Here is our worship service for the 5th Sunday of Easter, May 2, 2021. The worship bulletin can be found here. The bulletin contains the full order of worship, all the words of the liturgy, the hymn and page numbers for the music, and the sermon manuscript. The sermon is also included below the video.
For the fuller worship experience, you can have some elements in your space: a bowl of water for the Thanksgiving for Baptism that you can interact with, something small to eat and drink for communion that can be consumed during the Lamb of God, and a candle that can stay lit for the duration of the service until the end when the candles in the church are extinguished. As always, these are all optional, but just meant to help you in your worship. Do whatever feels most comfortable to you.
And here is the video!
O God, may your Spirit lead us and guide us into relationship with you and each other, for the sake of the love you have for all the world through Jesus Christ. Amen.
So I’ve been having a pretty heavy couple of weeks. Yes, I technically didn’t have to preach or lead a service last week, but it was still me preaching and I still had to put the service together. As you know I was at that Study Conference that I mentioned a couple sermons ago now, which was about systemic racism and inclusion. And during the study conference we got news of the Derek Chauvin trials, and how almost immediately after a young black girl was fatally shot by the police. And as the week progressed there was even more news of racially charged violence. Then a few days later I attended another conference that was supposed to be about the words we use in liturgy, but it ended up being about the racial insensitivities found in some of our traditions and customs as a church.
So yeah, it’s been a heavy couple of weeks. And truth be told, it is a bit heavier if you’re the only Canadian born Asian male serving on the ELCIC roster. So heavy, in fact, that I almost didn’t thoroughly enjoy the series finale of Falcon and the Winter Soldier last week on Disney+. Almost, but not quite. I did enjoy it. Thoroughly.
If you haven’t heard about it, Falcon and the Winter Soldier is a TV series that follows the two characters from the movies, the Falcon Sam Wilson and the Winter Soldier James “Bucky” Barnes as they grapple with their identity past and present. Bucky had to deal with his guilt as a recently recovered brain washed assassin (yeah, I know), and Sam had to figure out how he can take up the mantle as the new Captain America.
You see, the symbol of Captain America is kind of a big deal… a big American deal…
…a big white American deal. And the previous and original Captain America was this tall, super muscular, blondish hair, and blueish eyed white man who stood for America’s ideals while hopped up on this fictional super soldier serum, which made him so tall and muscular. He was retiring because he aged 50-60 some odd years in an alternate reality (yeah I know), and he decided to give his iconic star and striped shield to Sam, an ordinary, ex-military, non-super-soldier-serum’ed black man. Sam now had to deal with the idea of taking up this mantle. He has to figure out what will happen if the people saw their hero as something that didn’t fit their expectation. He has to decide if the world is ready for a black Captain America.
Sigh. Even in my comic fantasy world, I’m not free from themes of systemic racism and prejudice. Don’t get me wrong, I still did thoroughly enjoy the series, it just continued to dig at this thing that has continued to bug me for a while now, so I just can’t seem to let it go. And I probably shouldn’t.
And then came the readings for this week. Interestingly enough, I was going to use this story out of Acts for my sermon at the Study Conference I told you about, but ultimately decided not to. I had no idea that it was coming up in the lectionary so soon. The Spirit really works, I guess. Anyway, I thought about using this story in that sermon almost two weeks ago because it shows us just how these racial tensions existed even in the ancient biblical world. And as it turns out, I can use this story in today’s sermon because it shows us just how these racial tensions existed even in the ancient biblical world. We might be familiar with it, Philip who is a famous leader of the Christian church and clearly of Jewish descent, happens to encounter this unnamed eunuch of Ethiopian descent.
Now, don’t ask me why the Ethiopian eunuch isn’t named but only labelled by his ethnicity and position. Perhaps it’s because his name is inconsequential to the point of retelling the story. Or maybe Philip never actually got his name, it was just one of those things where you meet somebody and chat with them to the point where it’s just going to be weird to ask what their name is, like that window for introductions had passed a few anecdotes ago. Or, and I think this could be the most likely, the author of Acts didn’t name him because they just wanted to point out how different this man is from Philip.
There is a stark contrast between an early Christian evangelist of Jewish descent and a royal eunuch of Ethiopian descent. Skin colour aside, there would be a difference in language, tradition, religious beliefs and practices, and of course social and economic class. These two were truly of different worlds. Of course, we’re reading this story out of the bible, so Philip automatically would be seen as the protagonist, which somehow in our minds (and perhaps in the minds of this story’s ancient readers) makes the Ethiopian the antagonist. We might not be comfortable in admitting that, but I do remember it explained to me that way in Sunday School when I was a kid. We’d call this a conversion experience, in how the good (i.e. Philip) went out and saved the bad (i.e. Ethiopian). That’s how these conversion stories work, right? Some sort of internal conflict? Some kind of struggle between good and evil? Some way that the “light” eventually overpowers the “dark”?
So no wonder that we’d see this story like that if we have been conditioned to frame it that way. Good vs. evil. Light vs. dark. White vs. black.
Many of us might be taken aback a bit, thinking oh no we never looked at it that way. And I admit that I haven’t either. But that is because most us with lighter skin, who likely equate ourselves with good, can make this narrative fit very easily with our already presupposed paradigms. But for those of us with darker skin, well that dichotomy is heard in a completely different way.
And so I have to look at this passage with different eyes. I try to do away with all the prejudices that I’ve learned as I was growing up. I deliberately and intentionally look for and attempt to erase the temptation to read from a point of view of the privileged, and allow the story to speak without hindrance or assumptions.
You know what I saw in this story? I saw two equals who love the same God but perhaps express it in different ways getting together to discuss and learn about their faith. I saw two people who couldn’t be more different spending time together for mutual learning and cross cultural relationship and respect building. I saw two diverse disciples sharing a God moment where both their eyes were opened to the Spirit working within them, revealing to them their connection to each other and to the true vine Jesus Christ our Lord.
And I can see this being us. Not that our congregation has any obvious conflict over our somewhat multiculturalism, but I can see society in general putting away all those things that divide us from them, and them from us. I can see our country that claims to be so welcoming and inclusive actually dismantling some of the systems that are put in place to specifically suppress and oppress those who don’t fit that privileged point of view. I can see our world and everyone in it having their eyes and ears opened by the love of God and recognizing how we are in fact equal in our humanity and welcome to be part of the one body of Christ through sharing and mutual respect.
In the finale of Falcon and Winter Soldier (spoiler alert), Sam gives this speech about his identity as a black man taking the name of Captain America and carrying the shield. In front of a lot of people, reporters, and cameras, he says, “even now, here, I feel it. The stares, the judgement, and there’s nothing I can do to change it. Yet I’m still here. No super serum, no blonde hair or blue eyes. The only power I have is that I believe we can do better.”
And we can do better. Not just for the sake of a fictional character with mechanical bird wings and nearly indestructible shield, but for the sake of our humanity, our siblings in Christ, this community in which we are called to love, called to serve, and called to be children of God. I know it can be uncomfortable, especially if you’re in a place of power right now, but this work is indicative of who we are as bearers of God’s gospel. I know that it can be difficult and maybe even humiliating in admitting how we’ve gained from all this privilege, but it is important that we go through these steps toward true peace for all people in all places. I know that it seems insurmountable, but it is imperative that we learn to see each other through God’s eyes, that regardless of difference in colour, culture, or creed, we can regard each other as lives that matter equally for the good of all.
As we continue through this season of Easter and new life, may we find it in us to start taking down the walls we have put up between us and those who aren’t us, that we by God’s grace might have the courage to invite others in and the boldness to venture out and love. Thanks be to God. Amen.