“The Gifts We Name” by The Rev. Stephanie Kendell
I am so thankful for another week to share God’s love with you. We have a big week of incredible ministries and I hope I will see you at some (or all!) of them.
When you come from a small town, especially the same one your parents are from, you get stuck with many different monikers. I am a “Kendell,” I was the “chubby girl,” the “theater nerd,” the “weird one.” I actually really appreciate most of these labels. But that is because it has taken me years to come into my self. But those were labels that were placed on me. A way of people judging my identity on only one aspect of my being. The labels I actually like most in my life are the ones that I have gotten on my own or placed on me. Reverend, Christian, seeker, feminist, lover, and friend are just a few of the ones I hold dear. Leaning into who I am, the good and the bad, the beautiful parts and the parts society told me are not good enough, has helped me read our text this week from Acts, with new eyes.
“26 An angel of God spoke to Philip and said, “Be ready to set out at noon along the road that goes to Gaza, the desert road.” 27 So Philip began his journey.
It happened that an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official in charge of the entire treasury of Candace, the ruler of Ethiopia, had come to Jerusalem on a pilgrimage 28 and was returning home. He was sitting in his carriage and reading the prophet Isaiah.
29 The Spirit said to Philip, “Go up and meet that carriage.”
30 When Philip ran up, he heard the eunuch reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?”
31 “How can I,” the eunuch replied, “unless someone explains it to me?” With that, he invited Philip to get in the carriage with him. 32 This was the passage of scripture being read:
“You are like a sheep being led to slaughter,
you are like a lamb that is mute in front of its
like them, you never open your mouth.
33 You have been humiliated
and have no one to defend you.
Who will ever talk about your descendants,
since your life on earth has been cut short?”
34 The eunuch said to Philip, “Tell me, if you will, about whom the prophet is talking—himself or someone else?”
35 So Philip proceeded to explain the Good News about Jesus to him.
36 Further along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “Look, there is some water right there. Is there anything to keep me from being baptized?” *
38 He ordered the carriage to stop; then Philip and the eunuch both went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39 When they came out of the water, the Spirit of God snatched Philip away; the eunuch didn’t see him anymore and went on his way rejoicing.
40 Philip found himself at Ashdod next, and he went about proclaiming the Good News in all the towns, until he came to Caesarea.” Acts 8:26-40 (ILB)
I have read this passage hundreds of times. I love it because it affirms the gender identity of a non-binary person as a person of God. As a person cleansed in the same baptismal waters as myself, and of Jesus. It is an incredibly important text for our LGBTQIA+ family especially in a society and culture that so often uses the Bible to tell them they are not of God. This story of a non-binary person created and loved as in the image of God is beautiful for many reasons but one that I really appreciate, is that it names for us the spectrum of gender as a gift and the labels that accompany our genders as holy words. This still speaking text shows us that our titles represent a part of us, a part of our core being, that was created by God no matter how society values them.
This week was the first time I read this story where God was offering us an understanding to use our titles, social or self-given, as a gift. Titles can be used to drive people apart and create binary differences within communities, but if we don’t put any value to the titles, and view them all as gifts from God, we hear this story not as two opposite people, but as the divinity of diversity coming together to share in Christ’s love and bask in the glow of a God so expansive that the Eunuch and Philip are one in the same.
However, our gender is just one of our gifts. We are more than our genders and sexualities, our cultures and class, and our country of origin and our religion. I am Stephanie. A feminist minister who loves to cuss, gives good hugs, and loves her job. Some may describe me using other words such as “Loud, bossy, and too emotional.” (These are all words that have been used to describe the aspects of me that I named for myself). Labels are a gift, but we can’t forget that there is so much that makes up each label. We know the story names the “Ethiopian Eunuch” but can wonder with the text what labels they would have given themselves. What was their name? Who did they love? What are their passions? How is God using them to build the kin-dom? No matter the answer and no matter the label that would accompany them, the Ethiopian Eunuch was a created and beloved child of God.
We are created by and called to serve a God who has never made the same thing twice, and yet uses the same energy, renewed, to create and create again. And within each named created being, are infinite other pieces of our creation that are named. That are gifts from God. We aren’t called to remove labels from ourselves, but to love that part of us, and to love the differences in our neighbor as well. This passage shares an important message that there should be no stigma around gender, sexuality, mental health, socioeconomics, race, or religion. We need to name what is ours as given to us by God and celebrate it. Celebrate it loud, celebrate it in the face of social stigmas or shame, celebrate and value it as the piece of God that it reflects.
Friends, may this text continue to speak to you, continue to inspire you, and continue to help you name your gifts, even if someone has already named them as a fault. This community is such a blessing, for which I am very grateful.