I ask that people make no reference to my name; let them call themselves Christians, not Lutherans. What is Luther? After all, the teaching is not mine. Neither was I crucified for anyone. (Martin Luther, 1522 treatise)
The Ethiopian eunuch … I mean really … how often do you get to say those words in church? In fact, just once every three years. Acts 8:26-40 shows up on the fifth Sunday of the Easter season in year B (the second year of our three year lectionary). The story always grabs my attention because of this level of detail about this man, who in short order will be baptized by Philip the Apostle.
It reminds be about the labels we often put upon ourselves and others. Our world is obsessed with them. We label ourselves based upon where we are from or where we are currently living. We label ourselves after the jobs we do in the world. We are labeled by our political parties and the sports teams we follow. We label people lovingly and slanderously. We accept labels that those closest to us bestow upon us with fondness, and we reject those cast upon us in anger. We have labels that identify the generation into which we were born and which define the denomination which describes our faith … a problem even in Martin Luther’s 16th century world (see quote above). We have more labels than we know what to do with, and more often than not, they serve to distinguish us from others, rather than connect us to them.
It is tragic. There are enough real issues and emotions and experiences that divide us already, and which seek to separate us from those with whom we travel through life. Do we really need more? Our world believes we do … God? … not so much. If we think of themain character in our story from Acts, the culmination of this man’s encounter with Phillip, is to be baptized. He becomes a baptized child of God who “went on his way rejoicing.” What a gift. A new label for a man whose prior labels made him quite different than those around him. A new label that tied him to others in the family of God, and which transcended the labels the world had placed upon him.
In your prayer life and times of reflection this week, think about the labels you use for those around you. Are they unifying ones, or divisive ones? Do they honor or disparage? Do they invite interaction or suggest isolation? If they are ones that separate you in some way from the one you have labeled, consider a world in which you would think of that person as a “child of God.” That might make for a pretty good world.