Black Queer Baptism [Sermon]

Companies sometimes have sweepstakes in which you can win a prize. They once required mail-in entries, but these days they often prefer entering online, where they can get your address, phone umber, and email address, along with you proving you’re not a robot and checking a box agreeing to contest rules.

And the contest rules often include eligibility requirements, like these from GasMonkey Garage of Dallas Texas:

i) legal permanent United States residents of the forty-eight (48) contiguous United States and the District of Columbia who are at least eighteen (18) years of age or older or nineteen (19) in Alabama and Nebraska and twenty-one (21) in Mississippi, or
ii) a legal resident of Canada (excluding residents of the province of Quebec) who are at least the age of majority in his/her province or territory of residence as of the date of entry (the “Entrant”).

Current and past employees, officers and directors of Gas Monkey Garage (the “Sponsor”) and each of its subsidiaries and affiliates, distributors, vendors, advertising/promotion agencies, and any others engaged in the development, production, execution or distribution of the Sweepstakes, including, but not limited to, National Sweepstakes Company, LLC (the “Independent Administrator”) (collectively referred to herein as “Sweepstakes Entities”) as well as their immediate family members (spouses, siblings, children and parents, regardless of where they live) or members of the same households (whether related or not) of such employees, officers and directors are not eligible to participate.

All federal, state and local laws and regulations apply. Sweepstakes is void in Quebec, outside of the forty-eight (48) contiguous United States, the District of Columbia, Canada and wherever else prohibited or restricted by law.

Do you qualify?

Let’s go to God in prayer.
God of wisdom, may the words that I speak, and the ways they are received by each of our hearts and minds, help us to continue to grow into the people, and the church, that you have dreamed us to be.

I’m going to put my foot in it this morning and ask the rhetorical question:
“Who can be baptized?”

In the United Church of Christ, we will baptize infants. We really don’t know what they believe. May of them can’t say anything recognizable.

In the Disciples of Christ, we practice a believer’s baptism. That means someone has to believe in Jesus, though there are no specific tests of faith, and they must desire to be baptized.

But throughout the wider church there are, and have been, limitations on who may be baptized.

Could indigenous people be baptized?
It depended on who was asking and who was being asked. Sometimes this seemed easy, sometimes it required giving up one’s entire culture, and sometimes it was done by coercion and force.

Could slaves be baptized?
If slaves were held as livestock, it would make as little sense as baptizing horses.

Can Chinese and Japanese people be baptized?

What about divorced people?

Unmarried people living together?

Gay people?

Trans people?

In our reading today, Philip is sent to a wilderness road between Jerusalem and Gaza.

Yes, that Gaza, the one in the news that is under brutal attack by Israel in response to a brutal attack by Hamas.

And he encounters a royal official who is returning home from worshiping in Jerusalem. This person is high-ranking, entrusted with an entire treasury.

And this official is reading Isaiah.

Philip joins this official and tells him about Jesus in a chariot ride. It could not have been a long ride, as there was no time of rest for those horse or horses.

But during this ride, which was certainly less time than it takes to get a seminary degree, they come upon some water, and the official asks

“Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

What, indeed, might prevent this official from being baptized?

If he came to Jerusalem to worship, he was probably of the Jewish faith, as were most of the followers of Jesus.

He was from Ethiopia, so his skin tone was probably darker than mine, although Ethiopian skin tone varies widely.

And in Ethiopia, people do not usually identify as Black, rather, they identify as Ethiopian.

But here in the USA, historically they might not be welcome in some churches as being black.

And there was another issue: this person was a eunuch.
It’s in the book.

Jewish law has some strict regulations about who can enter various parts of the temple, and one of the restrictions is about a man having his genitals intact.

Clearly this official did not meet those standards.

These days there is a lot of concern about transgender people. Some churches are taking up the issue as some grave danger. I doubt they would baptize a transgender person, unless of course they transitioned back to their sex assigned at birth.

In the sermon title I used the word “Queer.”

It’s a word that has been used to demean sexual and gender minorities, but it is being reclaimed by the same minorities.

It is sometimes used as an umbrella term to include gay, bisexual, asexual, trans, non-binary, and other people who do not exactly fall into the default cisgender, heterosexual default.

We don’t know about the official’s gender identity or sexual orientation. But as a eunuch, it was not the default. And he asked,
“What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

He was there.
Philip was there.
Water was there.

That was all that was needed. There was nothing to prevent him from being baptized.

It’s in the book.

So when we claim to be open and affirming, this is what it means: to throw out a lot of those eligibility requirements and recognize that every human is welcome and affirmed, so that No matter who WE are, or where WE are on life’s journey, WE are welcome here at United Congregational Christian Church.

My challenge this week is for us to think about just how broad that welcome is.


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