Never Cut Off from God Rev Dr Durrell Watkins May 3rd, 2015 We’re going to talk about private parts today. What else would we discuss in Sunday worship? Oh, let me not be so sensational. We’re actually going to talk about a story from the New Testament; the story talks about body parts, or rather […]
Never Cut Off from God
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins
May 3rd, 2015
We’re going to talk about private parts today. What else would we discuss in Sunday worship? Oh, let me not be so sensational. We’re actually going to talk about a story from the New Testament; the story talks about body parts, or rather a body part or more specifically, a missing body part.
You see, a whole story about what has happened to someone’s body is wrapped up in the word “eunuch.” And today’s story is about the Deacon Phillip encountering a eunuch. And for some reason, Luke thought that story was worth including in his Acts of the Apostles, and church councils thought it was worth including in the New Testament. So, we’ll deal with it, and hopefully find something encouraging in the mix.
Eunuchs were slaves, and often sexually exploited slaves. They were accused of being sexually insatiable.
They couldn’t get women pregnant, so they were trusted around wealthy women. They were slaves, so they could be ordered to serve their enslavers, in all kinds of ways, both men and women. Since they were used for many sexual exploits, people then called them hypersexual. Creating myths about the sexuality of the Other is one of the weapons of oppression used throughout history.
Some, like the eunuch in the Ethiopian court, could rise to positions of authority within the oppressive system. This eunuch had access to the Queen of Ethiopia, and an important role in the treasury, and was free to travel, clearly. He even had access to a chariot…the Rolls Royce of antiquity. But still, he was a eunuch; his “place” in society was never forgotten.
But the eunuch, the marginalized person in our story today, chooses to see himself whole.
Even though religion has been used against him, he won’t give up on spirituality.
He chooses to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship.
He even dares to pick up the scriptures that have been used against him.
That’s right. Deuteronomy 23 says, “If a man’s testicles are crushed or his male organ cut off, he shall not enter the worshiping community.”
The bible says explicitly that the eunuch, because he is a eunuch, is unwelcome in worship. And yet this eunuch makes a pilgrimage to the Temple in Jerusalem anyway, and on the way back, is studying the scriptures, the prophet Isaiah. The bible says he’s not welcome; he refuses to believe that’s the end of the matter.
The bible says lots of things; but readers make meaning. We bring ourselves to the study of the scripture, and where the scriptures were once used to oppress, we can find new understandings that will liberate and heal.
The eunuch is reading from Isaiah, and the passage he’s reading says, “Like a lamb to the slaughter…he was humiliated and deprived of justice.” That’s Isaiah 53. That must have resonated with him.
In his mind he might have heard it as, “Like a castrated animal, he was hurt and humiliated and deprived of justice.”
And just maybe, he read ahead just a page or two, Isaiah 56, which imagines God saying, “To eunuchs…I will give in my house and within my walls an eternal, imperishable name that will not be cut off…for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all people.” Eunuchs have something cut off; but we cannot be cut off from omnipresence. There’s not a spot where God is not!
To people who have felt cut off, God will give dignity, a place, a blessing!
In Matthew 19, Jesus advocates for eunuchs, and broadens the understanding of what a eunuch is. Ain’t that just like Jesus…broadening, not constricting, opening up, not shutting down? Jesus says, “Some are born eunuchs, some are forced to be eunuchs, and some choose to be eunuchs for religious purposes. Let those who can hear this, hear it.”
Born eunuchs means born different. Gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, gender non-conforming, intersex…people who are wired or built differently than the majority, but it is who they are, and who they are meant to be.
Forced eunuchs are those who have been hurt, wounded, victimized. Those who have suffered violence and justice. Male castration. Female castration. Torture. Sexual violence. Psychological violence. Those forced into poverty, onto the streets, into sex trafficking, those kept from voting booths or educational opportunities, those who are rounded up for mass incarceration.
And those who are eunuchs for religious reasons are those understandably few who become monks and nuns, living cloistered, celibate, simple lives; but also anyone who gives up prestige or privilege or security for the sake of helping others celebrate their sacred value.
Those who are innately different, those who are marginalized or victimized, those who make sacrifices for the good of others, these are all included in Jesus’ definition of eunuchs. And to all of them, Isaiah says, “There’s a place for you, just as you are; God’s house is a house of prayer for all people!”
Who are the eunuchs of today?
Allowed in the church but not allowed to marry.
Allowed to be ordained as long as they claim to be celibate.
Given some protections but not marriage equality.
Luckier than some in their social grouping, but stigma is still attached to them.
And if laws are introduced to protect the dignity of the Other, listen to how the Other is demonized by politicians, pundits, and preachers, forever trying to cut off any hope of self-esteem or self-worth.
To people who have had their dignity assaulted, their bodies colonized, their relationships demeaned, their identity demonized, their names maligned, their safety threatened, their souls wounded, the good news is that there is a divine spark in you that will shine forever.
Deuteronomy says eunuchs are to be excluded.
But Isaiah later says eunuchs are children of God, too, and God has not forgotten them and would never exclude them.
No wonder the eunuch is confused and needs Philip to explain the scriptures to him.
So Philip compares Isaiah’s message to the life of Jesus, someone who was cut down in his prime, but who embodied divine love and demonstrated to everyone that all people are the children of God. Those who are cut off, cut down, cut apart, remain whole and forever worthy in the heart of divine Love.
In the end, the eunuch wants to know what would keep him from being baptized. Baptism is an initiation, an inclusion into the community, a sign of welcome. Deuteronomy says eunuchs stay out. Isaiah says eunuchs can come in. But while Isaiah says it, Philip shows it. What’s to keep the eunuch from being part of the faith community? NOTHING. Come on in, just as you are. The eunuch is MCC’s spiritual ancestor!
Baptism isn’t a hoop to jump through to be included in the church; it’s a symbol that there are no hoops. It isn’t a requirement; it’s a metaphor for the radical openness of the divine kin-dom.
The story is reminiscent of these words attributed to Jesus: “Come to me ALL who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” At this time in our national and global history, I think this is still the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2015
Just as I am, I am whole.
I am blessed.
I can never be cut off from God’s love.
And so I am thankful.