All Are Welcome Here

Based on
Acts 8:26-40
Jn 6:44-51

One of our children, Al, is non-binary. That is, they identify neither as male nor female and prefer the pronoun “they.” This has been a very long process for them (and us) and a very difficult struggle – within and without. They are now to the point where they will be having surgery to make the outside of the body match what they know to be true in the inside. Al has felt all their life that they are an outlier, not fitting in anywhere because they knew at some level that the way others saw them was not the reality of who they are. Now that their outside presentation better matches the real Al, they find themselves an outlier for different reasons. People simply aren’t comfortable with their androgenous look. Once at a restaurant, we heard people nearby debating about Al’s gender – “Is that a boy or a girl?” Clearly they were uncomfortable with Al and didn’t mind that Al or others around them knew it. I know this isn’t an unusual experience in Al’s life. They hear things like this, and even more disparaging comments besides, on a regular basis. The difference now is that the person Al is presenting to the world is who they really are and they have much greater inner freedom and confidence. We’re very proud of our beloved child.

Al’s story came to mind as I’ve been pondering a reading from Acts – Philip’s encounter with a eunuch. This unnamed person is Ethiopian which, in Greek, literally means “burnt face” and refers not to the country we know by that name, but to anyone with dark skin from a different place. At best it means an outlier.

This person is a eunuch, so they can serve in the Royal Court of their country. This practice was designed to make them “safe” to be around the royal women. They were considered not male, nor female. An outlier.

We know this traveler is a Jew, or at least a Jewish inquirer, who is leaving Jerusalem after going there to worship. But because they are a eunuch, they probably were not able to participate in the same ways as typical Jewish men or women. This person fit nowhere yet still chose to make the trip. A faithful outlier.

Philip himself is a bit of an outlier, too. A few chapters before this he is chosen as one to serve at table rather than as a minister of the word. Yet he feels called by the Spirit to go to a deserted road, chase after the chariot and speak to whomever is inside. It’s not in his job description, but his deeper call is to serve the Gospel, so he follows his heart and his call not knowing if Peter and the others will support him in this or not; not knowing how open the traveler will be to what he has to share about Jesus. He is drawn by a force stronger than those concerns into something beyond what he could have imagined.

Philip’s conversation partner is a person of wealth and authority as a member of the court and educated as they are reading aloud from the prophet Isaiah. Yet they are humble enough to admit that they need some guidance in understanding fully the meaning of the passage. And they accept Philip as a guide. Why? I suggest it’s because they recognize in him passion, excitement and deep faith in Jesus and his way of life. They see Philip for who he is at his deepest level and Philip sees the traveler’s deep desire for Truth and understanding and speaks so eloquently and persuasively that the traveler is the one who says “What is to prevent my being baptized?” I hear it almost as a challenge from someone who has been excluded for so many reasons. Philip recognizes conversion when he sees it and knows Jesus would never exclude this person for ANY reason and so he jumps in the water and baptizes this newly minted follower of Jesus.

One can only imagine Philip’s surprise as he is transported to a distant location to continue preaching the Gospel. How his ministry must have been transformed by this experience! And we’re told that the traveler continued on their way with great rejoicing. And why not?! Finally they had experienced acceptance and inclusion. They belonged to Jesus and his way of life. Their life was forever transformed by the Truth shared by Philip.

The God who sent Jesus drew Philip to the chariot and drew the traveler to Isaiah, then to Philip, then to Jesus who tells us in John’s Gospel: “Everyone who listens to my Father and learns from him comes to me.” And “…whoever believes has eternal life.” And “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever.” EVERYONE. WHOEVER. NO EXCEPTIONS.

This has profound implications for us 21st-century Christians as we live in a very divided, polarized world and find our church in the same state. Political candidates are claiming God as an endorser, and people of deep faith have differing opinions on nearly every issue. Christian denominations are finding themselves literally breaking in two over who can and cannot be ordained, and who can and cannot be married in their churches. Some Catholic bishops have weaponized the Eucharist by denying faithful members of the community the very Body of Christ because of what the bishops have judged as sinful opinions, and some clergy have used the pulpit to tell people who they must vote for if they are to be considered “good Catholics.”

We, as individuals, as followers of Jesus, must, like Philip, hear a higher call. We are Jesus’ body – hands, feet, eyes, voice – and as such, our responsibility is to reach out and share the Living Bread in whatever small ways we can with EVERYONE, WHOEVER we meet, and especially those, like our Al, who are considered outliers for a whole host of nonsensical reasons. Somewhere, way down below all of our political, religious and personal differences, we are one. We are, each one of us – gay, straight, celibate, Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, black, white, Asian, Indigenous, Latinx, male, female or non-binary – we are all beloved children of God. And that’s the message that we are called to preach with our lives. There is no “them;” there is only “us.” No outliers, only family members. All are welcome here!

May 05, 2022 by Anita Davidson 9 Comments
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Dianne Schlichting
2 months ago

Thank you! Would that these words be shared in church bulletins and in city agendas and political party conventions across the country. We, too, have an amazing daughter whose wife and children are dear and near to us; we have grown and become better people and parents because of this blessing of “difference” that expands and enriches everyone and everything in our world.

Susan Walker
Susan Walker
2 months ago

Thank you Anita and Shalem for this reflection and witness to how God has created and continues to create. We are one family in so many ways. As a mother of a transgender son and a non-binary grandchild, I am grateful for your connecting the story of Philip and the courtier as outliers who desire to follow Christ’s gospel where ever that takes them. This speaks to my own journey and how at 71 years of age I look to the next sending by the Spirit. May life continue to offer me places and people who are beyond my small circle to whom I may connect as one.

Cathy Harmon-Christian
Cathy Harmon-Christian
2 months ago

I, too, am blessed with a non-binary child who will be having surgery this summer to affirm the inside reality of who they are. I, too, have often though of Phillip’s encounter with the unnamed eunuch. Thank you for your reflection. My thought is that God is revealing in this story the sacredness of mystery, the way Phillip responds to the Holy Spirit invites us in to do the same. And that the first person outside the “community of believers” to be baptized is this unnamed eunuch. I think God invited us to see that God is known most deeply to those on the margins, to those who are open to God. Perhaps God knew all along that our culture would struggle with the gender binary and gave us this story to remind us “there is more than what we think we know.” I love this story, I love the gift of my child. Blessings.

Sister Hope
Sister Hope
2 months ago

Amen! God’s beloved community embraces all of us! Alleluia!

June in Vermont
June in Vermont
2 months ago

Beautifully, beautifully offered truth.

I am grateful.

Adela Rose
Adela Rose
2 months ago

What a beautiful, beautiful article. The TRUTH spoken so clearly and compassionately. Thank you Anita for writing and Shalem for posting such a simple yet complicated message from OUR CREATOR. LOVE abounds beyond any barriers humanity may construct. I pray all of us can live in this way.

Scotty
Scotty
2 months ago

What a gift you are, Anita, to the broader world of Christendom. Your pride in Al is a testimony to your sincere love of all – a witness and example to which we must all strive. I am so grateful for your words as a fellow outlier who has been hurt by expectations of conformity. I feel included in reading your words and that warms my heart. Bless you.

Judy Walsh-Mellett
2 months ago

Thanks for such a heartfelt and thoughtful and needed reflection.

Jackson Droney
Admin
2 months ago

Anita, thank you for this beautiful blog. Yes, we are called to love all as Christ loved all, and this includes ourselves. Receiving God’s love can be challenging, especially for queer peoples. And so I give thanks for Pride month and prophets who dare to love in the face of ignorance, brokenness, and pain. I give thanks for people who share how loving others has required them to stretch and change. So often to love as Christ loved means we have to change our minds, our hearts, and our institutions. May we have Pride in who God has made us to be, not a rigid pride that blocks our capacity to grow and love. Thanks again for this insightful post.

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