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Who's In? Who's Out?
April 20, 1997

Acts 8:26-40

Who's in? Who's out? Since the beginning of time, when Cain and Abel fought over which of them were God's favorite, lines have been drawn, walls built, barriers erected, castes and classes devised, to separate who's in from who's out. In his three short years of ministry, Jesus began breaking down many of the walls between men and women, Gentile and Jew, Samaritan and Jew, rich and poor. Jesus' followers continued breaking the barriers people love to erect, trying to make themselves seem more important than others.

After the resurrection and Pentecost, when the church was born, Jesus' followers began preaching the good news. Luke, who wrote the book of Acts, tells us mainly about the missionary work of Peter and Paul. We don't read anything about Thomas, for example, who went all the way to India, and the church he started is still in existence today. But, Luke does make brief mention of Philip. Philip first went to Samaria and began breaking down walls. The Samaritans were descendants of the Northern Kingdom, and there was bad blood between them and Jews, the descendants of Judah, the Southern Kingdom. In Jesus' day, the Jews were in, and the Samaritans were out. But, Jesus and Philip included the Samaritans. The church broke down the barrier, and the Samaritans were now in!

Then, Philip found himself south of Jerusalem, on the road to Gaza, where he came upon a black African, sitting in a chariot at a rest area, no doubt, reading in Hebrew from the prophet, Isaiah. The Spirit said to Philip, "Go on over and talk to him." Philip found that the man was an official in the Queen of Ethiopia's court, and deeply religious. Even though he was not a Jew, he went to Jerusalem at every opportunity to worship in the temple. He was a highly educated man, and enjoyed reading the Hebrew scriptures. He asked Philip to instruct him. Philip took the scriptures, and showed the man how they were pointing to Jesus. The man rejoiced in the good news and asked to be baptized.

What is amazing about the incident is the walls that Philip, in the name and spirit of Christ, broke down. Certainly a black African was not a common sight in the temple. But, no longer are Africans out, they are now in the body of Christ! Not only, however, was the man an African, he was a eunuch. A eunuch was a man who had been castrated, a horribly cruel act so that the man would not be a sexual threat to the Queen. A eunuch was considered by society to be less than a man. He was forced to sit with the women and children in the temple, certainly not with the real men in the sacred space. Again, Philip takes one who is out, and brings him in. The kingdom of God is for everyone. No one is out, unless he/she chooses to be out. No one is out just because of their sexual orientation, or their national origin, or their economic condition, or their color.

What a week we have had as we celebrated the best about America. It was an historic occasion for Tiger Woods not only to win the Masters Golf Tournament, but to break several records as well. As the first African American to win a major golf tournament, he was following in the steps of Jackie Robinson who, fifty years before, broke the color barrier to become the first black man to play major league baseball.

We moved from Minnesota to California in 1969 where I was appointed an Associate Pastor of First Church, Palo Alto, which is in Stanford country. When Stanford won the 1971 Rose Bowl, we bought Family Plan tickets for Stanford games which allowed us to sit in the end zone the next season. Along with the city and campus, how excited we all were when Stanford again went to the Rose Bowl! I had a wedding on Sunday afternoon, the day after Christmas that year. Because it was Christmas, the groom gave me an honorarium of $100. $100 went further in those days, so I went home, and shouted to the family, "Let's go to the Rose Bowl!" I'm always ready for an adventure (that's how we got to Merced!) and, of course, everyone wanted to go to the game. The boys were ages 10, 8, and four.

There were two problems: tickets and getting back in time for church on Sunday, as New Year's Day was on Saturday that year. No problem getting back; I would drive Saturday night. Actually, we both drove home, with me sleeping on the hump in the back floor in ten minute intervals through the heavy Central Valley fog on #99. This was before I-5 was constructed. Then, what to do about tickets. Because we were season ticket holders (even on the Family Plan), we were entitled to purchase two Rose Bowl tickets. Then we began searching the newspaper ads to see if anyone was selling tickets. Hoorah! We found one, which we quickly purchased. Now we had three tickets. Mother, and aren't most mothers martyrs, made the supreme sacrifice and said, "You three big boys go to the game, and Craig and I will stay outside by ourselves."

Away we went. As it was our first time to drive to southern California, I wanted to go on Hwy 101 so we could see the ocean. Can you imagine what Santa Barbara looks like for the first time to Minnesotans who are accustomed to flat country? We were so engrossed in the scenery, and oohing and ahhing about the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other, that I didn't see the policeman until he stopped us. Even though he sympathized with my eloquent explanation, he gave me a ticket for speeding. There went $25 of my $100 honorarium! But, we didn't care; we were going to the Rose Bowl!


We got to the Pasadena area, found a motel, and set the alarm early so we could get to Pasadena for the parade. But, we were further than I thought. By the time we parked and made our way to the parade route, all we could do was to sit on a curb facing a side street, and looking at the back end of the parade as it passed by. Have you ever watched a parade from the rear end?? We didn't care; we were going to the Rose Bowl! The view was still better than watching it on black and white TV in Minnesota! Oh, how we enjoyed the Stanford Band when it came by. The Michigan band marched by in their black uniforms, all pressed, walking in step, playing magnificently; at least it looked and sounded so from the back! Then, came the Stanford Band in their white pants and red sport coats, ties uneven, straw hats askew, weaving in circles, but still playing a recognizable tune! We laughed until our sides hurt.

After the parade, we had lunch, and drove to the stadium. We found a place to park several blocks from the stadium next to a park in a residential area. We thought Craig and Mother could play in the park, while the three big boys went to the game. You recall we had three tickets, but they weren't together! The ticket we had purchased out of the newspaper was nowhere near the two we got through our season tickets. But, we didn't care; we were going to the Rose Bowl! I don't remember the rationale, but we decided that the boys would take turns sitting with me. Tim sat with me the first half, and Jack the second half. Can you imagine anyone today letting their eight-year-old sit by himself in a crowded football stadium! But, my boys were not afraid. They knew their social graces, they enjoyed themselves, and, after all, they were watching Stanford win the Rose Bowl game, 13-12! (Parents, the first principle of parenting: have fun with your kids!)

Meanwhile, back at the car, Ellie was unloading the trunk when a lovely black woman came out of her house from across the street, and asked Ellie if her family were at the game? Ellie said, "Yes," and the woman said, "Well, please come in our house, and watch the game on TV with us. Your little boy can play with my children." Ellie gladly accepted the invitation and they went in. There she found out that the woman had just been released from the hospital that morning; yet, here she was taking strangers in off the street and entertaining them. When Ellie was introduced to her husband, he asked, "Have you heard of Jackie Robinson?" "Oh, of course," she answered. "Well," he said, "I'm his older brother." Ellie watched the Rose Bowl game with Mac Robinson, Jackie Robinson's big brother! They were so gracious that when the boys and I returned from the game, Mac had us follow his car through back streets to avoid the traffic and get us on the freeway home.

Aren't people wonderful! Underneath differing exteriors, people are the same. Regardless of color, sexual orientation, national origin, we're all the same. When you close doors, and isolate yourself to only associate with people you think are similar to you, you miss some beautiful adventures.

Who's in? Who's out? Thanks to Jesus, Peter, Paul and Philip, in God's family, everyone is in. The only way to be out is to choose to be out. Where are you? In or out? Will you open your arms and welcome everyone into God's church?

© 1997 Douglas I. Norris