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  • Writer's pictureFr. Daniel S.J. Scheid SCP

Fifth Sunday of Easter Sermon

Fr. Daniel S.J. Scheid, SCP

Fifth Sunday of Easter B – April 28, 2024

All Saints’ Episcopal Church, San Francisco

“Dude! God abides.”

 

† Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

“There are eunuchs who have been so from birth,” Jesus said, “and there are eunuchs who have been made so by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 19:12).

 

This obscure gospel verse shows up only in Saint Matthew’s account, and it doesn’t appear in the Sunday Mass lectionary, so perhaps this is the first time you’ve heard it. I’m fairly certain this is the first time that I’ve referenced this passage in a sermon.

 

Eunuch, in case you don’t already know, is an archaic term that was used to describe men with some kind of malformed or damaged or incomplete or indeterminate genitalia. The first two categories that Jesus gave us are historically accurate – some eunuchs were born that way; others were castrated or injured. In biblical times, eunuchs often served as court officials, or attendants to the queen or to the king’s harem. The Ethiopian eunuch in today’s first reading was such an official, placed in charge of the queen’s treasury.

 

There are a scant few references to eunuchs in the bible, and what we’re given is of a mixed opinion. In some cases, like today’s, they’re mentioned favorably enough. In others, eunuchs are cast aside as unclean, unfit, and unworthy – the religious laws of the day were unfavorable to anyone who was seen as damaged goods. Eunuchs were considered less than whole and, in a culture that valued begetting progeny, eunuchs were incapable.

 

The Ethiopian eunuch, returning home from worshipping in Jerusalem, would have attended temple services from the periphery. Because of their physical status, they would have been excluded from full participation. While they might have kept their identity a secret – I don’t know if the temple TSA had bio-scanners – being devout, they likely would have observed the rules that shunted them off to the side.

 

And then the Lord’s angel and the Holy Spirit beckon Philip to find the eunuch and ride along in their chariot, giving on-the-spot baptismal catechesis and the administration of the sacrament at a convenient roadside pool. Philip is whisked away and the eunuch went home rejoicing – tradition sometimes suggests that they brought Christianity to the African continent.

 

Whether or not that tradition is true, what is true is that a person who was once an unclean outsider because of who they were – or weren’t – was welcomed without hesitation into the waters of baptism and full inclusion within the Church. Because of this, the Ethiopian eunuch has come to be revered by the queer community and their allies. Note that the eunuch wasn’t “cured” of their sexual difference – it didn’t seem to matter – but rather that they were accepted and welcomed and loved by God and by the Church.

 

I hope this good news of God’s radical hospitality and inclusion sends you on your way rejoicing – for yourself, if you’ve ever been shamed and shunned because of who you are; and for someone you know and love who may still suffer from that trauma.

 

 

And then there’s the third category of eunuchs that Jesus gives us: those who make themselves so for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.

 

This third category has long been interpreted to establish and buttress the tradition of celibacy for monastics and clerics – the notion that one can’t at the same time focus on God and on sex. In our tradition, for non-monastics, celibacy is recognized as a particular calling that one may have, but since the reformation of the sixteenth century it is no longer a requirement. Most of us manage to walk and chew gum at the same time – though sometimes I stumble, and double-mint sticks to my dental plate.

 

There is a tradition, now debunked, that the early Church theologian Origen of Alexandria took Jesus’ third category of eunuch into his own hands, as it were, and castrated himself. Origen himself never mentions having done this, and the account is seen as slander by his opponents.

 

It's unlikely that Jesus meant some are to make themselves physical eunuchs, much in the same way that his admonition to pluck out a wandering eye or sever a sinful limb is parabolic hyperbole meant to make us think about our actions.

 

Jesus does more reliably use the parabolic image of pruning, of cutting back what’s dead and dry to encourage fresh, new growth and abundant fruit. Arborists and vintners and gardeners of all kinds do this to their plants.

 

Jesus knows that there are some things that we need to change about ourselves in order to grow.

 

Each of us have branches in need of pruning. Some of our branches may once have been productive, but are no longer – a practice that’s gone stale; or a job that’s become soul-sucking; or a friendship that’s become toxic. Left on their own to run wild, examples such as these compromise that within us which remains vibrant. Let God the vine-grower prune these dying branches, even though the pruned edge might hurt while you wait for new growth.

 

Others of our branches are never any good in the first place. Sin of all kinds, such as bigotry and prejudice and the tangle of “isms” that cause us to think less of others – and, in truth, think less of ourselves – these branches bear bitter fruit and sour wine. Let God the vine-grower cut these away and cart them off to the brush-pile. If you need help letting God work on you, come see me. Confession is good for the soul.

 

 

All of this, of course, serves God’s greater purpose. You see, God is love. That’s the plainest, purest, simplest definition of God. God is other things, too, as best as we mortals can define God: God is compassion, and mercy, and justice, and peace – think of most any good and holy attribute, take it to an infinite degree, and you’re likely safe attaching it to God. But all those attributes, at their core, are love.

 

It's a lofty word, love. When we apply it to God, we mean an unconditional love, ceaseless, compelling, and eternal that none of us can approach, let alone attain, without God. “We love,” the evangelist writes, “because God first loved us.”

 

Saint John really, really, really! wants us to know this. He uses a form of the word “love” twenty-nine times in today’s second reading.

 

“God is love,” John writes again, “and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them.”

 

There’s another lovely word – abide. I’m so glad our translation kept it from the King James Version. Other translators haven’t, and while their sense is the same, they miss the gentle constancy of that archaic word.

 

“Abide” shows up fourteen times between the epistle and the gospel, both written in the Johannine body of work – the same school, if you will, though perhaps not the same writer.

 

God doesn’t want to love us from afar. God desires an intimacy with us that comes from being close, present; breathing the same air and sharing the same space.

 

The Lord abides.

 

The Lord abides from the beginning – ever since God walked in the cool of the evening, looking for our first parents in the garden God made to share with them.

 

The Lord abides when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us – pitched a tent in the person of Jesus.

 

The Lord abides in the waters of baptism, bestowing the same Spirit on us that fell upon and filled the rejoicing Ethiopian.

 

The Lord abides in simple, earthy elements of bread and wine; gifts made holy, given and shared from this altar.

 

The Lord abides whenever we take the risk to love another as God loves us.

 

And yes, sometimes we may feel that the abiding Lord has gone missing from us – even though God remains under the same roof and we, like a sleep-walker, find ourselves in a room down the hall through no fault of our own.  


I suspect the ache we feel when we miss the abiding Lord mirrors the ache God feels when we, in a huff, storm off to our own room and slam the door.

 

Even then, the Lord abides.

 

That is God’s nature, God’s purpose – to abide with us and to love us. For God, they’re one in the same. God can no more love us from a distance then God can abide with us in hate.

 

That’s the nature and purpose God desires for us – to abide with and to love God, and do the same with one another.

 

When we do, God, and us, and all of creation will continue on our way, rejoicing. May it be so.

 

Alleluia! Christ is risen!

The Lord is risen indeed! Alleluia!

 

 

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