May 3, 2015
As we continue our walk through the book of Acts
during these weeks of Easter,
you may remember that the story of the stoning of Stephen
ends with the members of the church fleeing Jerusalem –
running for their lives in fact.
I’m guessing this was not in the strategic plan.
This was not what the disciples had in mind for growing the church.
When the disciples got together for their leadership retreat
and came up with priorities for the coming year,
I’m guessing that not one of them wrote
on their little yellow Post-It note:
I have an idea…
We’ll grow the church by getting people so angry
that they run us out of town…
and we’ll just have to start new churches elsewhere.
I’m guessing that wasn’t their plan.
But it ended up being a pretty good plan after all.
Jesus said you will be my witnesses …
in all Judea and Samaria,
and to the ends of the earth…
Philip takes off from Jerusalem and runs to Samaria.
Samaria is about 30 miles north of Jerusalem
(maybe it was just coincidence that it was also on the way back to his home in Galilee).
In Samaria, he preaches and baptizes and begins a church…
but then an angel, a messenger from God, speaks to Philip
and tells him turn around and go south again about another 50 miles,
this time to the road to Gaza.
Maybe you’ve heard one of those angels sometimes…
those messengers that tell you to call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while…
and when you do, you realize it’s a good thing you did…
Well Philip listens to the message
and heads down to the road toward Gaza
and sure enough, there he meets the person he’s supposed to meet –
an Ethiopian court official who’s returning home
from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
This court official is a man of power and of wealth.
He works for none other than the Queen of Ethiopia herself
and is in charge of entire treasury.
Not only that but we know he can read
and he even has his own scroll.
Once again the Spirit gives Philip a message.
He’s told that he’s to go up to the chariot.
Now Philip has never ridden in a chariot in his life.
He doesn’t even know anyone who’s ridden in a chariot.
In his mind, nothing good can come from people in chariots.
Nevertheless he follows the prompting of the Spirit,
and chases after it.
He hears the man inside the chariot reading from the scroll of Isaiah.
Breathless from running, he shouts up to the official,
Do you know what you’re reading?”
The court official stops what he’s doing,
and looks down at this ragtag looking guy
who’s been running all over the Judean countryside
and probably looks like it.
The official looks at this guy Philip,
(and here’s something that’s really amazing about the story)
he decides that Philip is worth listening to.
He says, “No, I don’t understand – please tell me.”
And he invites Philip up into his carriage,
and Philip tells him about Jesus.
Two men –
one black and one brown;
one rich and one poor;
one educated and one not.
Two men sitting next to each other,
on one bench thinking that maybe they don’t know everything;
thinking that maybe they can learn something from someone who is different from them;
thinking that maybe God’s truth can come from a voice different from their own.
Martin Luther King once said that,
“A riot is the language of the unheard.”
The events in Baltimore this week
remind us that we need more people sitting on the bench together:
rich and poor
men and women
black and white
We need to ask each other,
“What are you reading?”
“Can you tell me what’s really happening here?”
“Where do you see Jesus in this story, in the events of this week?”
I read an article last week about a woman who decided that for one year,
she would read only books written by non-white authors.
She decided that for a year,
she would sit on the bench with people different from her
and listen to their voices.
She learned that it was harder than she thought.
She looked for books to read through her usual sources:
book reviews, best seller lists.
It turns out that 90% of the books which are reviewed
have been written by white authors.
I never realized that before.
I never noticed that before.
A riot is the language of the unheard.
Lord, this day,
help us to seek out those who can be like Philip for us.
Help us to listen to their voices.
They may be the ones whom the Spirit has called to show us Jesus.