Isn’t it amazing
we can hang out in Church
and talk about things like eunuchs
and circumcision, as if
we were talking about
which way to cut avocados?
I realize it is mild
compared to HBO or what’s online,
but there is stuff in the Bible
that could make us blush in other settings.
It doesn’t, of course, and that is because
we have denuded Scripture
of its deep and pervasive sexuality.
We can read aloud about genitals,
and how to slice and dice them
without becoming queasy or embarrassed.
When it comes to the Bible
we read stories of rape, adultery, erotic dance,
childbirth and afterbirth,
as if we are reading names out of a phone book.
It is weird.
It is also symptomatic.
It is a symptom of how distant most of us are
from our own Scripture,
and how oddly formal and removed
our ways of public worship are
from the actual joy and passion of story-telling.
These days, if we tell stories from the Bible at all,
we tend to tell them as if reading a Court Reporters log – a glib transcript
about no one we know.
That’s just the way we do it,
so it is little wonder
that we assume the Bible is boring,
removed from anything real, irrelevant,
So…let me tell you about the Ethiopian Eunuch.
Once upon a time, a magnificent looking man
was parked in his chariot,
with both feet propped up on the lip of the wagon
and reading a parchment in Greek.
It was a gorgeous day,
and the road he was on ran parallel along a high,
grassy bluff overlooking the sapphire blue
of the Mediterranean Sea.
The stiff salt air soothed his hot skin,
and it jingled gold like chimes
that were hanging in abundance
from his ears, head, neck, and arms.
His whole long caravan
was forty-five camels deep,
and it had stopped simply because he
wanted to read in peace.
So, wagons and chariots and camels
sprawled out akimbo
across the road – a confetti
of people and animals randomly interrupted.
There hesat, this lieutenant to the Candace –
a queen so famous and esteemed
she was called by her generic title, ‘the Candace,’
and still everyone knew which queen was meant.
Therehewas, his magnificent black skin
shinning and sculpted like the Judean hills,
wearing the scent and textures
of wealth and power.
There he was, testicles surgically removed
and publicly proclaimed,
granting him access to wealth and privilege
at a very dear price.
In his strength and power,
and in his intelligence and beauty,
he bore an isolated loneliness known only to him
and those of his caste – the ones who slept alone.
He, the Eunuch, was treasurer to the queen,
and keeper of millions.
He, the eunuch, seemed exotic even to Romans
who ruled his homeland at
the farthest fingertips of their Empire.
The word “Ethiopian” was translated as,
the place where the sun sets, which
was a name given to them by the Romans,
who thought their city
was the very place where the sun rose.
He, the eunuch, was exotic,
and he, the eunuch, created a stir
wherever he went in those northern kingdoms.
In his quiet loneliness,
in his secret pain,
he had just been visited.
He had just been touched as never before
by the presence of someone
that knew him deep inside.
Reading a strange poem,
and reading it in his second language,
a poem about a people of yet a third language,
he suddenly felt the stirrings
of a visitor from within.
He read these words in the poem
over and over and over again:
“He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, and acquainted
and as one from whom men hide
he was despised, and we esteemed
Even then, two thousand years ago,
it was a five-hundred-year-old poem.
It was from a set of four poems
by the Hebrew poet, Isaiah.
The eunuch knewwhat Isaiah was describing;
he knewwhat the poet knew.
Who was this man the poet wrote about,
the eunuch wondered?
The poem went on,
and the eunuch could not stop reading:
“Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted…”
“Yes!” the eunuch shouted inside.
He had lived the same strange servanthood
“Who is this man,” the Eunuch was desperate to find out.
He, the eunuch
so much wanted to know
who he was reading about,
that he stopped the whole caravan
just to read more
about this strange suffering servant.
And then, suddenly, from out of nowhere,
the little man appeared.
The little man
stepped out of nowhere to address
the big man.
The little man with four daughters,
who had to escape from Jerusalem
to avoid being killed like his friend Stephen,
stepped out of nowhere
and took a risk to touch the big man.
The eunuch did not know it,
but in approaching him,
Philip was crossing a chasm so deep and dark
that he feared to imagine
where the bottom was for those who fell in.
You see, Philip’s people were taught
from a very young age to never, ever
talk to or touch someone
who was not one of their own.
To do so would make them, Phillip’s people,
dirty– physically and spiritually unclean.
To touch someone outside of his own people
would degradehim before God,
and ruinhis reputation among his own people.
Anda eunuch, Philip was taught,
no matter what his profession or ethnicity,
power or status,
was spiritually corrupt and unclean.
No one who had lost his testicles,
no matter how it happened,
could stand before God.
That is what Phillip’s people taught.
Anyone who had dealings with a eunuch
would endanger his or her own ability
to stand before God as one of the righteous.
Philip knew all of this,
and had the Eunuch known it too,
he would surely have felt all the more isolated,
all the more lonely,
all the more angry.
“Who is this man?” the eunuch implored Philip,
recognizing Philip’s dress and ethnicity
as being one of those
from whom the poem had come.
Philip told the eunuch
as much of the story as he knew,
shared his own painful servanthood,
took his brokenness and touched it
to the eunuch’s brokenness.
In that brief encounter they both felt
the power of healing
move between them.
The eunuch asked to be baptized
and Philip got deep into the water with him –
mingling against all standards
of right and wrong.
And then the big man with no testicles,
and the little man with four daughters,
both went their own ways.
Perhaps as abruptly as it began,
they left each other to return to their own people,
to their own destinies,
and never to meet again
but changed forever.
What a great story!
I hope that as you listened
you had the imagination to realize
that the eunuch story is about us.
If we do not recognize that such biblical stories
are as much about us
as about the characters in the narrative,
then we might as well seek spiritual nurture
from the nutrition panel on a box of Cheerios.
That story is about you and me.
That story is about the loneliness
and sense of isolation wecarry inside.
That story is about all the ways
that otherwise beautiful people like us,
and powerful people like us,
and intelligent people like us,
and ordinary, wonderful people like us,
have been castrated by those who want us
to fulfill a task for their sake,
or for the sake of some greater order
but who do not trust us to do it
if we bring our whole selves to the table.
That story is about all the other
strange Biblical stories
that have the power to stir something within us,
because in the suffering servant
we recognize a part of ourselves.
Whether the suffering servant is
Moses or Sarah,
Naomi or Jeremiah,
Jesus or the eunuch –
we hear the ghosts of our own story howling.
is about how fearful we are
to share with someone else our own story,
or to share our inklings
about the presence of God.
is about our fears of other people,
people we have been taught to fear,
who we were told are not as good
or as safe
or as trustworthy
as the people we imagine are more like us.
is about the chasm
that we think is so broad and dangerous
separating us from people
with a different sexual preference
or economic background,
It is a story about how we are taught
that such differences are a terrible chasm
but turn out to be only a crack in the sidewalk.
You see, that story,
like so many Biblical stories,
is about us –
stories that ring as true today
as they did when first told.
That Ethiopian Eunuch,
the one inside you and me, just sits there
if left to him or her self.
That lonely, suffering servant
with so much strength and potential,
sits in perpetual silence
and is left to be diminished
when we do not connect him or her
with the Philip’s all around us.
This is the First Law of Spiritual Physics.
It warns us that our encounters with God
must be shared in order to grow
or they will slip away into the night
and out of our memory.
The movement of the Spirit is always outward,
even if it begins from within.
If we do not help it move outward,
it eventually embarks without us.
I do not know why it is that way,
but I do know it is
The First Law of Spiritual Physics:
that love and the spirit move outwardly from us,
or they simply move out.
Who knows what youdo
on Sunday morning,
Who knows what youpray for
or even whether you pray, and why?
Who knows about those moments
when the suffering servant
has been stirred within you,
or when the kingdom of God
has been recognized by you?
Who knows the doubts you ponder,
and who knows the imaginative leaps you take?
Who in your life
can you ask about the poems you read,
or the strange encounters you have,
or the quiet voices you think you hear?
sitting alongside of our own road,
across a chasm of our own making,
there sits someone
who is waiting for us to ask a question,
utter a puzzle, or ponder a doubt.
we are sitting alongside someone else’s road,
on the far side of someone else’s chasm,
hoping to be touched
and to have our own stories
opened for us like never before.
There are so many opportunities
but so much fear, and
so little to be afraid of.
I know it is an absurd, ridiculous proposition
for me to suggest that you
have a eunuch inside.
I mean really, could you possibly have imagined
before you got here,
that you were going to be told
you have a eunuch inside?
Where else in the world
are you going to be told such a ludicrous thing?
But you know it is true.
You and I, everyone you see here this morning,
has a part of ourselves that has been
disfigured and mutilated by others
or simply from living in the world.
Whether it was an adult around us
when we were children,
or as adults, when we were wounded by
employers or colleagues or authorities,
we have been deeply scarred
and those scars have driven us to an
and a deep isolation
from a certain part of ourselves.
But that wounded self,
like the Ethiopian eunuch,
has great beauty and power and magnificence.
It has tremendous sensitivity
to the movement of the spirit in our lives,
and in fact,
it may be the most highly sensitive
and receptive sensor
we have to the presence of God
moving in our world.
Think about it.
The most powerful receptor we have
to the spirit and things holy,
may be deeply isolated within us.
Let it loose.
Let it out.
Let it talk out loud.
Let it ask its questions.
Let it explore.
Let it leap into the water.
Let it jump for joy at sudden freedom.
Let it have the company it craves
in order to ask
about the amazing things it has seen and heard.
Let’s start a campaign,
a “Free the Eunuch” movement!