How do you deal with someone who is totally different from you?
This is an essential question of living with others. It is also an issue that the first followers of Jesus confronted early in their life together. In this Easter season heard two stories about relating to “foreigners” from the book of Acts . In one, the Ethiopian eunuch asks Phillip, “Here is water. What is to prevent me from getting baptized?” In another, we learn of Peter’s dream and Cornelius, the Roman soldier, who desires to have his entire household baptized.
The inclusion of the Ethiopian and the Roman soldier into the household of God, the fellowship of the friends of Jesus, was a huge step for the disciples. How could non-Jews become one of them?
It seems to me that the 21st century will be posing equally vexing questions to us. How are we to be Christian in the face of cultural and denominational change? How do we live peaceably among people of other faiths without resorting to war, fear and hatred? How flexible can our understanding of Christian community be without losing our essential identity?
This Sunday St. Stephen’s will be living into the wonder of the Spirit’s work in our midst. Naomi will be baptized along with her children; she is choosing to convert to Christian faith from Judaism. We will also baptize Hannah and Elias, twin babies whose moms are Zhna and Samala are seeking a home for their interfaith family; Zhna is Christian and Samala is Muslim. Our bishop, Andy Doyle, will be with us to confirm others who come from various Christian walks into our path.
Human beings share a hunger for God, a longing for companionship, and a delight in feasting. In Christian community we share all three, without ignoring our differences.