Philip is flexible. He zigzags in his journey according to what strikes him in the moment. The Spirit says, “Hey Philip, go south toward Gaza, you know the road, the one without any fast food, motels, or rest stops.” Philip is probably thinking, “Everybody goes north and east. Who or what is waiting for me in the desert? I can’t shake the feeling that I need to follow that road. I guess I’ll give it a try even though it seems kind of irresponsible.”
As he walks down the road with meager provisions, I can hear him thinking to himself, “Nobody as far as the eye can see. Well, I guess I really could use some alone time. Hmm, what’s that under the lone tree down in the little valley. A chariot? I’ll jog over and see what’s going on. Do I hear Hebrew? Sounds like Isaiah the prophet, “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In humiliation, justice is denied, what value has come of his life work, for he is now gone.”
“Sir, do you understand this reading? No, can you help me? Sure. They sit and talk about it: That Jesus followed the path of the suffering servant, died, and now lives in the resurrection, in the lives of his followers even though he is no longer among them.
The man asks “Here is water, will you baptize me?” He does and immediately heads off in a different direction while the man continues south, rejoicing in God’s mercy and love. One of the regional orthodox churches founded in these early years in the early church is the Coptic Orthodox Church. Might this encounter have been the beginning of that church? Perhaps. I imagine when they read this text, it speaks to them of their spiritual ancestry.
Philip was willing to be flexible, to take a chance, to cast aside a day to follow a Spirit whim. He set aside the temptation to be busy ignore a moment of solitude and a single person with questions. Perhaps the lonesome walk reminded him to listen. They had enough in common for a life changing conversation.
We are sometimes in just the right place to help with a conversation, a question, an invitation. Whether a friendship forming or just a single conversation encounters can be remembered a long time.
Does not the Spirit work through our passions, our interests, our pastimes, our gifts and points of curiosity? Evangelism is not doing what we don’t want to do or pushing our agenda on someone else, it is two beggars sharing a bit of good news and hope. . .for peace. The encounter between Philip and the man from Ethiopia is a conversation. Philip listens and is able to answer the man’s questions.
Listening is key. Listening takes effort and humility. Listening is a two way street. Listening requires us to set our needs and concerns and issues aside. Long enough to give priority to another. Long enough to hear what is really going on, rather than the ongoing static and habits of our minds.
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian seems effortless encounter, but it only happens because Philip and the man are open and eager to make room for the Spirit to give birth to a new path, new faith.
The letter of first John reminds us that this faith begins and ends in love. Perhaps you can take some time this week to ponder the lesson from I John. There is great wisdom and joy there. John suggests that our fears and compulsions shrink as love, compassion, and prayer grow. Philip prayed in this way. His openness and willingness to listen make that plain. Prayer with love open us to those around us. Compassion invites healthy relationships. The Spirit is inviting us to listen. To abide in Christ. To take our cues, not from instincts and fears, but from God’s life giving mercy which surrounds us and fills us. We are pilgrims on a journey who find our way and help others find their way. . .by listening carefully. Thanks be to God.