Every night before I climb into bed, I try to read from my ‘One Year Bible’. For every day, there is an old testament reading, a new testament reading, a psalm, and a proverb, and it’s a manageable little bit to read, no matter how tired I am. I want the last words of the day to be God’s, not mine.
There are scribbles and underlines and notes throughout this Bible, and it will one day be an interesting window into my faith, or lack of it. I try to remember to put the year next to my notes so I can see my progression of belief, what words and phrases stuck out to me in a given season of my life.
For some reason, lately I’ve been in the habit of reading the next day’s entries. Maybe it’s good preparation for what is to come. After all, you could never accuse me of a lack of readiness. Some would call this a state of anxiety, and they’d be right, but at least I’m well-armed in the word.
Anyway, yesterday’s (today’s) readings were from 1Kings and Acts, and I zeroed right in on the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunich (Acts 8:26-40). Philip was one of seven men chosen in the early church to care for the poor. His role prefigures what we now think of as a deacon in the church. As the story goes, one day an angel of the Lord directs Philip to “go south to the road-the desert road-that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” It’s important to note that the angel does not tell Philip why he is to go there, or how far down the road he should travel, or what he should do when he gets there, but Philip, obediently, goes. At the same time, an Ethiopian eunich, an important official, is on his way home from Jerusalem in his chariot. He’s reading the book of Isaiah the prophet, and he’s having trouble understanding what he’s reading. Enter, Philip, who is further instructed by the Spirit to “go to that chariot and stay near it.” Eventually, Philip runs up to the chariot, hears the man reading from Isaiah out loud, and offers to help explain it to him. The short version of what happens next: Philip explains how Isaiah foretold Jesus and the entirety of the gospel, the eunich is baptized, and then the Spirit of the Lord suddenly takes Philip away and the eunich never sees him again, but goes on his way, rejoicing.
So, okay. The “bird’s eye view” of this story is beautiful. The interaction of Philip and the eunich is choreographed, like a dance, but a seriously complicated one. There is intricate timing; both men from different parts of the world had to be in the same place at the same time. There is obedience; Philip had to go when and where he was told and not question why. There is the openness and curiosity of the eunich. There are the weird details, like the fact that the eunich was reading out loud from a specific section of Isaiah that foretold Jesus, in a way that Philip could hear him, exactly when Philip was inspired to run up to the chariot. For Heaven’s sakes, that is a lot of detail!
The story reminds me that we are not in charge. Maybe we’ve all felt a little tug inside to pick up the phone and call someone, or smile at a stranger, or reach out in some small act of service. Many times in my life, I’ve started walking a “desert road” without knowing why, only to discover the reason further down. I’ve been Philip in the story, the person who helps and clarifies, and I’ve been the eunich also, the recipient of much-needed, well-timed help. We are pieces of a puzzle, threads in a tapestry, and there is a larger plan taking place above and between us all, thank God. One day we will see how beautifully it’s all coming together, but as we walk on the road, or sit in our chariots, that’s a hard thing to see. Impossible, really. We can only trust.
I love the last bit of the story, in which Philip baptizes the eunich and then disappears. In my Bible, I wrote, “nice touch!” And it is kind of magical, and it must have made the eunich feel particularly loved, seen, and known by God. All of that choreography just so that one man could know Jesus. It’s awesome, and there is a larger story to tell about how this man helped bring Christianity to Ethiopia. But the better part of it is, for me, about the fact that God does not waste time. It can feel sometimes like we’re sitting around waiting, but God is bringing people, ideas, and experiences into our lives and the lives of our loved ones at the exact time they’re needed. I cannot overstate what a comfort that is, and it’s something I want to fully incorporate into how I perceive my life. The scripture says that Philip later appears “at Azotus and traveled about, preaching the gospel in all the towns until he reached Caesarea.” Right where he was needed, right on time.
Let it be for me and for you today. Let’s listen and receive and act. We’re all in this together, amen.