Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Part 6 GLBT The Church, 2012 Double Standards

The church in general and the SA in particular (at least for the moment) in the aftermath of the Eyewitness News program “Cold Facts” – followed closely in FSAOF blog) is under constant attack from the public where the Church is called to account for the prevailing double standards and selective biblical adherence.

There are several issues where the various Christian communities need to consider why we deny gay people the warm acceptance that we willingly give to other people who violate the expectations of purity in many different ways.

Divorce: One of the clearest examples of selective biblical faith must surely be divorce. Moses’ laws accepts divorce in certain cases (Mark 10.2-12), but in the same text Jesus raises the bar and condemned divorce and remarriage declaring its unfaithfulness. Here is a clear case of a chosen lifestyle that goes against the Bible’s word (instructions). Despite this, the Church has long blessed serial-monogamy (multi-marriages), and both welcomed and ordained people who clearly live outside what the Bible prescribes.

Female priests: When Paul writes that the woman should be silent in church (1 Cor 14:34) and that women are not allowed to teach men (1 Tim 2:12) he provides an exegetical interpretation where one willingly accepts the weight provided by the historical perspective and with pleasure adds the weight of Jesus' positive attitude toward women (especially as he is portrayed in Luke). This, in spite of the Bible’s clear words and the Church's historic attitude toward women. The modern church says that the original human dignity, human beings created in God's image, outweighs Paul's admonition to the women of Corinth. I believe it is important to understand that from a historical perspective, it is just as unthinkable to have a female priest as a gay priest.

Extramarital sex, remarriage and cohabitation: On these issues the church stands on rather a weak biblical foundation. It is clear that Paul takes a strong stand against promiscuity. From a biblical perspective sex (sexually activity) at home within marriage has no place, rather it is sex that confirms and shapes/forms marriage. Promiscuity must therefore be equated with ‘multi-marriage’ and cohabitation must be likened to marriage from a biblical perspective, which also means that to end and move away from each other must be equated with divorce. Only if we see the world from an informed perspective based in the Word, can we act correctly in pastoral roles. In other words, if cohabitation (a sexually active relationship) can be considered marriage as the ‘fellowship’ may encourage fidelity and eventually formalize a regulation defining the relationship. (marriage). On the issue of promiscuity one can then, also on Biblical grounds, argue that Paul advises against such a lifestyle (be it homosexual or heterosexual) although the Bible on the whole does not actually condemn polygamy.

Sex during menstruation: I do not know of a single church where this is spoken about, thought it is part of the same Moses’ law that ‘reliably’ dictated existing same-sex relationships. The usual rationalization is that one does not meddle in ‘what happens in the privacy of the bedroom of married couples’; perhaps this attitude should also include GLBT persons.

Pork: the list of Old Testament legislation that Christians generally ignore is long but significantly it may well be that just the (traditional Swedish) Christmas baked ham and hot dogs fall on the list of things which the Lord declares detestable the (tuevah) of Moses. Paul explains clearly in Galatians and insists that compliance with a small portion of the demands complying with the law in its entirety.

Perhaps it is true that if the church continued to say that it is inappropriate for a GLBT person to become a member (or leader, or as in the case of the Salvation Army, a soldier), we have to revisit some of these issues. Because there is a host of other offenses that our congregations clearly approve of, by not distancing itself from it and sometimes even encourages (‘chances’ and lottery in the church, overweight/obesity, judgmental of other people, etc.). I still wonder when the last person was denied leadership or membership based on their greed, inhospitality, divorce / remarriage, or because they eat too many biscuits with their coffee (gluttony)?

If the Salvation Army (to direct the spotlight on the faith community I am a member of) continued to announce that the great soldier's landscape is a lifestyle choice that aims at sanctification, and if you mean by sanctification following a regulations of conduct, should corps not treat all violations against these regulations in the same fashion?

If we choose to discriminate against certain behaviors and rule violations, but look the other way with respect to other behaviors and rule violations, we as a faith community make ourselves guilty of a double standard, that which "Eyewitness News" and part of the public have accused us of.

Though it is clear, the path through the catalog of sins is a path which the Church has tried before with mixed success. Maybe it's time to consider the way of grace. Where we, together with Paul brings to us the freedom message that Jesus preached. Where we recognize that the church is not a club for saints but a healing place for sinners, and when I say sinners, I mean all people. Is it not so that we all miss the target, not only sexually but also outside the bed room. Let us stop being hypocritical and admit that we have not figured this out, trying to live a life of holiness, that it is not only about denying oneself certain behaviors, but instead it is about how we love God and how we love our neighbor. Therefore, we are a church fellowship, seeking to learn how we (one) live a life (enfolded) in love.

I believe that from a secular perspective, a church with that attitude is not only accepted but will be invited to actively participate in the public debate.

Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Monday, January 30, 2012

GLBT Part 5 – Jesus; BIBLE, CHURCH (Swedish LGBTQ)

After a review of the scriptures that have traditionally been used to describe and condemn homosexual acts, it’s deemed important to consider Jesus’ awkward silence on the issue. It is not unimportant to note that Jesus did not speak out on this issue. Jesus is the head of the Church and the individual disciples’ headmaster. (Lead teacher) Therefore, a credible perspective of Jesus must put forward before we can take a position on any issue from the church’s side.

There are many who interpret Jesus' silence on this issue as acceptance and even a blessing of GLBT people. There is a mistaken exegesis of the biblical texts, to argue that silence on an issue is equal to a positive attitude towards the (same) issue. In the same way as it is faulty exegesis to argue from the opposite position.

John D. Caputo* argues that, if Jesus’ view was separated from the prevailing Jewish attitude on the issue, it would have stood with the Gospel and believes in the same breath that, Jesus’ views were in line with Moses’ and the view later expressed by Paul and other New Testament Bible writers.

Further, John D. Caputo argues that, if Jesus knew what we know today, if Jesus were able to participate in our contemporary debate on this issue, were divided by the prevailing Jewish attitude on the issue, it would have stood with the Gospel and believed in the same breath that Jesus’ views were in line with Moses and the view later expressed by Paul and other New Testament Bible writers.

However, Caputo's argument that, if Jesus knew what we know today, if Jesus was able to take part in today's debate on this issue Jesus would probably been on the side of the outcast and marginalized. (Caputo, 2007:108 f). Because, even if Jesus did not voice an opinion on the issue of men who have sex with men, Jesus’ commitment to the weak and the outcast is clear. Again and again Jesus sides with those who are not allowed to participate in and who are excluded from the religious community.

Even in our Swedish, tolerant society GLBT people are still ‘outcasts’. In spite of the media’s onslaught, and the mindset that it’s PC (politically correct) to be pro GLBT, Sweden still remains a hetero normal society. Moreover, one can argue that tolerance, even if it is a step in the right direction, is not equality or particularly loving.

Consider the following statement:

"It's fine with me that you are gay, I've actually got several friends who are gay, and I think it is ok. Although I would never dream of being one myself, but I have no problem with you being gay "

This is the language of tolerance (ed. Not acceptance or inclusivity). It is clear that those who tolerate consider themselves to be better or at least more correct (righteous) than the one that is tolerated or who tolerates sufferance conditions. The person who tolerates seems to have adopted the idea that he or she has the right to decide what is ok or not. If we seek to be more like Jesus, we must be more than tolerant: we must be inclusive and loving.

It is likely that the man who commanded the disciples to love one another (John 15:17) would question the contemporary church for its exclusivity and demeaning attitude towards GLBT people, at the same time as the church willingly fails to pay attention to obvious and frequent sins such as greed, lust, pettiness, gluttony, idolatry, envy, slander, pride, etc.

Perhaps it is precisely here that one must take into account some well-known interpretation of biblical principles. With only a half dozen verses that even refer to the key issue, and with only a few of them, on closer examination, can be said to relate to same sex sexuality, and with none of the verses speaking of committed loving relationships. This is set against the hundreds of verses that tell us not to hate, not to condemn and not to oppress.

Perhaps it is here we must let the central scriptures explain peripheral or difficult to interpret scripture. Perhaps, Jesus words "love one another), or Paul's words," because there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female "be allowed to control the debate, perhaps we need to let the virtue theory (Childress et al. 1967: 648) to control (dictate) in this matter and therefore consider if love is indeed not the greatest virtue, and therefore consider whether the commandment of love outweighs the handful of verses that we normally refer to in conjunction with this issue.

* John D. Caputo is the Thomas J. Watson Professor of Religion Emeritus at Syracuse University and the David R. Cook Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Villanova University and the founder of weak theology

Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Saturday, January 28, 2012

HBTQ (GLBT) Part 4 2012 BIBLE, CHURCH, Grumblings, LGBTQ

Of course, one must carefully consider the scripture portions that deal with homosexuality. It may be interesting to take into account the fact that there are six Bible verses (three OT and three NT) and two Old Testament stories traditionally associated with homosexuality. 

Set this against the more than 600 Bible verses that talk about greed, one can imagine that the number of words / hours spent on these issues are largely disproportionate to how much weight the biblical witnesses (authors) have given to this particular question. In English we call these Bible verses "the clobber verses", because it is these scripture verses that are often used to silence, or in retorting people with a LGBTQ (GLBT) orientation. However, upon closer examination one can rightly question whether these verses really deal with homosexuality in the same way that we view (perceive) homosexuality today. 

It may be helpful to pose the question before one turns to the Bible. Can the text of the Bible speak of a reality that must have been alien to the contemporary culture at the time of writing and ultimately foreign to the biblical authors themselves? Historically, there appears to be no evidence that they had any knowledge of sexual orientation as a congenital condition or that they had knowledge of giving over to intimate loving homosexual relationships. 

In the Old Testament we find a few stories that have traditionally been cited in the gay debate. The most famous of these stories is the story of Sodom and Gomorrah: "Genesis 19:4-9  (NIV)

4 Before they had gone to bed, all the men from every part of the city of Sodom—both young and old—surrounded the house. 5 They called to Lot, “Where are the men who came to you tonight? Bring them out to us so that we can have sex with them.” 6 Lot went outside to meet them and shut the door behind him 7 and said, “No, my friends. Don’t do this wicked thing. 8 Look, I have two daughters who have never slept with a man. Let me bring them out to you, and you can do what you like with them. But don’t do anything to these men, for they have come under the protection of my roof.” 9 “Get out of our way,” they replied. “This fellow came here as a foreigner, and now he wants to play the judge! We’ll treat you worse than them.” 

They kept bringing pressure on Lot and moved forward to break down the door.

What should be obvious after only a superficial reading of this text is that it is not about gay men, but rather, all of the city’s men who gather outside Lot's door (it seems unlikely that all the inhabitants of Sodom, both young and old would be gay). It is also clear that this is not a comment on giving themselves over to loving relationships, but rather, it speaks of sexual abuse; rape and assault. What is even more interesting is that if we search through the rest of the Bible, if the text referenced homosexuality, we’d find more references to Sodom’s sin defined as homosexuality or sexual sins. Instead, one finds that most biblical texts that refer to Sodom and Gomorrah, list the city’s sin as xenophobia, inhospitality, idolatry, greed and oppression of the poor. (eg, Jeremiah 23:14, Luke 10:12). 

Svartvik believes that the story of Sodom is a story that encourages hospitality rather than one that warns of the dangers of homosexuality. (Svartvik 2006). (Prof. Jesper Svartvik is Krister Stendahl Professor of Theology of Religions at Lund University and at the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem. He is also a member of the Peer Review Board of Studies in Christian-Jewish Relations) 

Further, Svartvik believes that the story has parallels with the legend of Procrustes (Προκρούστης or "the stretcher who hammers out the metal") which is about a man who changed his house guests’ height in order that they fit the beds in their guest rooms. A ‘come as you are and become like us’ philosophy. Perhaps it is the churches who have committed sodomy more so than LGBTQ persons. Nonetheless, it is the city of Sodom’s name that has become synonymous with homosexuality.

In Judges (chapters 19-22), we find one of the Old Testament's most macabre tales, but again, even here we cannot conclude that this is about a deep, and heartfelt homosexual relationships, but once again, rape and assault. Judges 19:22-26 (NIV) 22

While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” 23 The owner of the house went outside and said to them, “No, my friends, don’t be so vile. Since this man is my guest, don’t do this outrageous thing. 24 Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But as for this man, don’t do such an outrageous thing.” 25 But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. 26 At daybreak the woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until daylight. 

The next stop is Deuteronomy in which the following verse was presented as a text that condemns homosexual behavior, however, the translation of the Bible in 2000 states that this is all about male and female temple prostitution. Deuteronomy 23:17-18 (NIV)

17 No Israelite man or woman is to become a shrine prostitute. 18 You must not bring the earnings of a female prostitute or of a male prostitute[a] into the house of the LORD your God to pay any vow, because the LORD your God detests them both.  

The reason that this text is used is that the word sodomite is used in the text. (The double reference to male and female shrine prostitutes (Deut. 23:17-18) tends to reinforce a reference to sodomy) There are two important observations to make here: first of all, one could read this to mean that the law of Moses and Paul speak of heterosexual men and women engaged in homosexual acts and from this perspective recognize this as disgusting and unnatural. 

In the text from Romans one can choose to read it as: Heterosexual men abandoned their natural intercourse with women, and began unnatural homosexual relationships with other men. One can of course also read this text as Paul saying that homosexuality is unnatural, but then we assume that Paul had knowledge (awareness) of something that was not documented until 1896 in the Journal of the History of Ideas. 

On the other hand, one could draw the conclusion that there is a deeper perspective, based on contemporary gender perspective. Svartvik believes that at the time these texts were written, there was only one (recognized) sex: the male. One was either a man or a partial one (woman). Sexual acts defined in this way who was the man. Anyone who penetrates the male and the person being penetrated is female or a type subordinate. Thus, it is unnatural for a man to submit to another man sexually (Svartvik, 2006: 293f) This means that it is not the sex act that is unnatural, but rather that a man submits to another man (as a woman in accordance with prevailing social structure should be doing). If one chooses to read from this perspective, then one must consider all the arguments used in the debate relative to women's rights. 

The second observation is that Moses terms just this an abominable sin (the Hebrew word is tuevah mainly connected with impurity and idolatry). Furthermore, one finds the following two verses in the New Testament where the Greek word used is arsenokoites which literally means men who have sex. It is not entirely clear (as is the case with all the compound words) that it means men who sleep with men, but assume that this is so because it seems to be an allusion to the text in Leviticus that appears to be the same in the Greek Septuagint:

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NIV)

Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 1 Timothy 1:10 of(NIV)…for the sexually immoral, for those practicing homosexuality [arsenokoites], for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine.

Whatever the words’ historic importance (to keep the text short, the problem compound words are omitted) the text is clear enough for us to understand that what is described here is not an intimate, loving, and committed relationship between two people of the same the sex.

Furthermore, we have the three Bible verses that obviously refer to homosexuality; two from Moses, and one from Paul's letter to the Romans.

"Do not have sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman; that is detestable." (Lev 18:22)

“If a man has sexual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death; their blood will be on their own heads."(Lev 20:13)
Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural sexual relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed shameful acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their error.‘ (Rom 1:26–27)
There are two important observations to make here: first, one could read this to mean that Moses and Paul speak of heterosexual men and women engaged in homosexual acts and from this perspective maintain that this is disgusting and unnatural. In the text from Romans one can choose to read (just) that: Heterosexual men abandoned their natural intercourse with women, and started unnatural homosexual relationships with other men. Of course one can also read this text as Paul saying that homosexuality is unnatural, but then we must incorrectly assume that Paul was aware of something that is was not documented until the 1896 History of Ideas.

On the other hand, one could conclude that there is a deeper perspective, based on contemporary gender perspective. Svartvik believe that at the time these texts were written, there was only one sex: the male. One was either a man or a partial man (woman). The sexual act defined who was the man. Anyone who penetrates is a male and the person being penetrated is a subordinate. Thus, it is unnatural for a man to submit to another man sexually (Svartvik, 2006: 293f)

This means that it is not the sex act that is unnatural, but rather, if a man submits to another man (as a woman in the prevailing social structure should be doing). If you choose to read from this perspective, one must consider all the arguments used in the debate on women's rights.

The second observation is that the laws of Moses terms just this sin as abominable (the Hebrew word is tuevah mainly in linked with impurity and idolatry). In our contemporary church this is often taught as a declaration that homosexuality is a especially reprehensible sin. It may be worthwhile then to add the example; A woman who wears trousers (5 Ex. 22.5) or a man who eats pork (Isaiah 66.7) is also disgusting (tuevah) before the Lord.

According to theologian Jesper Svartvik  "the act described in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 an 'abomination', in the same way as any celebration serving crayfish and or an eel feast. (Svartvik, 2006:298)

There is, of course, much more to say on the subject of a biblical view of homosexuality, it is however, clear from a biblical perspective that:

1. It is a not an equally important issue compared to oppression, greed and idolatry.
2. The most often referenced in the text of the Bible is violent behavior, promiscuous behavior, or pederasty (Older men who exploit young boys), with which the Bible distances itself.

3. The prevailing sexual views was not about biology, but gender (Svartvik 2006:294) and was meant to support the social structure.

4. There is no historical or biblical evidence that the Bible’s authors had an concept that there were people with different innate sexual orientation (although theologian NT Wright argues for such a knowledge-based references to Homer, there are also those who believe that people born gay were classified as eunucks), but without a condemning with one voice they acting against their sexual nature. Therefore it seems important to agree with KG Hammar, who writes: The Bible condemns the promiscuous homosexual relationships the same way that the Bible condemns the promiscuous heterosexual relationships. The Bible also condemns in all situations, sexual violence, oppression and acts motivated by hate, anger and fear. This is by no means convincing evidence in order to abandon his conviction that the Bible condemns homosexuality. However, it should provide enough information for the believing/acknowledged Christian to take the issue seriously and seek God's guidance on how one should or should not behave towards LGBT people and that the attitude of the church should be in question.

Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Thursday, January 26, 2012

LGBTQ and Science Part 3

Part 3 -2012

LGBTQ and Science

Before moving to and delving into the depth of the biblical text, we might want to look at what science has to say on the GLBT issue, primarily to clarify the position (starting point) on which the following texts are based.

An entire dissertation could be written on what science has to say about homosexuality to date, and naturally this has already been done. The intent is not, in this brief, to provide a full account of what science has learned about LGBTQ people, but rather to provide an overview of what appears to be the view held by the scientific communities regarding LGBTQ issues. This, of course, barely scratches the surface of the endless amount of research conducted on these issues.

Homosexuality is romantic and/or sexual attraction behavior between persons of the same sex. Homosexuality is one of the three principal categories of sexual orientation one finds on a continuous scale between homosexual and heterosexual orientation (Wikipedia, 2011 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homosexuality). Most probably it would be more accurate to talk about homosexuality, bisexuality and heterosexuality to demonstrate that there is a varying measured degree, rather than three homogeneous systems (Wink et al, 1999: 63). 

The primary debate has been between the liberal view that homosexuality is something one is born with and the conservative view that it is a chosen lifestyle. And each side has sought to obtain scientific evidence; the conservatives have relied on psychology to demonstrate that gay behavior is conditioned by one’s environment and upbringing, but to this end they have not been able to provide any convincing evidence. Behavior scientists have, however, been able to demonstrate that there are not any indications whatsoever that upbringing and environment affect sexual orientation.
At the other end of the scientific spectrum they have sought to demonstrate (identify) a gay gene that determines one’s sexual orientation. However, here again, no one can provide such evidence and have so far only been able to demonstrate (confirm) that there is no such gene (Marin, 2009: 75F). What science appears to demonstrate so far is that sexual orientation is determined prenatally, i.e., before birth and it's not a conscious choice one makes.
Obviously this does not preclude/mean that there are people who choose a sexuality opposite what one is born with: there are both homosexuals and heterosexuals inside and outside the church who choose to live opposite their sexual orientation. Whether this is a healthy decision/choice is another issue, and one that will be discussed later in this blog series. 

Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

LGBTQ Part - 2 –

" We believe that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and that they only constitute the Divine rule of Christian faith and practice."

These are the opening words of the Salvation Army's eleven doctrines. And it is here that one must begin each theological discussion. But perhaps it is not enough to simply have the Bible as a starting point- it may not quite suffice - so perhaps we must first discuss, briefly, our hermeneutics (the study of the principles of interpretation) i.e. how we think and reason: what we believe in the Bible, what we believe about the Bible, how were the Bible’s authors inspired and how do these writings serve as our guide today.

The point is that there is a big difference between claiming that the biblical words were dictated to its authors and is therefore God's word that bridges cultural and linguistic differences between the original authors and the original recipient, and can without difficulty be read by a contemporary audience with complete comprehension and understanding; it is a whole different thing to claim that God spoke to Moses on Moses’ level and manner of expression, and Isaiah on Isaiah's level of reasoning and comprehension. Consequently, we must first understand what the Bible passage meant ‘then and there’, before we can apply the words to the ‘here and now’. Hermeneutics

The story of Philip in the Acts of the Apostles, Chapter Eight serves as an example. It is a rather banal story about a disciple who follows God's guidance in order to seek out someone yearning to know God and to help him repent. With a comprehension of the historical context and what a eunuch was (perceived to be) the story moves to a completely different depth and therefore a multitude of different interpretation possibilities surface.

Prior to confronting the GLBT issues from a spiritual, Christian or biblical perspective, one must first clarify a few foundational worldview questions.

The first bias that the author maintains in this blog series is that the literal reading of the words of the Bible is not just a faulty approach (methodology) in responding to a translation of an ancient document, but also an affront to both writers, readers (ancient and contemporary) and lastly against God, as one chooses (often unconsciously) not to take Scripture seriously, by reducing the text to its simplest literal interpretation.

Each reading of a biblical text is an interpretation of an interpretation, of an interpretation. Simply through the reading of a (Biblical) text we interpret and add meaning and emphasis due our body language, facial expressions, and choice of pericope (extract or selected text from the Bible) and intonation. If one then adds to the complexity of the original documents (are there any?) copying, language and culture shifts there remain a delicate and difficult (interpretation and comprehension) process that cannot be simplified, ignored or dismissed.

Does this mean that ordinary people should stop reading the Bible, that one cannot understand the Bible's message without a theological higher education? No, of course not. The Bible is God's inspired word and as such can be understood through the Holy Spirit and through the fellowship’s application and lives lived as instructed by the words of the Bible.

We have to, in our Bible reading, consider and weigh in (in line with John Wesley's model) our experience, church tradition and to the best of our ability, understand and reason about the text provided (us). 

In the Jewish tradition this process is called the Midrash (Wikipedia, 2011: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Midrash) an ongoing dialogue between Jewish Rabbis through the centuries in which Scripture is interpreted, reinterpreted and applied to the shifting cultural currents of the community. Midrash is the Jewish tool to manage overwhelming signs (occurrences), event chronology, parallel narratives (parallelism), language difficulties and text anomalies in the Hebrew texts that make a literal interpretation difficult or impossible.

Perhaps it is from this viewpoint (vantage point) one ought to approach and read this blog series: as a theological and philosophical discussion about interpreting difficult biblical problems, i.e., What does the Bible say about homosexuality, bisexuality, and transgender persons, albeit without having knowledge of what was meant (intended) at the time when the biblical texts were written. 

Lt. Patrik Olterman
Malmo, Sweden

Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

GLBT and The Salvation Army (Sweden)

It was an ordinary day (as if there are ordinary days for those who follow the Spirit’s leading), and the Holy Spirit tells Philip that he must go down to the desert road. There Philip is instructed to stay close to a chariot carrying an Ethiopian eunuch. “Go to that chariot and stay near it.” The eunuch was a believer and read aloud from the book of Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. The eunuch replied humbly that he needs guidance. Philip seizes the opportunity to tell the eunuch about Jesus and the good news. Then comes the question:  "There is water here. Is there anything to prevent my being baptized?

One might think that it's a simple question, a rather innocent question. But for Philip, it must have been an incredibly loaded question. As though it wasn’t enough that the man was a heathen (and Peter had not yet received his vision to preach to the Gentiles), but this man was also a eunuch (i.e. probably neutered in order to work for the Ethiopian queen without having to be mistrusted). Eunuchs were castrated in order to be entrusted with positions of trust, to among other things, serve the harem and queens but not be seduced by them.

According to the Law of Moses eunuchs were unclean and were not to put their foot in the Lord's sanctuary (Deuteronomy 23.1). The word used is ecclesia in the Septuagint (assembly), so it is quite clear that a eunuch was not welcome, not only in the physical temple, but also not in the Jewish community. A eunuch was a sexual deviant and pagan.

It was probably not an easy decision for Philip to baptize this man; what will the brothers in Jerusalem say? What are Peter and James going to say? But presumably it was the instructive voice of God and the Holy Spirit who convinced Philip to baptize this marginalized man. The reason why this story appears in the Acts of the Apostles is enough to give a glimpse of the outrageous inclusion of heathens, and other and marginalized people through all of the early history of the Christian church.

Translation: Dr. Sven Ljungholm

The Race of Your Life -2-

3     We Don’t Set The Course
The race we run in life is marked out by God.  It is not of our design.  We know this because there are times when  we each would rather the course be laid out differently.  With far less obstacles to have to jump over on the way!
And we don’t know how long the course we are running is – that is to know how many years we have, how long our journey will be.  We have no say in this!
We don’t know how many uphills, downhills, obstacles and detours it holds.  There could be illness, unemployment, redundancy, family crisis along the way.  And if we created a course of our own choosing then none of the these things would be in its design.

We don’t get to choose the course we take.  The days I cannot see have all been planned for me!  But know this – God promises not to make it more difficult than we can handle.  And never  forget point 1.  ‘We don’t run alone!’   Remember too that after every uphill there is a downhill.  The wind may be against you for  a while but at some point you will make turn and the wind will be at your back.  The sunshine always comes after the rain, accompanied by a rainbow.

4     We Should Never Give Up
‘Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us’  this race of life is no 100m dash.  Paul speaks of the need for perseverance.  For determination.  The ability to keep on going and not give in.  Cos you do feel that way at times don’t you – you sometimes get to the point in certain situations and you think why bother – what the point – just give up!

5.   Always Keep Your Eyes Fixed On Jesus
Hebrews 12:2 ‘fix your eyes on Jesus the author and perfector of our faith’  see how he did life and aspire with all there is within you to be like him.
Jesus is both the starting line and the finish line.  Life begins and ends in him.  It looked like the cross was going to be a defeat but Jesus understood better – the resurrection made it a victory.

If we run with faith the race marked out for us, if we don’t give up, never give in.  If we keep our focus on Christ in all we do we are all winners.
We don’t run alone, we don’t need any extra weight.  We don’t set the course we take.  We should never give in and we should always keep our eyes on Jesus – the beginning and the finisher of our faith.
Lets focus on him just now as we worship!
encouraging me along the way.  And fun runs really were more fun when friends took up the challenge beside me.

If we look at Hebrews 12 verse 1, Paul tells us ‘since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses.’  In the previous chapter he names some of them.  Great men and woman of faith who have started and completed their race.  Paul gets us to picture an Olympic stadium and he fills the grandstand with such people as  Moses and Rahab, Gideon and Samuel.    People who have run their race well and are such an inspiration for those now making their journey.

Who are the encouragers of our faith?  Who do we visualise as our ‘great cloud of witnesses’?   who do we look to for inspiration that spurs us on our way?
It’s important to remember that you do not run alone.