The Episcopal Diocese of Connecticut

Convention Eucharist Sermon

Posted on by Bishop Laura J. Ahrens

Sermon by the Rt. Rev. Laura J. Ahrens

            The road to Gaza. He asked himself, how did he ever get here?  Just a few days ago he was preaching and proclaiming the Good News in Samaria, and now God called him to the Gaza Road. The angel of the Lord had said “go” and so he did. He hadn’t thought much about it when the call first came, but now he was curious. What was God up to and how was God inviting him to serve?

            When God called Philip to go to the city of Samaria, he had some sense of what to do. He would go and listen to the stories of the people in the community and share stories of Jesus. He could share his own story of coming to Christ and how he was commissioned by the apostles in Jerusalem to serve at table and to share the Good News out in the world.

            And now he was curious.  How was he to share God’s hope on a road? Along THIS road? And where was he supposed to be on this road?  “Go to the road” the angel had said and so he did. And here he was, walking about, curious about what God was calling him to see and hear. What was he supposed to do? What was God up to? It made no sense for Philip to be here, and yet some how, since he began following Jesus, nothing in the old world made sense and yet everything made sense. Everything was filled with the wonder and the possibility of sharing God’s love. Even the challenges and the surprises were opportunities.

            Wait a minute, Philip thought, this is the wilderness road. What was he thinking! He remembered stories he had heard about this road....the Gaza road is not a safe place to be! Philip checked his emotions. Was he afraid? A little bit. Was he curious? A whole lot! What was God up to!

            He could see a chariot in the distance. Was this who God was calling Philip to be with? Then the fear took over... What if this man robbed him and left him for dead by the side of the road? He had heard stories about the Gaza road. He remembered hearing a story in Samaria about a man who had been beaten and left for dead by the side of the road, was that the Gaza road? No, he remembered, that was the road to Jericho. He paused for a minute. Hum. The world seemed so unsafe all of a sudden. Violence seemed to permeate all the stories that people were telling. Violence here, a violent act there. Places where you might expect and places where you would never dream violence ever would come. He was glad that he had found Jesus or been found by him. Jesus offered hope. When he lost sight of that hope his companions and the Christian community helped him to feel God‘s love. Even when he felt like he was in the wilderness, he still felt some small connection to God. Centuries later the Christian author Frederick Buechner would write, “The promise is that, yes, on the weary feet of faith and the fragile wings of hope, we will come to love him ... as from the first he has loved us – loved us even in the wilderness, especially in the wilderness, because he has been in the wilderness with us. He has been in the wilderness for us… And rise we shall, out of the wilderness, every last one of us, even as out of the wilderness Christ rose before us.( Listen to your life)

            Philip wanted to share God’s hope with the world...a world broken and divided, struggling with anxiety and frozen grief. Jesus’s message and witness are filled with stories of love and forgiveness, reconciliation and new life. He wanted to join God in healing this broken world. By being in loving relationships with others and offering a new way of being in the world, God’s love would bring about a more peace-filled future. Sharing God’s love in word and action.

            Philip was deep in thought when the angel of God again spoke to him. “Go over to the chariot and join it” the angel said. Well, that answered the question of what he was to do next. He walked over to the chariot, a little cautious and very curious....here is an opportunity for me to proclaim the Good news of Jesus Christ. He took a deep breath in, he was excited and ready to evangelize....and then he paused. He felt God calling him to slow down, to breath out, and to listen. Just Listen.

            Philip heard the man reading aloud a passage from the prophet Isaiah. He was surprised and over joyed. Trying not to be too overbearing, Philip gently responded to what the man was saying, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He asked with a genuine sense of curiosity. Did the man understand it? How did he understand it? Philip was open to however the man responded. The man replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” Philip paused again, “don’t be too pushy” he thought. Wait. Listen. And then the man invited Philip to come sit beside him. Responding to the invitation, Philip climbed into the chariot and they began to explore together what Isaiah was saying.

            Philip shared the stories of Jesus, he shared about God’s hope and love revealed in the resurrection. The man in the chariot could feel Philip’s excitement and his genuine joy in knowing Jesus. And, he could also feel Philip’s genuine care for him. The hospitality of Philip was a profound gift. Here was a complete stranger who had taken the time to listen to him, listening to his stories and exploring with him answers to his questions. He felt heard and cared for in a new way.  He had not always been well received by friends and strangers alike. As a court official in service to the Queen, he was respected for his position, but at times he felt lonely or excluded. He longed for community, for something more. Perhaps that is why he had traveled to Jerusalem, to the Temple. He was looking for something. And could feel that something or someone was looking for him. The stories of Jesus which Philip told him filled him with hope. He felt as though it was God who had been looking for him, and he had been looking for God.  

             Meanwhile, Philip was thinking what gracious hospitality this man was offering.  He wondered, Who is the guest and who is the host? That question was lost. They were companions in Christ, fellow travelers on the road, both physically and spiritually.

            Philip baptized the man that day, bringing him into the fellowship of Christ and joining him with the Christian family that was expanding across the world. God then immediately called Philip away to a new adventure and the new convert continued on his way, rejoicing ... and curious, how was God calling him to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the world? He was open and excited about how he could share God’s love particularly to a world that seemed longing to hear such a Word.

            I wonder....How might God be calling you? Are you curious?

Amen