|1 John 4:7-21
By Jeanyne B Slettom
Exegetically speaking, the text from Acts is preoccupied with the prophecy-fulfillment task of Luke—to show Jesus as the fulfillment of Hebrew Bible prophecies, and to link Jesus specifically with the “suffering servant” verses in Isaiah. By specifying a black, African Gentile, the text also illustrates another strong theme of Luke’s; namely, universalism. That the encounter is precipitated by an “Angel,” and the “Spirit” of the Lord reinforces the legitimacy of the nascent church and its outreach.
But why, specifically, a eunuch? Scholars have suggested that it is both prophecy fulfillment and Luke’s way of demonstrating the church’s radical inclusivity. Deuteronomy 23:1 explicitly states that eunuchs will not be accepted into the assembly of the Lord. Later, in Isaiah 56:3-7, the prophet promises that the day will come when eunuchs will be brought to the “holy mountain” and made “joyous.” In the text from Acts, a eunuch is converted and goes on his way rejoicing—done, and done!
Paired with the Ethiopian eunuch story, the psalm text reinforces the “conversion” theme, with the prediction that all nations, “from “all the ends of the earth.” But our task on Sunday morning is to address the people already there. Preaching acceptance will probably go a lot further than sending folks out to proselytize.
The text has pulled together several descriptors that signify “outsider” to the first-century disciples of Jesus. The man Philip encounters is a Gentile and a eunuch—both of which would have excluded him from the temple. Geographically he is from a country on the margins of the Roman Empire. What factors prevent people from feeling fully accepted within the church, within a specific congregation? These texts give the preacher a wonderful opportunity to preach the unconditional love and acceptance of God, to welcome people from diverse class and educational backgrounds, of different ethnicities and races, of all gender identities and sexual orientations—and to reinforce for everyone the need for hospitality as a spiritual practice at home, at work, and at church.
I John 4:7-12
The message of hospitality and acceptance gets its ontological foundation from the language of mutual abiding found within the Johannine texts. The element that process theology adds is that this moment-by-moment presence amounts to a continual incarnation of God in our lives. And, as Marjorie Suchocki suggests, it amount s as well to an argument for eternal life. I defer to her eloquence, quoting extensively from an unpublished talk that she gave.
“For John, incarnation is a continuous event, and revelation a progressive event, requiring the continuous interaction of God with Jesus for its fullness. Process develops a theory of incarnation quite compatible with this. In process thought, God is ALWAYS relational, not occasionally relational. What Jesus reveals is the everlasting nature of the relational God who is for us.
“The metaphor of Jesus as the vine and we as the branches in John 15 gives the key to how and why eternal life is a present reality in this gospel. Jesus is the Wisdom and Word of God incarnate, the manifestation in time of the very nature of God. As such, the human being Jesus is in-formed, moment by moment, by God’s own nature; there is an ultimate openness in Jesus to live according to God’s nature. He is, as the letter to the Colossians asserts, the perfect “image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation” (Colossians 1:16). And the God to whom Jesus so conforms himself is eternal, so that in Jesus eternity flows into time. This, of course, is too abstract a way of saying it: rather, perhaps, the God who is before all time and with all times and succeeding all times, is present, manifest, in Jesus Christ.
\“Now, then, we are called to faith, to belief in Jesus. In this gospel—indeed, throughout the Scriptures—belief is never so barren a thing as subscribing to correct doctrines. Rather, scriptural belief is an active sense of positive openness to God. Belief, or faith, is an active commitment to live according to the revelation of God; it is a faithfulness that both shapes and marks one’s life. In the image of the vine, the life that is in Jesus flows into our own lives, both individually and communally—for the branches are not many vines, but one; there is an organic wholeness to the image. The life of the vine flows into the life of the branches.
“Process theology finds the metaphor fitting, appealing. God relates to us, influencing us, affecting us, guiding us, in-forming us. But God not only gives Godself to the world, God also takes the world into Godself. We are made partakers in God here and now insofar as we accede to conformity to the divine image, and we will be partakers in the fullness of God as God takes us into God’s own self.”
The message, then is abiding—God in us and we in God—an ever-present welcome and inclusion that will not reject or abandon, and that calls us do likewise.