Discipleship: Helping make new starts for those who are excluded

Acts 8: 26-40
One of the most familiar stories in the gospel of Luke
is that of the two people on the road to Emmaus,
where people in grief are met by an unknown person
and then as they practice the element of hospitality together
they experience the reality that the risen Christ is among them

In that story, the sacrament just happens in the middle of ordinary sharing
and they are moved beyond their grief to a new way of seeing God¹s living.

Luke goes on in his second volume of work ­ the book we call Acts.
And in much of it there are parallels with stories from his gospel.
As we looked at a couple of weeks back ­
discipleship is about continuing the work of Jesus.

And one of the parallel stories is the one from today ­ Philip & the
Ethiopian eunuch.
Philip is narrated in the story, continuing the work of Jesus
The Ethiopian parallels the two travellers
and again the story concludes with a sacramental act (this time baptism)

But while the Emmaus story brought a sense of healing in a time of grief
the story in Acts is about integration into a community for those who are
excluded.

This week I had the opportunity to bring a reflection on ­ or a response to the ACT Budget delivered on Tuesday
and I was asked specifically to bring the response from the way that the
budget would impact (or fail to impact) the lives of people living in disadvantage.
Another term used in Government these days is ‘Social Exclusion’.
It¹s a broader term than poverty or disadvantage.
And it is something that the church should be a bit of an expert on

Because discipleship is about enabling new starts for people who are
excluded.
This Acts passage is one of (many) illustrations
that that is part of the ongoing work of Jesus we are called to fulfil.

The full text of my response is on the Kippax website
but it was a faith response in my opinion that called on the ACT Government
to consider that while we have to be mindful of the difficult circumstances
of the GFC
we have to be more mindful of the difficult circumstances
of people living in disadvantage and social exclusion

The Acts passage has Philip, guided by the spirit of God,
in a place where someone is really aware of the fact that he doesn¹t fit in
in fact, more than he doesn¹t ³fit in² ­ he is specifically barred from
fitting in.

Deuteronomy specifically bars eunuchs from participating fully in the
worship of God.

So if he is now on the way back to his home country, after a journey to the
Temple, he is heading back with the experience of exclusion firmly planted in his
mind – a reminder that he really isn¹t fully accepted.

And as he spends time with the book of Isaiah
he is surrounding himself with passages that speak of abandonment,
humiliation, justice being denied to him.
This is speaking language that he can relate to, even if not fully
understand

So the conversation with Philip and the eunuch goes on
until the question ³What is there to prevent me being baptised?²
What is to prevent me from being fully welcomed into this community
Now that¹s a loaded and pointed question isn¹t it

Philip could say ­ ‘Deuteronomy’
Philip could say ‘I don’t think you’ve got the knowledge and confession
right yet
(in fact v 38 was added in much later by some editor who didn’t think
there was enough in the text about “believing in the Lord Jesus Christ”
But Philip’s answer is earth-shattering: Nothing!!

What is to prevent you?
What is to prevent – well, who are the eunuchs these days?
who are those who get excluded for looks, for history, for
lifestyle, for status?

Nothing. At least in theory!! But how do we deal with the practice

You see the mats and things here in the auditorium?
That¹s a deliberate step because some of the younger families here were
finding
that there seemed to be a barrier they were coming up against
and they weren¹t feeling welcome, hospitality and inclusion
in worship as much as they were hoping. We needed to do something to
change that

In June, we will be changing our worship times for 3 months
because the cold makes it difficult for some members of our community
to get to worship on a Sunday morning for 8.30am. We need to do something
about that.

They are both pretty easy steps aren’t they? But important ones.

Soon, by God’s stunning grace and generosity,
we will be starting the Newpin program here on a couple of days each week.
The first sign we will see is that there will be a few changes with
furniture
as we get a few rooms ready to offer welcome and hospitality.

Newpin is for families who are struggling, and for whom parenting is very
difficult.
And that’s a sort of household that doesn’t get welcomed easily.
Self confidence can be pretty shot.
And therefore they are an easy and soft target. Tuts, and sighs about bad
parents!

What is to prevent them being part of our family? Our community?

We have felt God’s call to make it real to them that there is nothing
that should be stopping them being fully integrated into our community.
Nothing.

Discipleship is about making ourselves available to God
so that people who are excluded for whatever reason
can make new starts.

By God’s grace
that includes the fact that we have been welcomed in to God’s community:
no questions asked.

By God’s grace we are called and enabled to do the same for others.

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