May 6, 2012
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
This morning we hear two stories that should give us pause. The first is of Philip, being led by the Spirit to go on a road that he might not have chosen on his own. And by the Spirit’s guidance, he finds an Ethiopian eunuch who is reading Isaiah, but can’t make heads or tails of it. And just in case we miss the point, Luke says that the Ethiopian confesses his confusion and adds the plea, “How can I unless someone guides me?”
Philip witnesses to what he knows, and the Ethiopian eunuch is moved enough to ask, “What stands in the way of my baptism?”
This foreign, pagan, eunuch in service to a foreign, pagan queen (any one of these could be used to justify excluding him, except that the Holy Spirit keeps seeking to include) is baptized, and in Luke’s own inimitable fashion, Philip is whisked away. And the newly baptized man goes on his way rejoicing.
I have often read this story incorrectly. I understood the otherness of this man. I get that Luke uses special effects to teleport people where they need to be. But I always assumed (with all the dangers therein) that this was Philip the Apostle. It is not. A few verses earlier, we read that Philip the Apostle is still in Jerusalem. This is Philip the deacon, one of those along with Stephen, chosen to help deliver bread to the widows. He is one of those now scattered throughout the countryside following Stephen’s murder at the hands of the religious authorities under Saul, before Saul converts and becomes Paul. (I’m telling you, soap operas have nothing on the Bible.)
So this Philip is just another church member serving on a committee. This story is not about the clergy, but about the laity. And what Philip does is available to all those who love God, who follow Jesus, and who wait and listen for the Holy Spirit.
(By the way, even after the church has a formal system for ordaining and setting apart clergy, the sacrament of baptism is one that can be performed by anyone if the need is there and no clergy are available. Ask Pastor Tom some time about reminding the Church and Ministry Committee about that when he was up for ordination…)
When Philip the ordinary believer waits upon the Lord, listens for the God-Who-is-Still-Speaking, trusting Jesus to both guide and guard him, he is able to hear where he needs to go, and listen for what he needs to hear, and say what he needs to say, and do what he needs to do. Without waiting, listening, trusting, he is just another person trudging through the day. The difference is not who he is, but what is inside him.
Jesus says, “I am the vine and you are the branches. Cut off from me, you are on your own and you will wither and not bear fruit. But connected to me, you will bear the fruit of the Spirit, you will do amazing things.”
I am reminded of the words of one of my seminary professors. When asked how to deal with difficulties, whether in ministry or relationships or life in general, he offered the same advice: “Stay prayed up.”
Maintain your connection with Christ more. Listen for the Spirit more. Trust in God more. Stay prayed up.
I have also used Lois McMaster Bujold’s idea of being useful to God is like being a coffee cup before. Picture yourself as a coffee mug. If you are full up to the brim with other stuff, there is no room for God, no room for the Holy Spirit to blow through. But God will use whatever space is available. I admit there are lots of times I am filled up with other things: meeting agendas, Mira’s meds and health, still being irked by the guy who cut me off on the interstate, worries about the news, the list can go on and on. And I am sure you each have your own list.
And if we do not spend time emptying some of that stuff out, handing what we can over to God, offering praise and thanksgiving, confessing our sins (both things done and things left undone), and getting prayed up, then we are left with all that stuff, and all of our faults and foibles, and not much else.
We all know of times when people tried to offer advice or comfort, and have said things that were empty or pithy at best, or hurtful and mean at worst. We can all name examples of when words are spoken not inspired by the Spirit of love.
But if we take the time to pray; if, like Philip, we take the time to listen for our Still Speaking God, and to make room in our lives for the Holy Spirit, then we get to witness amazing moments when even someone as flawed as we are can offer a word of peace, or hope, or acceptance.
And lest we forget, the Philip in the story is just another ordinary believer. In the power of the Holy Spirit, he does remarkable things.
If you abide in me,
and my words abide in you,
ask whatever you will,
and it shall be done for you.
By this my Father is glorified,
that you bear much fruit,
and so prove to be my disciples.
Thanks be to God.