I am absolutely fascinated when people in the Bible are picked up and moved by the Holy Spirit. This language happens on occasion with some of our Hebrew prophets. Ezekiel ends up in the valley of the dry bones because “the hand of the Lord came upon (him), and brought (him) out by the spirit of the Lord.” It also happens with our hero of faith today. We’re told in Acts 8.39 “the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away.”
Philip was a deacon and evangelist. Being set apart within the Christian community by the apostles for the work of serving the widows and the poor, Philip became a deacon along with Stephen, seven in total. “They had these men stand before the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them” (Acts 6:6). We know that soon after the appointing of these deacons that, “the Word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). After the church in Jerusalem began to face persecution, Philip traveled to Samaria where he proclaimed the Messiah to them and cast out unclean spirits.
It is an angel of the Lord who later calls Philip to go south towards Gaza along a wilderness road. On the road Philip meets an Ethiopian court official on his way home from worshiping God in Jerusalem who happens to be reading from Isaiah. The Spirit directs Philip to walk closer to the chariot so he can Philip ask the Ethiopian if he understand what he is reading. His reply is one we can imagine our children answering, “how can I, unless someone guides me?” (Acts 8:31). Philip’s reply, starting with scripture, proclaims the good news about Jesus. This leads to the Ethiopian’s baptism and as tradition claims, the eventually founding of the Ethiopian Church, one of the oldest sects of Christianity in the world.
Considering our roles as parents, godparents, grand friends and others who help “grow Christians” there are several lessons for us in the story of Philip. First, we must be willing to follow when the Holy Spirit leads us, even to places that might not make sense at the time, even to places where we might not want to go. Philip had no idea who he would encounter on that wilderness road nor the outcome of their conversation. Philip was simply faithful to God’s leading, and confident enough in the good news of Jesus Christ to share it as he knew and experienced.
The second lesson is found in the way Philip shares his knowledge of God in Christ with the Ethiopian. So many of us take for granted that if we bring our children to church regularly and perhaps to Christian Formation classes, they will pick up the stories and understanding of our faith. This can happen, but much more often, even after years of worship and learning, our young ones need someone to guide them towards understanding of the good news. Episcopalians often shy away from the title evangelist, but at its core, this is what it means to be an evangelist—being willing to guide a person to knowledge and understanding of scripture in light of the good news of Jesus.
The gospel reading for today’s Feast of Saint Philip is the walk to Emmaus in which Jesus himself acts as evangelist for the disciples walking along the road. The text concludes with the verse, “Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, (Jesus) interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.”
Today, I invite you to ask a young person you know if they understand the Christian faith. If they say yes, ask them to explain it to you! If they respond with a version of “how can I, unless someone guides me?” you will know that the Spirit of God is with you in your call to be an evangelist.
[Image Credit: Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons]