CAN I BE INCLUDED

Isaiah 56:3-7

Do not let the foreigner joined to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and do not let the eunuch say, “I am just a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
To the eunuchs who keep my sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give, in my house and within my walls, a monument and a name better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

And the foreigners who join themselves to the Lord,
to minister to him, to love the name of the Lord,
and to be his servants,
all who keep the sabbath, and do not profane it,
and hold fast my covenant—
these I will bring to my holy mountain,
and make them joyful in my house of prayer;
their burnt offerings and their sacrifices
will be accepted on my altar;
for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples.

Acts 2 selected verses

When the day of Pentecost came, all the believers were gathered together in one place. 2Suddenly there was a noise from the sky which sounded like a strong wind blowing, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. 3Then they saw what looked like tongues of fire which spread out and touched each person there. 4They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to talk in other languages, as the Spirit enabled them to speak.

5 There were Jews living in Jerusalem, religious people who had come from every country in the world. 6When they heard this noise, a large crowd gathered. They were all excited, because each one of them heard the believers speaking in his or her own language. 7In amazement and wonder they exclaimed, “These people who are talking like this are Galileans! 8How is it, then, that all of us hear them speaking in our own native languages? 9We are from Parthia, Media, and Elam; from Mesopotamia, Judea, and Cappadocia; from Pontus and Asia, 10from Phrygia and Pamphylia, from Egypt and the regions of Libya near Cyrene. Some of us are from Rome, 11both Jews and Gentiles converted to Judaism, and some of us are from Crete and Arabia—yet all of us hear them speaking in our own languages about the great things that God has done!” 12Amazed and confused, they kept asking each other, “What does this mean?”

13 But others made fun of the believers, saying, “These people are drunk!”

 

14 Then Peter stood up with the other eleven apostles and in a loud voice began to speak to the crowd: “Fellow-Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, listen to me and let me tell you what this means. 15These people are not drunk, as you suppose; it is only nine o’clock in the morning. 16Instead, this is what the prophet Joel spoke about:

‘This is what I will do in the last days, God says:

I will pour out my Spirit on everyone.

Your sons and daughters will proclaim my message;

your young men will see visions,

and your old men will have dreams.

Yes, even on my servants, both men and women,

I will pour out my Spirit in those days,

22 “Listen to these words, fellow-Israelites! Jesus of Nazareth was a man whose divine authority was clearly proven to you by all the miracles and wonders which God performed through him. You yourselves know this, for it happened here among you. In accordance with his own plan God had already decided that Jesus would be handed over to you; and you killed him by letting sinful men crucify him. But God raised him from death, setting him free from its power, because it was impossible that death should hold him prisoner.

37 When the people heard this, they were deeply troubled and said to Peter and the other apostles, “What shall we do, brothers?”

38 Peter said to them, “Each one of you must turn away from your sins and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ, so that your sins will be forgiven; and you will receive God’s gift, the Holy Spirit. 39For God’s promise was made to you and your children, and to all who are far away—all whom the Lord our God calls to himself.”

 

Acts 15:1-2,6-11

Some men came from Judea to Antioch and started teaching the believers, “You cannot be saved unless you are circumcised as the Law of Moses requires.” 2Paul and Barnabas got into a fierce argument with them about this, so it was decided that Paul and Barnabas and some of the others in Antioch should go to Jerusalem and see the apostles and elders about this matter.

6 The apostles and the elders met together to consider this question. After a long debate Peter stood up and said, “My brothers and sisters, you know that a long time ago God chose me from among you to preach the Good News to the Gentiles, so that they could hear and believe. And God, who knows the thoughts of everyone, showed his approval of the Gentiles by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he had to us. 9He made no difference between us and them; he forgave their sins because they believed. 10So then, why do you now want to put God to the test by laying a load on the backs of the believers which neither our ancestors nor we ourselves were able to carry? 11No! We believe and are saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they are.”

 

 

 

 

It was one of those meetings…

The kind of meeting we hate to attend..

not in spite of the fact it was a church meeting

but because it was a “church meeting.”

Church meetings can be the most incendiary of all.

 

We knew it was going to be rough.  It was a called meeting.

We knew it was going to be rough because the notice said: “everyone congregation select two representative elders for the meetings.

We knew it was going to be rough when we got to the room and found a note under the door “Will the Antioch Delegation meet 30 minutes before the General Council?”

and then arriving into the great hall, it looked like a forest of microphones.

 

It’s was going to be a big confrontation.

 

Sometimes I don’t do well in that kind of setting.  I’ve been known to go shopping and then come back and say  How did it go?  I wish I’d been there

 

It was a single issue meeting.

Luke said.  It was a single issue meeting.

 

The issue clear.  Are we going to continue to admit into full standing and fellowship in the church foreigners…

persons who have never belonged to the people of Israel…        persons who do not know the Old Testament the story…

Who do not believe in God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob…

who do not have the moral and ethic standards…

Who do not the tradition of the Exodus…

Who yesterday worshipped before shrines and idols.

 

Shall we simply upon their repentance and confession at faith admit them into the fellowship?  Is that enough?

That is the question.

 

 

The people were divided.

Luke in his own modest way says ‘there was much debate’

 

It was not simply that the Christians disagreed with each other and they were Christians all.

It was not simply that the Christians disagreed with each other, but individual Christians disagreed with themselves.

Their own hearts were torn

and sometimes when we lash out at someone else because of their position,

the reason for the intensity is that I am at war with myself and when I am at war with myself, my tendency is to make casualties even out of people I love.

 

I know that was the truth with Simon Peter “How shall I vote?”  Oh when he stood up in Jerusalem that first day the day of Pentecost and preached it looked sweet and good.

Big Crowd.

Luke said that they were from every nation under heaven.  Persians, Medes, Elamites and dwellers of Mesopotamia…  From everywhere they came.

Peter was carried away with his oratory and when he finished that sermon he say this promise is not only for you and your children and your children’s children, and to all who are afar of…

Gentiles…. As many as God shall call….Great Day.

 

And then he had a vision to go to the house of a Gentile and preached and he said “No”

It’s one thing to preach, it’s another thing to do.

I know he must have been divided in his own heart.

 

Paul said he was at the fellowship dinner at Antioch.  He started eating with gentiles but some others came in and he with Barnabas and some other Jewish Christians formed a separate table

a painful thing for that Church.  And I ‘m sure for Simon Peter and for Paul himself,

 

because you see

it’s one thing to say I know we should include these people, it’s another thing to believe in your heart we should include these people.

That ‘s the longest trip you ever make in your life.  It’s between the head “I know” and the heart “I know

 

And in between there was no small debate. So the debated and went to the Microphones

 

Microphone 3.

“Yah We’re here from Antioch and we have good Bible Study Groups.

Super six Bible class every Wednesday night and we’ve been studying Ezra.  We all believe the Bible and Ezra says “Get rid of the foreigners even if you’ve married to one divorce her.  Get rid of the foreigners.  That’s all I want to say.  Thank you.

 

Microphone No.2  We’ll hear from you Microphone 2

Well we also have a nice Church and a nice Bible Study group and we’e here from  Berea.  We’ve named our class the  Berean Class…..We’ve been studying Ruth in our woman’s group.   Such a wonderful book. Ruth was the ancestress of David and the ancestress of our Lord, as you know,…and she was a Moabite.

And if our Lord had Moabite blood in his veins isn’t it OK for us to do this.  Thank you. Moderator.

 

Microphone 5.

Well I don’t know but one of the really great prophets of Israel was Amos.  Amos said:

You Alone, talking about the Jews, You Alone do I need to define Alone.  It doesn’t say etc.  It says Alone.  Here I chose from among all the nations You Alone.  Thank you.

 

 

Microphone 9.

Yes I really don’t have much to say myself but I remember when I was just a child, I memorized a Bible verse. I think it went like this.

The mountain of the Lord’s house

Shall be the highest of all the mountains

And all the nations I think it says All the Nations

Yes that’s it.       All the Nations shall flow into it

Thank you.

 

Oh my, I’d rather be shopping

 

Whose Fault is it?

I mean here the Church is doing fine, started off with thousands and thousands, …multiplied and spread out from Jerusalem and is just doing great…

congregations in all the towns.

And then this.  It’s just going to split us wide open and then what’s going to happen just when everything was going so well.

 

You know whose fault I think it is,  I think it is Stephen’s.  When he made that speech against the temple in Jerusalem.

That’s what started it.  Now he was appointed to wait tables, but he thought to had to preach.  Everybody wants to preach, and that’s what started it.

 

No I don’t think so.  I think it’s Philip.  You know he want up there and let them be baptized amongst those Samaritans.  Yup, he baptized some of those Samaritans and when you let the Samaritans in, the camel’s nose is in the tent.

 

Well no, I really think its Simon Peter.  He doesn’t want us to know about it.  But I happen to know because I have a sister that has a cousin that lives in Ceasarea.  He ate with some Italians Yea Yuh  the word is out… the word is out…..and we’re supposed to think of him as one of our leaders and apostles.

 

 

Isn’t it really the fault of Paul running around here claiming this vision and that vision, claiming to be an apostle to the Gentiles,

and he just takes in everybody and just let them all in

Oh ya ya Come ooooooooooon Down

 

and look at his Church, holding their bulletins upside down and don’t know a call to worship from a benediction.  He just lets in everybody.  Now that’s when it all turned sour as far as I’m concerned.

 

No I don’t think so, I really think it was Barnabas, bless his heart,  He’s such a fine person.  But you know how we’ve all agreed in Jerusalem if Paul ever showed up here  he can fellowship with us, he can take the Lord’s table with us, but he’s not to preach.

Oh he can have the benediction or something.  But He is not to preach.  But Barnabas took him around and worked him in and pretty soon there he is preaching.  Now Barnabas should not have done that.  He knows better.

 

Whose fault is it?

Luke says the fault is God’s….

that God sent the Holy Spirit to push and shove, push and shove the church.

Beyond ethnics borders, national borders, social borders,  economic borders.

 

That repentance and forgiveness be preached to all nations and the Holy Spirit pushed, and pushed, and pushed and pushed.

 

 

But every once in a while Luke turns the camera around and instead of going us this painful pushing scene of the Holy Spirit pushing the Church beyond it’s own prejudice,

once in a while Luke turns the camera around and lets it focus on one of the outsiders whose future is at stake

one of the people whose fate is being debated in the church.  Shall we let them in, or shall we not?

 

Luke turns the camera or one at these people.  What does it mean to the person standing outside waiting on the word of the Church?

How did it go?  Will I be admitted or not?

 

And the strangest of all the stories Luke tells is that of the Ethiopian Eunuch in his chariot from Jerusalem to Gaza to whom Phillip spoke

 

“He’s an Ethiopian.  I don’t know whether it like wants us to take that literally or not.

There was an Ethiopia   somewhere near Khartoum or Aswan today,

but the word Ethiopia since the days of Homer had been sort of a nickname or a symbol for the end of the world.  “Oh they tell me he’s from Ethiopia”

Ethiopia just meant the jumping off place. The end of the world, The last place on earth you would want to go.

When I was a kid we said Timbuctoo

We didn’t know whether there was one or not, but we said “I don’t care if she goes to Timbuctoo and that just meant as far as you can go and then a little more.  The end of the world.

He’s an Ethiopian. Literally or figuratively, I mean just how far out and away and distant can he be?

 

 

 

And he’s a eunuch.  A eunuch was a man who either by accident or surgery was rendered sexless.  Usually such persons found gainful employment and sometimes even powerful employment in palaces,  especially in the service of Queens for, being sexless, they were not led astray by their own private interests,

harmless around the harem,

never having to be late because they were car pooling the kids to school.

No wife, no children, no anything to distract.  Devoted simple minded, loyal, they were very useful.

 

It was very common.  I think it was the historian Josephus who said One of the not so nice things about  Herod was that he had 3 eunuchs in his palace.

….Even though, even though, the Jewish scripture was very clear,

Deut 23:1, the Eunuch shall not be permitted in the assembly of God.

Any Question:  The eunuch shall not be permitted in the Assembly of God.

 

Then what in the world did it mean that he had been up to Jerusalem to worship.  What kind of man is this who will walk around the outside, stand at the edge, look over the fence.? Ask people what’s going on.  How was the service?  How was the sermon?  What did the priest do?  Were there many people there?

Peeking through knotholes, getting stuff secondhand, looking over fences, walking the edge of the crowd.

Worship?

I ask you seriously  Why will any human continue to knock at a locked door and stand there with bloody knuckles and refuse to go home??  The door is locked  shall I read it again.  You’re not Welcome. (Slam down hand)

 

Why doesn’t he just make it easy on himself.  Is he one of those people who entertain notions that if you’re powerful and wealthy then the rules don’t apply.  .

He is powerful and wealthy.

He had his own bible. He is in his own chariot. He is the service of Candace, Queen of Ethiopia. He is treasurer, at the service at Court   “Maybe the rules doesn’t apply to me anymore.”

 

I don’t know, He’s not making it easy on himself, He’s certainly increasing the pain, trying at the edge at the people of God with that vise staying at him day and night.  Why does he do it. Even if somebody,  Even if a careless usher   Even If somebody who didn’t know what it was all about admitted him,  He couldn’t fit in.  The moment he got inside it would be obvious.  “You don’t fit in.  You just don’t fit in.  Even if we let you in, You don’t fit in.

 

You ever heard that line: “you don’t fit in.”

 

Fred Craddock a professor I know and a minister went as a student minister to a little town in East Tennessee right where they had started to build a nuclear plant, about 20 miles from Oak ridge,

and folk were coming from all over, ……all types in trailers and tents and what all,

temporary quarters all over the hillsides, wash being hung out, little kids playing on the muddy fields,

 

and the little church, white framed building,        the  little church was nearby.

Nice church and wonderful people and Fred called the board together and said we ought to do something for these people.  We need to reach out to them.

And the Chairman of the Board said, “Ah, Oh, I don’t think so. “The young Minister asked why?

He said “they won’t fit in.  After all they are just here temporarily, living in those trailers and all.”

 

Well they are just here temporarily but they need the gospel, they “need a church.”

“No, I don’t think so.”

It lasted kinda long, called a congregational meeting for the next Sunday night.

The upshot of it all was a resolution.  The resolution was offered by one of the relatives of the chairman of the board, and the resolution was basically this:

“Members will be admitted to this church from families who own property in the county.”

It was unanimous except for the minister’s vote, and he was reminded he didn’t have a vote.

They won’t fit in,  they won’t fit in.

 

Years later, the minister wanted to take his wife up to see the scene at his earliest failures, and after much looking, because there was a new Interstate highway, and all, they finally found the beautiful white framed church, nestled in the pines just like it was,

except now there were cars and trucks , just cars and trucks parked everywhere…

and a big sign out front,

All You Can Eat Chicken Ribs, Pork.

 

And he said to his wife,  Well might as well so in for lunch.  They went inside. They still had the beautiful oil lamps hanging on the wall, still had the old pump organ, the pews which had been cut from a single poplar tree around the walls, and people waiting to get seated at a table and the place was just full of all kinds of people.  ………….they were Parthians, and Medes, Elamitess, and dwellers of Mesopotamia,  and he said to his wife,

It’s certainly good that this is not a church now, these folk would not be welcome, they wouldn’t fit in.

 

Why does this Ethiopian Eunuch keep doing it?  Well, you know what he’s doing, you do it yourself, I do it myself.  He’s flipping the page at the Bible to find his own name.  Everybody in the world wants that.  I went to find my name, just a little promise, just a phrase, just something.

I want to find a verse that says For Me

He’s looking for his name we all do that and then write in the margin This is who I am.

I did that. I had a verse when I was a teenager. John 3:16,

And I used to put my own name into it.

God loved the Harry so much that he gave his only son so that if Harry believes in him, Harry will not be last, but will have a relationship with him for ever.

 

We all want to say Ah there’s my name,  God knows me, and the Eunuch is reading in Isaiah and he finds it,

At least he thinks he finds it,  It’s almost too good to be true.  There it says it.

 

“No longer let the foreigner say; surely the lord will separate me from his people,

No longer let the eunuch say I am but a dry tree, for this says the Lord God  the days are coming when the eunuch who hears  my voice and obeys my law and keeps my covenant

I will give him a name, and I will give him a place in my house and it shall be to him as generation and generation and generations of children, better than sons and daughters and it shall be to the eunuch.”

 

 

And he reads In Isaiah:

“As a lamb that’s led to the slaughter, as a sheep before its shearers is dumb,  He didn’t open his mouth

who will declare his generation

who’s going to declare his generation.

He was cut off out at the land of the hiring.  He had no children.  He had no generation.  He had no one to remember him.. he had no one to carry on his name.  He was just cut off.  Killed without  any children.

Who going to declare justice for him?”

 

And Phillip is running by and says. “Do you understand what you are reading?

“No I don’t have anyone to help me. But I found some really good stuff here.  Now is the prophet talking about himself or is the prophet talking about someone else?”

 

 

And Philip said;  “Let me tell you who that is, That’s Jesus”

 

You mean He was cut off without any children..  He didn’t have any other generation or grandchildren, or people to keep his name,

Do you mean to say that maybe this other verse up here ah maybe….  I know I’m just an Ethiopian, and I don’t know how you feel about Ethiopians.

But it says here,  No longer, No longer let the foreigner say surely the Lord will say get out.

And I know I’m a eunuch and I know I know what it says in Deuteronomy,  but it says in Isaiah: “No longer let the eunuch say I’m just a dry tree.  Listen I will bless you and you will be remembered and it will be better the children, grandchildren and great grandchildren forever.

 

And Phillip  do you suppose it’s possible I know I’m an Ethiopian, I know I’m a eunuch, but do you think it’s possible Could I be a member of the church?”

 

And Phillip said “Yeah”

I can think of a few people who are going to be upset, but ya.

I don’t know how this is going to go over back home but yes

In fact, I feel a little awkward myself because I’ve never been in this situation and I’m not handling it well, but yes,

….in fact, I am a little surprised to hear myself say this given my own prejudices, but yes,

because the fact of the matter is:  Who am I to say no, when it is clear that Holy Spirit has already said yes.

 

Do we have to put it to a vote in this congregation who is welcome … or do we take it by acclamation?

Amen