Text: Acts 8:26-40
Theme Verse: “As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water!What is to prevent me from being baptized?”(Acts 8:36)
Everyone’s approach to a road trip seems to differ. Some are destination oriented –“Get me there as quickly as possible!”Others embrace the spontaneity of the road –“We’ll stop as we feel like it.”Does your spirit travel with blinders on or is it open to what you might experience along the way? As Phillip and his companion discover, some things are worth stopping for.
opening : "Breathe on Us" (K.Jobe) : The Rising Band; Andi Gross & Katie Herbert, vocals
reading : Hollie Hawkins
preaching : Rev Mark Briley
anthem : "When the Saints Go Marching In" (arr.J.Rutter) : Chancel Choir - Kelly Ford, director; Todd Maxwell, soloist; Greta Metzer, soprano sax; Rod Clark, trombone
What kind of traveler are you? Travel brings the best out of some of us; and, travel brings the beast out of some of us. We’re just made differently in this regard… or we’re nurtured as home bodies or adventure seekers… or we hit the road often as kids or… we didn’t. Who knows exactly why we approach travel differently but we just do. A lot of it may be personality. Some of us can get in the car and say, “Where do you want to go today?” and be stoked to get out on the road and see where the journey leads. Others are so structured that we print out down-to-the minute itineraries and become terribly irritated if all doesn’t go according to the precise time and plan. No judgment here – but I’m guessing you fall somewhere on this spectrum and you probably know exactly where you are. I confess to some dual tendencies. I want to say that I’m totally a go-with-the-flow-er and never get flustered on the road but… It depends where we are and what my expectations are going in and… if the kids are bouncing off the walls or not. Now on our recent family road trip to the Grand Tetons and Yellowstone, all travelers in the area had sort of an unspoken agreement. If someone pulled off the side of the road, you knew they had spotted a bear or a moose or a Yeti or something and everyone yanks their cars and motorhomes over onto the shoulder and jumps out to see what’s caused the stop. We saw this big guy one night which was totally worth stopping for.
The focal point of our first full day was the Grand Tetons Half-Marathon Race expo. Carrie and I were running the half-marathon the following morning. If you’ve never been to a Race Expo, you should go sometime – fun people, fun culture, and great anticipation about the next day’s race. Runners pick up their race packets with their bib numbers and there are always vendors around giving samples, race organizers giving tips about parking and shortcuts (just kidding). There’s often a DJ who’s just jamming the tunes – every race needs a good hype man (or woman). So the expo was in my head as what we most needed to experience that day.
My folks were traveleing with us as well. On the way toward the Expo my mom says, “You know, Idaho is just over that mountain and it might be fun to cross the border.” Done. Mom says, “Go” and I say, “How fast, mom.” Shouldn’t take us too long. But – it is some fifteen miles up the winding mountain but, “Hey, I’m cool – I’m flexible.” So we drive and drive and curl around the mountain and crest the top and head down the other side a bit until we find that “Welcome to Idaho” sign and we take a picture to note the occasion.
The kids see a mudslide-ish hill and say, “Can we run up it?” And I’m thinking, “Well its dirty and ‘is it safe?’ and you know the Expo…” but my mouth says, “Go for it!” And they do, squealing the whole way up. Eventually we load back up turn around to head back toward the Expo.
As we crest the top of the mountain again there is a scenic overlook and the back seats holler again, “Snowy Mountain! Dad, can we stop?” And I think, “Well, it’s kind of wet and muddy and ‘is it safe?’ and you know, the Expo…” but I say, “Go for it!” and we hop out. The view is breathtaking.
The kids spot the snow, however, and say, “Dad, can we play in the snow?” and I’m thinking, “Well, it’s wet and muddy and you’re in your shorts and ‘is it safe?’ and, you know, the Expo…” but my mouth says, “Go for it!” and this epic snow ball fight ensues with my kid’s Papa in the center of the battle and I’m thinking, “We will cherish this moment forever,” and my mouth says, “We will cherish this moment forever.” And even still, the kids will tell you that “Snowy Mountain” was their favorite part of the whole trip and we very easily could have driven right on by because, you know, the Expo. Some things are worth stopping for.
Philip the evangelist, and an unlikely companion, share a road trip of their own and bring our Road Trip series home today with a strong reminder of that very truth. Philip is my middle name – the name sake of this evangelist. The name itself, in Greek, means lover of horses which was a nod of tribute to my grandfather who loved horses but primarily my parents chose it because of this Philip, who was a quiet, humble servant who faithfully introduced others (often unlikely folk like the Ethiopian Eunuch) to Jesus. An angel says to Philip, “Need you to take a bit of a road trip.” He heads off toward Gaza on what the text says is ‘a wilderness road’ which most always has a literal meaning and a theological one. It’s sort of that “Get ready, we’re about to march off the map here.” On the way, Philip meets an Ethiopian eunuch who happened to be in charge of the treasury for the Ethiopian Queen. Some major strikes against this guy religiously speaking. First he’s a foreigner and religious inclusion at that time was reserved for the Israelite community. Second – he’s a eunuch which most typically describes someone who has been castrated. Several First Testament laws prohibit the presence or full participation of “blemished” individuals in holy places of worship (Deuteronomy 23:1; Leviticus 21:17-21) which is incredibly sad and tragic but true. There’s no question this man is an outsider who was likely frequently marginalized by the insider religious folks. So many, in the name of religion, exclude the marginalized even still. And yet, as the Spirit of Christ so readily does, Philip is led to connect with this man as he “hears him reading.” The fact that he’s reading does indicate the man’s level of education. Literacy wasn’t the norm at this time. Now a natural question – “Why is the guy reading out loud if he’s alone.” That was common practice in antiquity and while we don’t tend to operate that way today, we might read something out loud to ourselves when we don’t understand what we’re reading. I know I’ve repeated a line more than once – and ultimately out loud, when reading something that just wasn’t computing; as if slower and louder would help me get it. The man is reading the prophet Isaiah. Why Isaiah? Maybe because Isaiah gives him some hope as a foreigner and a eunuch. In chapter 56, the prophet gives encouragement to “the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths” and “the foreigners who join themselves to the LORD” (vv. 4, 6).
At this point, the Spirit says to Philip, “Get on over there.” And Philip’s thinking, “But the road is dusty and ‘is it safe?’ and you know, the Expo…” but he goes nonetheless… This is a big change from what he’s been doing in Jerusalem and Samaria. Philip’s been hosting huge revival meetings, healing people, bringing many folks into the fold of faith. Jerusalem was the big stage but he doesn’t seem to sweat this call out to serve one man, a stranger, a foreigner at that, and one who many of the religious elite would deem – “Not worth stopping for.” This visit actually completes the Jesus trifecta imperative to be witnesses to the faith in Jerusalem, Samaria, and this stranger easily represents the ‘even to the ends of the earth.’ Philip runs alongside the chariot and hollers, “Whatcha readin’?” Isaiah, humph. “Do you get what you’re reading?” And here’s some refreshing honesty – “How can I,” he says, “without some help?” Scripture is such a marvelous collection of writings, of wisdom and letters, of mystery and poetry – spanning many years and many contexts and yet we are often made to think – “It’s easy. Just pick up the book, dive into Numbers or 2nd Chronicles and have a good time.” We all can glean some important things from simply reading the word and there’s no replacement for getting into the text but understanding grows much deeper when we consider commentaries and context and participate in Bible studies and come to worship and share in dialogue with friends and scholars. And so Philip sits beside the man and shares the story of Jesus.
You may be thinking, “This is a cool story and all but that ain’t me. I’m not running beside anyone’s Dodge Stratus yelling at them to see if they understand the intricacies of the shifts which delineate the three movements of Isaiah.” Touché. I’m with you on that. But the message for you and me may be about what we’re willing to stop for along our daily walk. How are we in tune with the Spirit of God enough to pay attention to the moments – to look beyond the selfish blinders we sometimes wear so we can see that God may be giving us the “Pssst… that’s it over there… that’s the need… you’re the answer.” You all know somebody who is tuned in like that. They see the need and meet it. They count the cost and pay it. And they don’t talk themselves out of it. I admire those people so much.
It is a learned discipline. That’s the beauty of it. It’s something we all can do. It may be hard for a while to see what God needs you and me and us to see. You may feel overwhelmed even thinking about it — like when you go on a road trip – until the path is clear, all you see stretched before you is an endless system of interstates, highways, and back roads, that connect your driveway to everyone else’s and even a Home Depot in Maryland. Every intersection along the way is an artery that leads to workplaces and schools and homes… Boy Scout meetings, church picnics, and Bridge groups. The daily opportunities are so vast we can grow paralyzed as to the most faithful direction forward. How do you pick one chariot to flag down when you pass thousands every day?
Donald Miller reflects as he was driving through the night on a long road trip, “It is odd for me to consider the thousands of sleeping people, quiet in their homes, their clocks ticking on the walls, the dogs breathing at the feet of their masters’ beds, and to realize there are six billion people living in six billion settings. These homes house families we don’t know. So many sleeping people, all of them spirit, bound by flesh, held up by bone and trapped in time.” He began to question the “why” of it all. And it scared him at first. He said, “The rising question of why had been manifesting for some time, and had previously only been answered by Western Christianity’s propositions of behavior modification. What is beauty? I would ask. ‘Here are the five keys to a successful marriage,’ I would be given as an answer. And then this: “I began to believe the Christian faith was a religious system invented within the human story rather than a series of true ideas that explained the story. Christianity was a pawn for politicians, a moral system to control our broken natures. The religion did seem to stem from something beautiful, for sure, but it had been dumbed down and Westernized. If it was a religious system that explained the human story, its adherents had lost the grandness of its explanation in exchange for its validation of their ‘how’ lifestyles, to such a degree that the ‘why’ questions seemed to be drowning in the drool of Pavlov’s dogs.” Miller said, “I needed God to be larger than our free-market economy, larger than our two-for-one coupons, larger than our religious ideas.”
Maybe you are searching for this too. Maybe in the vastness of the planet and politics and personal agendas, you’re wondering how to press forward on your spiritual journey with genuine and authentic faith – not a mechanical, five-step version of religious how’s. You may feel the skeleton’s in your closet keep you from being a Philip to somebody else. But don’t let that hold you back from seeing what God may open you to see. It starts by seeing those skeletons for what they are: dead realities that have no actual power other than what you give them. I know it’s hard to get past some of these hang ups in our lives but if we live aware enough – attentive enough to the moment – listening for the moments that call us to stop and come alongside another, we’ll begin to find the why’s of our lives with greater passion and clarity. One person said it best: “The one thing standing between you and where you ultimately want to be is simple: Consistency — compounded over time.” You want to be a good friend? Consistency compounded over time. You want to be a present parent? Consistency compounded over time. You want to be attentive to your faith in Christ – consistency, compounded over time. That means you’re committed to grow and expand every day – and before you know it, the things in your life that God is asking you to slow and see – the things worth stopping for – will become clearer all the time.
Philip – attentive to Spirit – goes beyond societal and religious boundaries to care for a fellow man on the road – and shares his story of faith which is grounded in the story of Jesus. They surely discuss baptism at some point as they pass a creek and the man says, “Phil – what’s to stop you from baptizing me right now in that water?” Philip says, “Not a thing,” and off they go to wade into the water. This was worth stopping for. This was worth halting the chariot, holding up traffic, delaying the estimated time of arrival. They could have let it pass. They could have suggested, “Baptism would be a good idea at some point.” They could have decided there wasn’t time or that it was foolish to get all wet when they weren’t prepared. But no – this was worth stopping for. And who’s to say who became the stronger for it? Both men responding to the Spirit. Both men being in the moment. Both moving forward transformed because of the way their paths intersected. I can’t help but think this encounter changed their futures and what they deemed worth stopping for along the way. A touching gesture of compassion between strangers.
I read an article this week with those very words shared in the first sentence. A touching gesture of compassion between strangers. The story told of two men whose paths with unlikely to ever cross in this world. First, Bill Conner – a Wisconsin man whose 20-year-old daughter, Abbey, died suddenly from a fluke accident in January. The Second, Lou Jack Jr., a 21-year old young man who thought he had some simple heartburn which quickly escalated into a viral infection which might only allow him to live another ten days or so. This is where the two stories collide. Abbey was an organ donor. Her heart liver, pancreas, kidneys, eyes and tissues went to four recipients. She died on January 12, 2017. Jack Jr. received her heart the next day. On May 22nd of this year, Bill Conner set out on a 2,600-mile road trip riding his bike from his home in Wisconsin to the hospital in Florida that cared for his daughter, raising awareness of the importance of organ donation. Learning of his ride to honor his daughter, the hospital notified all the recipients of her organs, inviting them to meet Bill along the way. Only one responded. Jack Jr. Last Sunday, Father’s Day, after the grueling ride that has taken him 1,400 miles so far in just over four weeks, Bill Conner rode into Baton Rouge where he planned to meet Lou Jack Jr. for the first time. They embraced. The young man then gave Bill the only Father’s Day gift he possibly could – a stethoscope. For the first time in six months, a father heard the beating heart of his daughter on Father’s Day. Conner later said, “She’s alive. Jack’s alive and she’s alive. It’s her heart.” Before Bill Conner got back on his bike to continue his trek, Lou Jack’s family gave him a recording of Jack’s heart so Conner could listen to it as he rides the rest of the way to Florida. Conner’s parting words to a reporter were powerful: “It’s about not being selfish and burying things that could help people live or live better lives. If you want a legacy — what better legacy could you have than to help people live?“
What kind of traveler are you? I know I asked you that at the beginning of this message but this time I’m talking about the journey of your spirit. What is your Spirit missing? What’s next on your journey of faith? For what do you need to slow down so you can truly experience what’s worth stopping for? What do you need to do consistently, that when compounded over time, transforms your life, the life of your family, the life of your friends, even the lives of strangers? We are made for this kind of spiritual road trip. Won’t you come? Not just for you but for the stranger out there who so longs to experience and understand the gift of faith. Who’s chariot can you come alongside of this week? See the need and meet it. Consider the cost and pay it. And don’t talk yourself out of it. It just might save a life – yours – or someone else’s. What better legacy could you have than to help people live?
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 From Donald Miller’s book, Through Painted Deserts, chapter entitled, “Leaving”. Nelson Books. 2005.
 I read about this story in several places this week and utilized several to condense for the message. One such source can be found here: http://wnep.com/2017/06/20/dad-hears-daughters-heart-in-recipients-body-on-fathers-day/