Kirk/Demotix/Corbis





barrier

9 09 2012

The car park ticket fluttered to the ground, unseen. Which was all very well, until I returned to the car park, and searched my pocket for the ticket to pay. I searched my wallet, my pockets, behind my ear. Nothing.

Being a Famous Five reader when I was little, I knew what to do. Retrace my steps. Back to the car. Not on drivers seat. Not on passenger seat. Where had I put it when the machine spat it out at me? In my mouth of course. It wasn’t there. Checked the boot. I don’t know why. Getting serious case of ‘car park fluster’ now. Running late, considering ‘lost ticket’ charge, removing dog collar…

Check the floor…? Chance will be a fine thing. But… there it was! And it was mine! I went to the machine, paid my £1.60, and back to the car. Little did I know this was not the end. If only every day was so exciting.

I got to the exit barrier, put my ticket and… it wouldn’t go in. So I turned it round. Nothing. Upside-down. Nope. Waved it. I don’t know why. Still nothing. Luckily there was another machine behind me, and no car in the way. Tried the same. Nothing. I reversed out and into the next lane. Same again. I looked for the help button to speak to a helpful car park operative. There wasn’t one. A help button, I mean. I can’t speak for the latter.

“I just want to pay!”, I screamed inside my head. “I JUST WANT TO PAY!”, I very nearly screamed out loud. Thankfully there were still no cars behind me, so I was about to reverse to find somewhere to park to find a person to ask… and it was then that I noticed.

The barrier was already open.

it wasn’t this barrier. even i would have noticed.

That was why the tickets didn’t work. I have never been so grateful not to have  car behind me.

I was so desperate to pay, I didn’t notice the barrier was open. I wasn’t sure if I was cross, because of my serious case of ‘car park fluster’, or whether to laugh out loud at being such a wally.

I think a lot of us are like that with God. We are so desperate to pay, we don’t notice the barrier is open. And when we do notice, we are cross we’ve spent so much time trying to pay that we keep trying to pay anyway. Or we can’t accept it and are still looking for the helpful car park attendant. Some of us haven’t noticed, and are still blocking the open entrance searching for the right button to let us through.

There is no charge. The barrier to God’s grace is open. We can walk through it laughing. If only we would look up and see.

It wasn’t this bad…





shade

27 07 2012

Sweating and out of breath, I emerged from the bushes.
“Is that you Kevin?”, she asked.
I was putting on my dog collar.
“What are you doing?”, she continued.
“I was really hot and sweaty so I was just cooling off…”
“In the bushes?”
This doesn’t sound good. Try again.
“I’m on my way to a funeral visit…”
“In the bushes? Who’s died, a squirrel?”
“Haha, no, I’m on my way to a funeral visit and I’m a bit early and I cycled here and so rather than arriving in a sweaty heap I found some shade in the bushes…”
I frantically point at my bike. And my funeral book.
And my crumpled sense of dignity.
“Again, in the bushes?”
My friend from the running club doesn’t look convinced.
I look like I’m making it up.
I can see the headlines: Sweating Vicar Caught in Bushes

*brief internal crisis ensues*

I decide I believe myself. I am not making it up.
“I’ve just cycled in 30 degree heat…” I quickly explained. 
“But you only live round the corner?”
I’m not sure I even believe my own story.
What am I doing here?
“No, I went somewhere else first, so I’ve cycled quite far, and I just thought I’d cool off so as not to terrify a bereaved old lady who will already not expect such a ‘young man’ at her door and definitely won’t appreciate a ‘sweaty young man’…”

My garbled explanation tails off.
A family from toddler group wave from across the road.
My friend continues on her way to the shops, chuckling.

I stay in the shade. But out of the bushes. Also chuckling.  

True story. 

As I prepare for a summer break, my prayer is for rest. This has been a very full-on year, with my colleague on maternity leave, an Oasis youth work student on placement in our house, family illness and family dramas alongside the usual highs and lows of ministry.

Sometimes it has felt like cycling in 30 degree heat, and now is the time to find some shade in the bushes.

As I prepare for a summer break, my prayer for you is for rest. I know many people who won’t have the opportunity to go away, and for whom the summer holidays are not restful at all. My prayer is that if you need shade, you can seek it out, even in the most unlikely places.   

May God lead you to green pastures beside still waters and give you rest. Or at least some shade in the bushes. 

Enjoy the Olympics.I’m logging off. See you in a few weeks.





cut off

9 05 2012

When one of the older ladies shouted out ‘castrated man’ from the back row during my sermon, I got the feeling it was something she has wanted to do for ages. Thankfully it wasn’t her opinion of the vicar or a new feature from the liturgical commission, but an answer to the question ‘what is a eunuch?’ The eunuch story is one of my favourite passages. 

From a sanitised, wholesome and avoiding-awkward-rawness-of-life perspective, it’s inconvenient for church. If only it was the Ethiopian nobleman, or the Ethiopian king, or even the Ethiopian farmer. But no, it is the Ethiopian eunuch. The story of a castrated man. Why do we need to know that? It seems a little unfair that of the sparse details we are told about this man, this is the one we know. Maybe some of us can identify with being known only by our origin and our disabilities, where we are from and the way we look.

I had to be careful with pictures for this one

We are not told why this man was a eunuch. Castration was sometimes done to slaves as a punishment, to subjugate them, or to make them ‘safe’ so they could faithfully attend to the King’s women. Royalty could also promote them without fear of them producing children who might try to usurp the throne. Eunuchs were mocked, ridiculed and despised as sexless and pointless. This particular eunuch had risen in the ranks of his queen, become treasurer; but was still known by his willy. Or lack thereof. 

So why was this black African from what would have an exotic foreign land – actually modern-day Sudan – doing worshiping the God of the Jews in Jerusalem? He was probably a Jewish convert, or had been a born a Jew. He had come all this way, and when he got to the Temple, he would only have been allowed into the outer courts. The man was excluded from the covenant community, alienated from God’s household – and unable to produce a household of his own. Pretty desperate and lonely situation. 

 So we meet this man, on his way home, reading aloud from Isaiah. And he was reading this section:

 “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him… nothing in his appearance that we should desire him… he was despised and rejected by men…” (Isaiah 53)

 This man understood what it meant to despised, rejected.

Philip did not regard it as bad luck or socially dangerous to be seen talking with him. Instead, he saw how easy it would be for the eunuch to feel like a lamb with it wool cut off, humiliated. 

What would we do at this point? If we met someone who felt rejected by the community, cut off from society, seen as without usefulness or purpose?

Philip told him about Jesus. He told him that Jesus was despised, rejected, led like a lamb to the slaughter; the Jesus death was on behalf of us all. And that Jesus was raised up, exalted, resurrected, glorified. Shame replaced by honour. Rejection by glory. That we might all be welcomed into the family of God. 

It is an odd family, a family full of everyone, the ordinary and the oddballs. The poor, the disabled, the rejected; the wealthy, healthy and accepted. An odd family, but a wonderful family. Into this family the eunuch was introduced. He was so excited, he was baptised, there and then. Because for him this meant that the centuries-old divide that kept him out was gone. The man was in the covenant community, the family of God.

For what it’s worth, church is a family. We are a place where you will not (should not?!) be known by your origins or your disability, your looks or your circumstances. Being in God’s family means being a child of God, adopted and loved and chosen. 

 I wonder if the Ethiopian eunuch read on from Isaiah 53. If he did, he would have read this in Isaiah 56:

3 Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, 

        “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.”
        And let not any eunuch complain,
        “I am only a dry tree.” 

4 For this is what the LORD says:
       “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
       who choose what pleases me
       and hold fast to my covenant- 

5 to them I will give within my temple and its walls
       a memorial and a name
       better than sons and daughters;
       I will give them an everlasting name
       that will not be cut off. [pun intended]

This is the gospel. This is why it is good news. When people who are on the edge of the covenant community, who are excluded from society, in any of its various forms, discover the welcome of God. My hope is that the eunuch would find such a welcome in our covenant communities. That our politeness and religiosity and piety and genuine desire for holiness would not be the knife that cuts people off and marks them forever as being outside. 

No-one is a dry tree here. 








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