Readings and reflection from Sunshine Cathedral in Second Life Sunday, May 3, 2015 Easter V.
Visit us in Second Life, (http://www.secondlife.com) and search for Sunshine Cathedral.
The Call to Worship based on Psalm 22
We lift our voices in the congregation and make vows in the presence of those who worship God.
All: The poor shall be satisfied as those who seek God say, “May your heart live for ever!”
Everyone on the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord
All: For God is our only Sovereign
Even those who sleep in the earth bow down
All: Those who go down to the dust fall before the Eternal One.
My soul lives in God; my descendants will remember
All: They shall come and make known to a people yet unborn the saving deeds that God has done.
Loving Creator move our hearts so that we yearn to follow the example of your child Jesus. Fill us with compassion. Let our minds burn in the pursuit of justice for all. Cause us to be more concerned with this life than the next. Help us learn to love so that we can feel your love for us more fully. Amen
A reading from the wisdom of Maya Angelou
“It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.”
A reading from the wisdom of Desmond Tutu
“Isn’t it amazing that we are all made in God’s image, and yet there is so much diversity among [God’s] people.”
The Acts of the Apostles (8.26-31, 35-39)
An angel…spoke to Philip, “At noon, take the road that leads from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a desert road.) 27 So he did. Meanwhile, an Ethiopian man was on his way home from Jerusalem, where he had come to worship. He was a eunuch and an official responsible for the entire treasury of Candace. (Candace is the title given to the Ethiopian queen.) 28 He was reading the prophet Isaiah while sitting in his carriage.29 The Spirit told Philip, “Approach this carriage and stay with it.” 30 Running up to the carriage, Philip heard the man reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you really understand what you are reading?” 31 The man replied, “Without someone to guide me, how could I?” Then he invited Philip to climb up and sit with him.
35 Starting with [the] passage [the Ethiopian man had been reading], Philip proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him. 36 As they went down the road, they came to some water. The eunuch said, “Look! Water! What would keep me from being baptized?”38 He ordered that the carriage halt. Both Philip and the eunuch went down to the water, where Philip baptized him. 39 When they came up out of the water, the Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing.
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We have all watched in horror this week as demonstrations turned to riots in Baltimore and thousands are found dead next to the few miraculous living victims of the earthquakes in Nepal. The news of more violence by ISIL and another chlorine attack on the people of Syria threatens to give us nightmares. We have witnessed first hand the reality that regardless of age, race, or religion - people have been hurt this week. Human beings, made in the image of a creator who loves us, have suffered and died this week.
I’ve been struck by the amazing diversity of people who have been affected. When I think of diversity I think of Race (skin color, hair texture, eye color, hair color). I think of religion, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, Sikhs, and more. I think of the vast continuum of sexuality and gender identity that humans exhibit. Add these variables education, socio-economic class, and customs of dress and food. Then consider that there are roughly 6500 spoken languages in the world today even though over 1.2 billion of the 7.3 billion inhabitants of planet earth speak Mandarin Chinese. I would like to see the equation that could calculate the seemingly endless possible manifestations of humanity that can exist just based on what I’ve mentioned here because there is much more.
And it got me thinking what a paradox it is that our common Hebrew scriptures, what Jews call the Tanakh and Christians call the Old Testament, speak so clearly of ONE God and yet we who are made in the image of that ONE are so very, very different. In fact if we add age into the mix we can rightfully assume that there are probably more than 7 billion variations of humans – that we are all in some way, unique. Seven billion unique variations, all made in the image of the ONE God? How can this be?
In our reading from Acts this week we check in on two very different people. Philip is a Jew following the teachings of the Galilean Rabbi Jesus. He encounters someone who really could not be more different, the Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip over heard the unnamed person reading from the scroll of Isaiah. And the text says that this Ethiopian was leaving Jerusalem where he had some to worship.
Two different races, two gender identities, two religious backgrounds no doubt, one having heard the Good News that Jesus preached and the other just beginning to study the sacred texts of Judaism. One a simple deacon and the other a very rich and important person responsible for the entire treasury of the Ethiopian queen. Two very different people drawn together by the One God.
Now there are many interpretations of this story from Acts ranging from a “pick up” story to the symbolism of the Gospel’s reach to all humanity but it strikes me that these two very different people who are drawn together by a yearning to be closer to God eventually walk into the waters of baptism together. The water surrounding them making them one there no longer separate but performing a ritual that we continue to practice today.
This story connects every kind of diversity I can imagine and when the Ethiopian rises from the waters of baptism Philip vanishes. It would seem that the two, though so different, have become one in God. I suddenly realized that the paradox of ONE God expressed as billions of possible variations is not a paradox at all! I was simply reading the word ONE from a single perspective. I was reading ONE as a “single” thing, a particular thing, set apart, different, distinct. One God. This one not that one, with its own set of rules and liturgy, sacred texts and customs.
But ONE also means existing, acting, or considered as a single unit. The ONE can also mean WHOLE, COMPLETE. It can mean “any person indefinitely, [literally] anyone.” And that is how I feel when I’m with you - not different and some how marginalized but fully included, fully known, fully respected and loved for the image of God that I feel called to embody at this time in my life. When I come to Sunshine Cathedral of Second Life we become one congregation, one family, ONE together. We who come together here are very different, from different backgrounds and faith traditions. By gathering here each week you not only tell me but you show me that we do not need to be the same to be ONE together.
In fact, maybe that’s exactly what the ONE God is trying to teach us in creating us an endless variety of manifestation, yet all made in the image of the Creator of the Universe, all loved unconditionally exactly as we are. Not ONE God singular and distinct but ONE God all-inclusive, diverse, whole, and ultimately exquisitely beautiful. With all the chaos and trouble around us we need the strength and beauty of our diversity to see us through.
Never has there been a time in history that more clearly calls us all to do as dear Maya Angelou said, “…teach young people [teach all people] early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Consider what a different world we would live in if we could all embrace the beautiful strength of our diversity as God’s children. Amen