As we began to discuss yesterday, this weeks story from Acts has historically been interpreted as an illustration of the evangelization of the gentiles around the world. Another way of saying this is that Simeon is ‘converted’ to Christianity. Conversion language may or may not be something that you are familiar with. It certainly was common-place in the church I was raised in. You may be more familiar with the phrase ‘born-again.’ Conversion is just a fancier word for the same concept.
I know that some of you may be reading this and turning your nose up at the phrase ‘born-again.’ Believe me, I understand why. There is a self-righteous superiority among many who claim the title ‘born-again’ that I too find distasteful. Not to mention a biblical literalism that I just cannot accept. But I first want to say that we should not reject outright the concept of conversion or being born-again. The core of Jesus’s own message was repentance. Now repentance too is a word that has been used as a weapon. But in it’s best and truest usage it reminds us that we are able as human being to grow and to change. That our past mistakes and current faults need not define who we are or who we will become. And let’s admit it, even if we do not live in constant regret and shame (and I hope you do not) we all at times grow frustrated and even discouraged with our own character flaws. Repentance promises that we can grow and change. And that is what conversion and born-again really mean. That we accept that we are loved as we are, and that we open ourselves to allow God’s love to shape us, change us, nurture our growth as human beings.
Having said all that, I think that traditionally, this story has focused on the conversion of Simeon, the Ethiopian Eunuch. He was converted from Gentile (or Jew) to Christian. But what if it wasn’t Simeon who was converted at all? What if it was Philip? What if it was Philip who was challenged and empowered to grow to accept not only a gentile, but a dark-skinned gentile whose gender was unclear? What if his own preconceived notions about who would be welcome in God’s kingdom were challenged to change in this story? It is entirely possible that he had assumed that the gospel was only for Jews or for Heterosexual Jews up to this point. In this case, it is not the other who needs conversion, but Philip. If that is so, what does that say about us?
How has your experience of faith challenged your preconceived notions? How have you been empowered to change and to grow as a result of your baptism?