Congregational Church of Brookfield (UCC)
Fourteenth Sunday After Pentecost
August 17, 2008
"Journeys of Friendship"
Romans 11:1-2a, 17-20, 24, 28-29
Thank you for reading those scripture lessons for us, Kathryn. They were unusually difficult, I think, and because of that, very much deserving of a sermon to help us understand them better. Kathryn suggested today’s title, “Journeys of Friendship,” but I’m guessing it isn’t obvious how that topic connects to either the prophet Isaiah’s call for justice for eunuchs and foreigners or to the apostle Paul’s caution to Roman Christians to avoid prejudice against Jews. So let me explain. I believe both of these passages call us to different “journeys of friendship” in God’s family than the journeys that we might make in the outside world. They remind us, as Jesus did, of how the covenant of God’s love extends beyond the borders of religious, national, physical, or gender, identity.
While we were in
The passage from Isaiah, even
more ancient that the one from Paul, commands the people to welcome both
foreigners and eunuchs – and Jesus has a similar saying in Matthew, which goes
against the tradition of his day that excluded foreigners, women, or men with
any deformity from entering the inner court of the
Some eunuchs, obviously, were castrated – their sex organs were damaged or removed either by birth defect or accident, as a punishment, to act as a slave for a King’s wife or concubine, or by self-mutilation, which was a pagan ritual to venerate the Goddess – which believe me, you don’t want to know about! According to Jesus, there were two other kinds of eunuchs: those who choose to be celibate for God and those who are born with no interest in the opposite sex. These so-called “eunuchs” did not CHOOSE to be eunuchs, nor were they physically damaged. Some scholars today believe this is a reference to homosexuals – people who, from birth, simply are not attracted to the opposite sex and feel no physical urge to procreation. They obviously could not be guilty of any “sin” simply because of who they are – their sexual identity is simply the gender orientation God gave them. “And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
It may seem hard to imagine ancient Jews as “open and affirming” in light of the strict Levitical codes – but keep in mind that homosexuality is only condemned a few times in the Bible, and many believe these references apply to male prostitution and pedophilia in the Goddess cult, not to committed loving relationships we see today. We also need to remember that this same Law of Moses made it OK to execute your son for masturbation or stone your wife to death for talking back to you. Also, things like eating a cheeseburger and wearing clothing of two fabrics are “abominations before the Lord.”
was that Paul’s people, the Jews, had struggled especially hard, over many
centuries – as a people who settled on a narrow strip of land that is on the
only connection between
Other ancient empires were not
known for their tolerance. Most were
ruled by tyrannical God-Kings like the Babylonian Emperor Nebuchadnezzar, who
took the Jews captive at the beginning of the 6th century BC.
His vision of world peace did not include any sort of “friendship
journey” of equality with other nations, but rather was a ruthless military
campaign to conquer and enslave them. At
the time of the exile, many able-bodied Jews were captured as slaves to do farm
labor, often on what had been their own lands, while others were led away to
But the miracle Isaiah 56
predicts is that on his people’s return from exile God would guide them on a
true “journey of friendship,” as thousands of Jews who had no previous
contact with one another could be bound together again into one family of faith.
In Isaiah 56, God says, “These I will bring to my holy mountain, and
make them joyful in my house of prayer.” The
covenant is opened up wider than ever before, as God’s temple “shall be
called a house of prayer for all peoples.”
The very identity of the Lord God is one who brings a scattered people
together as Jesus longs to do in his famous lament in Matthew 23:37.
Remember? He says, “‘
The irony that must have astonished Paul and other formerly Jewish Christians was the very NEED for Paul to write this part of the Letter to the Romans – to remind the newest Christians, these pagan converts, that THEY were the ones adopted or “grafted” into covenant with God. Paul cautioned them to remain humble and avoid the self-righteousness that Paul had seen in himself and other Jewish Pharisees especially. But I think this is a wise caution for Christians like us today. One thing most people say they like about our church is how friendly we are, but we need to remember to always be looking for ways that we can make our fellowship even more welcoming to those the rest of our society treats as outcasts.
Now even though we are a church that in 2005 adopted an “open and affirming” statement to “follow the call of Jesus to love God and neighbor by cherishing and honoring people regardless of sexual orientation, ethnicity, race, gender, age, economic status, physical, or mental ability,” we need to always be on the lookout for how we can extend the covenant of our Christian “journey of friendship” to a wider circle of people. Those of us who have never experienced discrimination need to be reminded, I think, of how powerful it is to bear witness to a love that passes this world’s understanding of how differences so often divide and unbind humanity.
I got that reminder just last week at the reception after Cindy Field’s father’s funeral. Dom and Cindy have a good friend who is in a wheelchair, and fortunately it occurred to me to let them know before the funeral that our lift from the parking lot to the meetinghouse was out of service. Though we offered to help him into Brooks Hall, he decided to just attend the reception, which is where I met him. As you might imagine, I apologized for our lapse in hospitality, but he bowled me over with praise for our sensitivity to his needs. When he was disabled in an accident, the state made his workplace accessible, but he said he felt accommodation was made for him with some reluctance. So he was sincerely grateful that we were a church that actually cared about him, though he was a stranger to us. The inclusive friendship we offer to the world, the extravagant welcome we extend to all in Christ’s name, really does make a difference. We are heeding our historic call to extend God’s love to all the world’s sons and daughters, to “give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off.
Thanks be to God for this Good News. Amen.
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08/17/2008 01:23 PM.