March 12, 2023


Passage: Acts of the Apostles 8:26-40
Service Type:

A Sermon on Acts of the Apostles 8, preached by our pastor Dr. Dwight A. Moody, at Third Baptist Church, Owensboro, Kentucky, on Sunday, March 12, 2023


Have you seen the movie “The Jesus Revolution”?

I encourage you to see it. It is the story of three men. Chuck Smith is a pastor: traditional, predictable, protective of his way of doing church. His church is called Calvary Chapel. Pastor Smith doesn’t like hippies. They are guitar-strumming, pot-smoking, and foul-smelling beach bums. They are unclean, physically and ritually.

The year is 1967, 55 years ago.

The second man is Lonnie Frisbee. He is one of those hippies. Long hair, no shoes, and a walking staff, one of the unclean. He meets Pastor Chuck Smith’s daughter, who brings him home to the good reverend. What ensues is comical on many levels.

Also in the mix is another teenager: mixed up and moving around and as unclean as the rest. Greg Laurie. The movie tells his story of searching, falling in love, and launching into gospel work on the beaches of California. It is his 2018 book that forms the basis of the movie.

Unclean is a category common to religions around the world, including Judaism and Christianity. Unclean is a designation for those unworthy to join the organization, enter the sanctuary, or participate in the rites or liturgies of the church. The word is used 100 times in the book of Leviticus.

In the Hebrew Bible, some animals are unclean (like pigs); some actions are unclean (like touching a dead body); some people are unclean if they are foreigners, or diseased, or deformed; and some conditions are unclean (like a woman during her period or following childbirth).

This modern version of a religious caste brings us to a gospel story, Acts 8, for help. It features a man identified as an Ethiopian, a eunuch, and a man of great responsibility in the government. I will call him Gabriel, because I have a friend named Gabriel who is an Ethiopian Christian minister.

The Ethiopian Eunuch Pilgrim is a seeker. He rides his chariot from the headwaters of the Nile to the vicinity of the Jordan. According to this narrative, he is heading home and reading the prophet Isaiah. He encounters the Jesus follower named Philip. Their conversation is pushed alone with three questions that help us today.


First is a double question, “Do you understand what you read?” That is the question Philip put to Gabriel. “How can I? Please explain it.” That is the question and appeal of the traveler.

There is an old saying. “When the student is ready the teacher appears.” I hope I always exhibit this attitude when it comes to what I read, what I feel, what I see, what I think. I want to always say to someone who knows, “Please explain this to me.”  This is my attitude when it comes to LGBTQ issues.  Do you understand? No, I say.  How can I unless somebody explains it to me?

I watched a TikTok video this week. It featured a mother of a child, who is developing as a trans person.  The mother summed up her disposition with her small child. “I had no idea.” She turned to those who know.

The American Academy of Pediatricians represents 67,000 pediatricians. Their guidelines lay out this schedule: By age 2, children notice physical differences. By age 3, children can label themselves boy or girl. By age 4, children have a stable sense of gender identity.

Sometimes, there is confusion about what is on the inside and what is on the outside. Sometimes people—children, youth, and adults—sense a disconnect between what they feel on the inside and what they see on the outside. The thresh hold given by professionals for parental action is this. “If you child is insistent, persistent, and consistent for a period of six months or more, seek help.”

Many preachers and politicians want to demonize these children, these young people, these adults. These public leaders refuse to say: How can I understand? Will somebody please explain this to me? Instead, they spread ignorance, superstition, and fear. They turn these difficult medical and psychological situations into a battlefield in the culture wars. They help no one and hurt many.

This man traveling from and to Ethiopia is identified as a eunuch. Not often in the Bible are people identified by their sexual characteristics. Sometimes, yes, for a prostitute. Can you think of a single episode when a person in a story is identified by their sexual characteristics?

A eunuch is a person or unwilling unable to procreate. Jesus said this in Matthew 19:12: “Some are eunuchs by birth. Some are eunuchs by eunuchs by others [either as a punishment or as a guard against sexual activity]. Some are eunuchs for the kingdom of God [to make yourselves physically or relationally unavailable for reproduction in order to devote time to other things].”

I have never preached on this text. Now, the parents are searching for answers, and all of us are searching for understanding.  We are saying to each other, “Do you understand this?” and we are responding to each other, “How can we unless somebody explain it to us.”

Over the Christmas holidays, I was in Lexington. While there, I was the guest on a radio program devoted to the issues of transgender life. The host of this weekly show is Janna. For more than 60 years, she presented as a man. She was a career military officer then a career employee in the foreign service. “I knew when I was six,” she said to me over lunch after the show. Six decades later, she came out as gay, then trans. She has now fully transgender. “I never was a man,” she said to me. “I only presented as a man.”

She perfectly illustrates the words of Jesus about gender identity and performance: some at birth, some by others, and some by yourself.


What is the second question?

Of whom does the writer speak?  Who is Isaiah talking about?

He is reading Isaiah 53:7-8:

The servant of God was led like a sheep to the slaughter
As a lamb is silent before the searers, the servant of God did not open his mouth.
He was humiliated and received no justice.
Who can speak of his descendants, for his life was taken from the earth.

The Ethiopian saw himself in this story, as the man unjustly treated and destined for death without children or grandchildren. He saw himself in the very words we think are describing Jesus.  Jesus also was unjustly treated and died without children and grandchildren.

Here is a story, a gospel story that helps us, that helps everyone. It is the story of a gender non-conforming man searching for answers about life, love, and happiness. Such a person fits nicely into that demographic we generally describe as LGBTQ.

Other people all around us will find other scriptures and quote them to us, to say to us: “See, you are wicked, you are a sinner, you are damned to hell.”

But God loves you: gay or straight, traditional or trans, strong or weak, and young or old. Jesus died for you: gender conforming or gender non-conforming. The Spirit of the Living God is in your and on you and around you just as that Spirit is in or on or around anybody else.

This week, a man called me. The Ashville, North Carolina, television aired a story about my little church in Hendersonville. We adopted a policy of non-discrimination. We shouldn’t call it that. We should call it a policy of gospel welcome. The caller said, “I am a marine veteran. I am a minister. I am Hispanic. I am gay. Can you help me find a church where I can serve?”  He sounded very much like this Ethiopian seeker riding in his chariot reading the Hebrew prophet Isaiah.


The third part of this story is about Jesus, but it begins with this statement: “Beginning with this text in Isaiah, Philip told him about Jesus.”

I wish we had a longer narrative about this conversation. I often wish we had more of what Jesus said to those who came to see him. Wouldn’t you like to have been in the room when Nicodemus came to talk to Jesus. Wouldn’t you like to have been in the room when Zacchaeus welcomed Jesus to his home. Wouldn’t you like to have been in the back seat of that chariot as Philip talked to Gabriel about Jesus.

We know where they began, in the writings of the Hebrew prophet Isaiah; we know where they ended up, in a pool of water deep enough to immerse the traveler from the headwaters of the Nile.

I will wager a months’ social security check that Philip opened that scroll of Isaiah to what we now call 56. As we make our bets, we must remember this man is double unclean: a gentile and a eunuch. He is double cursed, double prohibited, and double damned, according to traditional religious laws. But here is Isaiah’s vision of the city of God, of the kingdom of God, of the community of God.

Isaiah 56, Verse 3:
Do not let the foreigners say to the Lord, “The lord will never let me be a part of his people.
Do not let the eunuchs say, “I am a dried-up tree with no children and no future.”

This text in Isaiah reflects what practicing believers had been taught to say by their religious leaders. “You foreigners, you cannot join God’s people. You have no future, no hope. You eunuchs, you cannot join God people. You have no future, no hope.” It is very similar to those today who say, “You gays and lesbians, you cannot join God’s people. You have no future, no hope. You trans people, you cannot join God’s people. You have no future, no hope.”

This has been the curse of religious powers: making distinctions, drawing circles, building walls, and writing prohibitions. We Christians have graduate degrees in excluding people: No blacks here. No liberals here. No immigrants here. No gays here. And now, no trans here. And especially, no drag queens!

But Gabriel the eunuch, Gabriel the secretary of the treasury, Gabriel the seeker after God helps us see a different way forward. He heard the good news. “Come unto me, all you who labor, or struggle, or who seek, who are fighting to be yourself, to live in the image of God, to be a believer, a person, a child of God. All who labor, come unto me, and I will give you rest, I will give you blessing, I will give you salvation, I will give you welcome.” This is a paraphrase and expansion of the words of Jesus found in the Gospel of Mathew 11:28-30.

This is the same gospel word that Simon Peter will later hear in his vision on the rooftop in Joppa, also on the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza: “Do not call somebody unclean that God declares is clean” (Acts of the Apostles 10).

Foreigners are clean. Eunuchs are clean. Trans are clean. Gays are clean. We are all clean in the grace and mercy of God.

Here is my question: How long did this conversation go on? Perhaps an hour. Perhaps two hours. It is the desert road that goes to Gaza.  I have traveled that road. You have plenty of time to talk, to ask questions and seek answers.

Philip must have told Gabriel about the welcome of Jesus, about the saving power of Jesus, about the mercy of God and the grace of God, and about the death of Jesus and the resurrection of Jesus. Philip must have told Gabriel about the water, about faith and hope and love, about baptism, about rising up to newness of life.

That conversation precipitated, finally, this question:  here is water: why can’t I be baptized? Clearly, Philip must have told Gabriel about the baptism of Jesus, the baptism of Pentecost, and then about his own baptism. Philip must have told him how it felt, what was said, where it happened, and who was there. Philip must have testified about what changed from that day forward. We must not forget, we old people, the power of baptism, the power of God, and the power of mercy.  Here is water.


The movie “The Jesus Revolution” has many baptismal scenes. Those hippies chose a place called Pirates Cove. Hundreds of long-haired hippies (some smoking dope, some singing rock and roll, and some needing a bath) came down to the water, just like they did when John the baptizer was preaching in the early days of Jesus. The movie shows a young hippie walking into the water, praying with the hippie evangelist, and then surrendering himself to the burial of baptism. In the movie, on the road home to Ethiopia, and wherever you are in your search for the living God, it is the Trans-Formation of a person.

It is one of the most powerful baptism scenes I’ve even seen.  It is more moving that in “The Apostle,” or even more memorable that the scene in “O Brother, Where Are Thou?”  The young man goes all the way under and comes us dripping wet. In the background the music swells. It is newcomer Anne Wilson singing her new song, “Living Water.”

This goes out to every outcast. To the just don’t quite fit in.
Every wrong way, runaway rebel, so ashamed of where you’ve been
This goes out to every searcher, trying to fill that empty space.
Well, your search days are over now, everything about to change.

Come on down to the living water, waves of mercy washing over you.
No more strangers, only sons and daughters.
come down to the living water and rise up new.

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