What’s to Stop You?

#SundayCoffee A thought on this week’s lectionary reading.
“What is to stop me …?”

An interesting question posed by an African eunuch on his way back home from worshipping in the Temple in Jerusalem.

This week, churches around the world will be preaching about Philip, a leader in the early church, and the Ethiopian eunuch. And many will be sensitive to radical implications inherent in the story: a foreigner, a sexual-minority, someone “unclean” who would be rejected at the Temple, but welcomed into the new Christian faith. This same person, after likely having been challenged in certain Temple precincts, forbidden entry, nonetheless persists in their pursuit of God.

The eunuch, according to holy law, because of their physical condition, was banned from the Holy Place. And this must have wounded them deeply: rejected, turned away by the “gatekeepers of God.” Told they were not good enough. Not worthy. “Unclean.” Yet there they were, even on their way home, reading from holy texts, questioning, seeking, hungry. Persisting.

And it is in that state that Philip meets them, directed, we are told, by the Holy Spirit. No chance encounter. The God whom the eunuch was seeking saw their heart, heard their prayer, and sent someone to guide them. And after Philip explains the religious text they were reading, pointing them in the direction of this new faith, the eunuch stops the chariot alongside some water and asks that question.

“What is to stop me from being baptized?”

This government official, considered by religious society as neither male nor female, not completely whole by their definition, had been stopped at the holy precincts in Jerusalem. Their spiritual pursuit had been interrupted by other humans who acted as holy gatekeepers. But here, who was going to stop them? Who would prevent them from their spiritual quest? Philip, led by the Holy Spirit, could only answer “no one. This is why we’re here.”

This resonates strongly with me today. So many people I know these days are on their own spiritual quests. And so many — for whatever reason — are turned away by the gatekeepers, the guardians of orthodoxy, holders of the “right answers,” keepers of the “true faith.” They are looking for deeper answers to the universal questions than stale tradition can provide. Those gatekeepers who block the way, who frown on questions, actually do not have the answers and cannot guide the way to a fresher, bigger vision of God because they’ve never experienced it themselves. But questions threaten the established order, the orthodoxy.

It takes courage to pursue your questions, to no longer be satisfied with standard answers. I believe God is waving you on. Out of the predefined, one-size-fits-all boxes. People who feel threatened by unorthodox views will try to block the gate, try to say you’re straying from the flock. You are. Keep going. Because I believe God is leading people across your path, like Philip, who may not have all the answers you need but who will share with you what they’ve discovered.

I am encouraged by the boldness of the eunuch’s challenge after facing one no after another. “What is to stop me?” I believe God is answering: “Nothing, no one. Keep going.”

ref: Acts 8:26-40