The following essay was originally addressed to the community of Spencer, Iowa, since it was written for the weekly pastor’s column of the local paper, the Spencer Reporter. As such, it is limited in scope and meant to be an article of interest to the faith population that typically reads it. The poem that follows it was written three years ago.
People tell me they want to keep learning about God and the Bible. So here is a perspective for you to consider, if it is new to you.
First, Jesus. Along with the comforting image of him as gentle Savior, he also challenged traditional understandings of the Levitical laws. He “broke” the Sabbath. He talked to women as though they were as intelligent as men. He conversed with Gentiles, touched the unclean and hung out with sinners, thus associating with all the “wrong” people.
But there was that prophecy in Isaiah 43:18-19: “Do not remember the former things, or consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Jesus was demonstrating what it means to trust and honor God. He embodied the love he taught. We accept these “new things” he did.
Second, Philip. There is a strange story in Acts 8 where he is told by an angel to go to a certain road south of Jerusalem. There was a eunuch who had worshiped God and was reading from a scroll of Isaiah in his chariot on his way home to Ethiopia. A eunuch was a man who was castrated to have presumably less power, so he could be trusted to serve in the king’s household. This man had a high position as treasurer of all the queen’s money.
A eunuch was among those considered sexual deviants in that time, no doubt disdained by both men and women for his condition. Yet among thousands of events that happened in the apostles’ ministries, this is one of the few stories recorded for us. When Philip told this man about Jesus, he responded in faith and asked a question that echoes through the ages: “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” The answer: nothing. Philip baptized him that day and was whisked away by the Spirit to another town. God was doing a new thing. (See also Isaiah 56:3-5)
Third, Peter. He fell into a trance and saw something like a sheet coming down from heaven, filled with animals and birds that were on the list of non-kosher foods. He was commanded to eat, but he protested that they were profane and unclean. But the voice said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.” It happened three times, a sign in ancient times that it was real and important.
Peter did not know what to make of this until representatives of Cornelius, a Roman centurion (a Gentile), told them they had been sent to fetch him. An angel had told their master, a God-fearing man, to send for Peter to hear what he had to say. Peter had the chance to sleep on it before he went with them the next day. He told Cornelius all about Jesus, but before he could finish there was a mini-Pentecost then and there. The Holy Spirit fell on everyone and they spoke in tongues. It was Peter this time who asked whether there was any reason not to baptize them. Again, the answer was no. God was doing a new thing.
We are approaching the end of June, Pride month for the LGBTQ community. Christian friends, please set aside the “seven texts” that are debated about human sexuality and purity for a moment. Jesus reframed the ancient texts in Matthew 5 as he taught a deeper truth about morality centered in the heart. He taught and embodied the divine, generous perspective that flows from love and compassion.
Look at these stories. What is to keep God from doing new things now? What if condemning people based on their innate understanding of themselves as whole and beloved in this world is not what Jesus would do? I invite you to consider what matters most to him: loving one another. Be open to the Spirit that is alive, always reminding us what Jesus said and did. Trust the God who does new things that help us to love as we are loved, every single one of us.
How Far Have We Wandered How far have we wandered from the heart of God when we scorn and shame those who have mustered the courage to express the deepest cry of their hearts? They who have explored their inner landscape --where many are afraid to go— and found what and who can truly give them life? They dare to name their joy while others hurl unearned labels at them. They claim their bodies, stake out their homesteads, listen to the quiet authority of their worthiness. Meanwhile, religious people have the audacity to insist that what the brave ones know to be true is a lie on the basis of what somebody told them God doesn’t approve of. Ancient words attempting faithfulness are used to condemn while the language of love and inclusion is dismissed. Trusted leaders eat at the forbidden tree of the knowledge of good and evil, but they deny others a place at the healing banquet to which all are invited. Lay down your forbidden fruit, your facile judgments. Let your fellow humans teach you how to listen to God through your own heart.