A Wilderness Road
Sunday, August 30, 2020
Pastor Mark Aune
Acts 8: 8:26-39
Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace. Amen
Exactly 11 years ago to the day, on August 30, 2009, I preached what I thought at the time was a difficult sermon to preach. The week prior to that Sunday our denomination, the ELCA had voted to ordain gay and lesbian pastors who were in committed relationships. This vote was taken after years of study, dialogue and lots of difficult conversations as we sought out God’s direction and purpose in this matter.
It was a big deal in 2009, much like the decision to begin ordaining women into ministry was a big deal in 1970, fifty years ago. Many people left churches over this decision in 2009 and many churches left the ELCA as well. In that sermon I told you about my gay friend, Brad, and the key role he played in my life and in my call to be a pastor.
The fact that today’s date, on a Sunday, is not lost on me and the Holy Spirit brought it to my attention yesterday as I was struggling to write this sermon.
It is August 30, 2020. 11 years later and it has been another difficult week. On top of the personal stress we feel, the work challenges that seem to change and move each week, the destruction of wildfires in California and the devastation of another massive hurricane in the gulf, our summer of discontent and Covid has now been bookended by another shooting of a black man, Jacob Blake, in Kenosha, WI. The issue of the day 11 years ago seems to pale in comparison to what is going on in 2020.
A large part of me doesn’t even know what so say, think or feel and I cannot even begin to imagine what our black and brown sisters and brothers are feeling once again.
Almost 6 months into the pandemic shut down and the heartache, challenges and changes it keeps bringing along with the racial reckoning that is unfolding before our eyes, it truly feels to me like we are on a wilderness road as we all keep trying to find meaning and purpose.
Where is this road going?
How long is it?
Does the road end and if it does, where does it end?
In destruction and the end of civil society or is God taking us down this road to something new, something different, something better, reflecting the kingdom of Jesus and His power?
In the biblical narrative the wilderness is always a place of isolation, testing and a place where questions of God’s presence and action are asked and wondered about.
The devil temps Jesus in the wilderness. Israel wanders in the wilderness for 40 years. Elijah, when his life is threatened, and he is ready to give up, goes out into the wilderness to die.
In today’s reading we find Phillip on a wilderness road and I believe it is worth noting that he is told to go there by an angel. He is directed by God to this specific road.
Who was Phillip? He was a waiter. He was not an apostle. In chapter 6 of Acts he is set apart along with 6 other men to wait on tables and serve the widows as part of the food distribution for the gathered community in Jerusalem.
Now during those days, when the disciples were increasing in number, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. 2 And the twelve called together the whole community of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables. 3 Therefore, friends, select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to this task, 4 while we, for our part, will devote ourselves to prayer and to serving the word.”
In one of the first cases of dividing up ministry because of need and conflict the Apostles select these 7 men to wait on the tables of the widows so they could devote themselves to preaching and teaching the Word of Jesus.
2 chapters later, Phillip is told to go. Move on down the road. Get up, he is told. Go towards the south
He listens to the Holy Spirit. He is obedient to the Holy Spirit.
Before we can act, before we can move in any direction we need to get up.
Get up physically, emotionally, spiritually. Get up and go.
Which is what Phillip the waiter does, and God sends him to a wilderness road where he meets a black man, an Ethiopian Eunuch.
Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah.
29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.
I’m clinging to this verse right now.
I’m trusting that the Holy Spirit is still speaking directly to us just like it did to Phillip the waiter.
Do you believe the Holy Spirit is still speaking directly to us like it did to Phillip?
Do you believe the Holy Spirit gives specific instructions like it did for Phillip?
I’m trusting this pandemic has not plugged our ears to the voice of the Spirit. I’m hopeful that we are still listening.
Or are we afraid of what the Spirit is telling us to do? Where to go. How to change.
We want normal. We want to go back which is exactly what Israel wanted to do when they were in the wilderness. They wanted to go back to Egypt, to slavery, to what was familiar and normal. We don’t want to see what needs to change in our lives or in our world.
Go over to his chariot and join it. The Holy Spirit tells Phillip to go to this black man, this stranger and begin a relationship with him.
Look at what happens.
So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.
Once the Spirit gets Phillip into place a relationship begins. Questions are asked and answered.
A mutual conversation between two very different people results in the good news of Jesus being shared with the Ethiopian. He comes to faith; he is baptized and then goes on his way rejoicing in this newfound life in Christ.
What is the Holy Spirit saying to you right now?
Where is that Spirit directing your life and with whom are you being called into a mutual relationship of learning and growth? Perhaps someone different than you?
We have choices to make and we must listen carefully to what the Spirit is telling us. And like Phillip the waiter, we need not fear the wilderness road.
Because we have traveling partners on that road.
There are people to guide us and who will gladly share the journey with us.
Let’s get up and go. Let’s listen to the Spirit. Let us proclaim the unconditional love of Jesus as we seek out justice for all and as we look for hope and strength no matter where the road takes us or how long the journey
Thanks be to God. Amen