Thursday, August 11, 2016

Bible Road Trips: Philip toward Gaza

Old 66 in a desert area
The Bible has many stories of roads and highways. This is an occasional series of meditations based on those scriptures. 

We Are Led to Others
Acts 8:26-40

At some point in our lives’ journeys, we may be called upon to share our faith in some way. We may not necessarily be very good at it; “personal evangelism” can be off-putting and judgmental, to the point that the other person’s faith-possibilities were derailed rather than helped. Honestly, one reason that I've written so much over the years about religious subjects, is that I express my faith better through writing than speaking. In person, I’m rather shy and introverted, and I prefer to try to be an example. But other people are good at sharing faith through natural conservation.

Both as a biblical “road story” and a faith-sharing story, our passage about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch is a classic text.

The Holy Spirit leads Philip down a certain road in Gaza, apparently not the main road but a “desert” road, and there he met the man, perhaps a proselyte to Judaism, who was studying the scroll of Isaiah, the passage about the sufferings of God’s servant.

The unnamed man was a eunuch in the court of Ethiopian royalty. Perhaps the designation was from his actual surgery, because some men who worked in royal harem were thus emasculated, or perhaps it is a title, since Deuteronomy 23:1 specifies that no man with damaged or removed genitals should enter the Temple, and apparently he has been worshiping there. Regardless, the man was new to Jewish faith, not ethnically Jewish (most if not all Christians up to that point were Jews)  and unaware of anything regarding Jesus.

This passage reminds me of that famous saying, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” In this instance, it happened like that! Philip and the man enter into conversation about the passage. Remember that there was no “Christianity” at the time—-unlike our own time, talking about Jesus was very new, without any kind of social connotations of evangelism and so on. The man responded with faith, and there was even water handy for his baptism.

If we think of sharing our faith as a personal effort—something we feel like we should do—then we miss an important point of the story. The main “character” in the story is God’s Spirit. The Spirit made all the arrangements, so to speak. The Spirit led Philip to this lonely place (and had been leading Philip all along so that he could respond to the Spirits promptings). The Spirit connected Philip with a man who sought a deep understanding of God’s purposes. The Spirit even led them in this arid area where water was available for baptism. We hope that the Spirit continued in the Ethiopian man’s life and resulted in some kind of Christian community back at his home.

Notice, too, that the Spirit introduces Philip to someone outside expectations. Philips had to literally get out of his own neighborhood. We are not always good at seeking out and spending time with people outside our demographic. But the Spirit is inclusive, the Spirit creates community and brings people together, so that people of different races, sexual orientations, and economic classes are one in Christ.

On our own “roads” of life, how do we discern and respond to the Spirit’s direction? How do we become conduits of God’s Spirit for those we meet on "the journey"?

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