Let me start with a hypothetical situation. If I were to tell you that a white, straight, blue-collar, male, gun-owning, evangelical fundamentalist from a southern state ran into a black, lesbian, academic, female, Bernie-backing, progressive Protestant from a major urban area, and the two just so happened to immediately connect about scripture, and not only would they inspire each other to greater faith, but not a single word would be wasted on all their differences and arguments, but rather the two would come away still more ready to serve God in their own, dramatically different lives, would you suppose for even a second that such a thing could be possible?
Well, why not? That kind of boundary-breaking is exactly the kind of work that God is in. The love of God brings us together and celebrates our differences. And this story proves exactly that.
Maybe it helps to hear that Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch he meets are at least as different as the hypothetical I just proposed. For starters, let’s talk about Philip. Do you remember him? He was one of the believers who was named as a deacon back in chapter 6, our reading last week. His only job was supposed to be making sure everyone got enough to eat. Other disciples are called to take on the work of study, prayer, and evangelizing. That is not Philip’s job. He’s not even supposed to be here, called to preach and teach on this dangerous, isolated, wilderness road.
The Ethiopian eunuch is about as foreign a person as Philip could come across. Because the man is a eunuch, a man who had been castrated, Philip would understand him to be out-of-keeping with Jewish purity laws. But this guy is way more than that. He’s high-society rich. He is seated in his chariot, not a chariot – he owns a chariot. If reading and driving was as dangerous in his time as it is in ours, it was being driven by someone else. He owns a chariot and a driver. And he owns a scroll – an enormously expensive item in its time, when copies were made by hand and took hundreds of hours. Plus, he can actually read the scroll, demonstrating incredible education in a time when literacy was nearly unheard of.
And what does Philip do? Philip, who’s just supposed to be keeping food on the table, who probably can’t read and probably barely owns the clothes on his back? He hops up and jogs alongside the chariot. This crazy man trots along next to this foreign official and basically says, hey man, I can see that you can read – and I totally can’t – but may I be so presumptuous as to offer my assistance?
And you know what’s even crazier? The eunuch accepts his offer. In all his superiority, he doesn’t brush Philip off. He doesn’t turn the tables and tell Philip, well, actually, since I’m the literate one why don’t I tell you a few things? He cares only that this is a fellow believer, and that together, they can learn and do more than they can alone.
But all this isn’t even the craziest part. The craziest part of this story is the ending. Philip just tells the eunuch about Jesus and the eunuch spontaneously asks to be baptized. “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” he asks. And the answer: nothing. Nothing is to prevent him from being baptized. Not his race, not his background, not his social status, not his lack of knowledge, not even the fact that he hasn’t even technically professed the faith into which he will be baptized. None of that matters. God does all the work. Unbidden, unchosen, uninvited, unrecognized. God is at work out in the middle of the desert before anyone asks for it or calls for it, and does more than anyone could ever expect or envision.
Something special happens when two people come together, no matter how seemingly incompatible. God shows up particularly in relationship. In Philip’s offer to support and help, and in the Ethiopian’s desire to know and experience still more, when we recognize we need others and when we recognize we have something to give, God is there. The kingdom of God comes near when two people with nothing else in common join in obedience to God’s call.
This is why we do Global Mission. We join each other in service to God because we learn from each other and are mutually strengthened in faith when we do this work together with our friends in Christ around the world. We don’t bring God to them – God is already there. We are side by side in this work of serving, praying, loving, and sharing, and we here in West St. Paul are guided at least as much as we guide.
When Philip asks the eunuch if he understands, the eunuch replies, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” When we approach each other in love and compassion, wanting only for Jesus to be known in our words and actions, we share the gospel. God is at work in this world, and how will people know about it, about God’s own grace and mercy and forgiveness and truth, unless you name it for them, do it with them, guide them to it? You. God uses you. Not someone else, not somewhere else, not somewhere else: you, now, here, and wherever God calls you.
God doesn’t call you to talk about your faith with only your next-door neighbor or a person at work or on your Facebook page or by traveling across an ocean to learn how to say Jesus in a completely different language. God calls you to share the good news with your words in any and every possible time and place.
God doesn’t call you to only serve people in this city, or this county, or this state, or this country. God calls you to serve the entirety of God’s good creation, all God’s people, no matter where we may find them, because God is at work in all those places.
God doesn’t call you to prioritize your financial giving by picking recipients in descending order, as if you can only give to international work once you’ve paid off all the national needs and only that once you’ve zeroed out your state’s financial responsibilities and only that once your congregation is fully solvent. God calls you to give with ridiculous generosity to any and all of God’s people, because in God there is enough for people here and there and places you can’t even imagine.
This isn’t about what we have to do to make sure God’s will is done. God’s will is being done. This is about coming along with the work God is already doing. We will not limit God’s work by saying we’re not called to that work, or that place, or those people. God calls us wherever God desires to be known, in places of brokenness and pain, of joy and celebration, of need and pain, of promise and hope. God desires to be known in the lives of others. They ache to know the truth of God. How can they, unless someone guides them? Will you go whenever and wherever God calls you, to do whatever is needed? For your generosity, and your willingness to share in God’s unlikely work for the sake of the world, thanks be to God. Amen.