Over the past few weeks I've been listening to a series of podcasts in the morning, on my way home from Nicky's school. Mars Hill, a church in Michigan puts them up on their website. Silas often falls asleep on the way home, allowing me to sit and finish listening. They have really been ministering to me and re-inforcing my conviction that God gives us the words we need, exactly when we need them. This morning's talk, given by Shane Hipps, was about the story of Phillip and the Ethiopian from Acts chapter 8. I heard this story many times growing up, and always liked it. Basically Phillip, one of Jesus' disciples, is traveling and meets and Ethiopian man reading a scroll in his chariot. They talk, and the Ethiopian man tells Phillip he doesn't understand what he's reading (turns out it was the book of Isaiah). Phillip explains the text in a fresh way in light of Jesus coming and fulfilling Messianic prophecy, and the Ethiopian is baptized as a follower of Christ in some nearby water and goes on his way. He is credited with bringing Christianity to Ethiopia (Catholic, Orthodox and Protestants make up 62% of Ethiopia's population today). A very interesting tidbit in this story is that this man was a eunuch; castrated in order to be in service to the Queen (this reduced his "threat level").
So of course the Bible mentions eunuchs here and there; it's not a new concept. But-I didn't really ever think about how the drastic lack of testosterone would effect their features. Not only did they take on more feminine characteristics, they often dressed like women as well. They were, in several cultures, seen as a kind of third gender (there is nothing new under the sun). They didn't fit with the men, and they didn't fit with the women. People didn't know what "category" to file them under.
It occurs to me lately that the New Testament church was all about breaking social norms. Look at Jesus-he spoke to women in public (a big no-no for Jewish men of the day, who were fond of a prayer in which they thanked God for not making them women)-and not only that he kept company with people of ill repute. I love to picture him, homespun garment, feet dusty from the day's work and travel, sitting around a fire eating fish and drinking wine, laughing with the common folk, being human. Only ever harsh with the legalistic rule-followers. He asked people to consider their own shortcomings before taking on those of others (the lumber yard in our own eyes, as I heard it described once, and not the speck in someone else's). When did he ever encourage his followers to take steps back, to not push the limits, to not accept?
Christianity, in its early days, seemed to be all about breaking with tradition. But wow, look where we have taken it. This is what humans do.
People like limits. And we like to attribute of love of limits to God's love of limits. We're still plenty misogynistic; we still think in terms of us and them. But-if Jesus is the best example of God's heart that we have, maybe we need to re-think things a bit.
Let he who has not sinned cast the first stone.
I'm writing this because I feel challenged. I feel uncomfortable sometimes about people I can't place neatly in categories too. I like boundaries and clear answers and checked boxes.
In the grander trajectory of Christianity, what is the movement? Where have we been and where are we headed? Seriously, we used to burn people for heresy. Now, what would have been called speaking heresy is simply called conversation (well in my circles anyway). It's working out your own salvation with fear and trembling. We are seeking more understanding now, looking at the issues of the heart.
God's love, and his plans, are like the ocean and we can be like dams, stopping up all that power and life-giving force and saying who gets it and who doesn't. There is a Pharisee in all of our hearts, shaking his/her little fist, wanting to be the favorite.
God used someone on the margins, someone unacceptable, to bring Christianity to an entire country. Who might he be using today, whether or not we approve of it?
Just some food for thought (steps off soap box). You can hear the whole message here.
*The title of this post comes from Shane's prayer at the end of the message