Americans love stories. Sometimes we pass along some really important truths wrapped up in a story. Here's a story--and one with a significant point for us all.
My father was a one of those small town story tellers--not beyond stretching the truth a bit to make the tale richer. Let me relate one of his favorite stories--one that I believe is entirely true, because I live in the same county he was talking about.
Once my dad had to officiate at a Masonic service in a remote area of our rural county. The local man who asked him to come gave him the following directions:
Look for a big building, the biggest in these parts. You cannot miss it. Drive on out the old highway past the cemetery until you come to the Smith farm. It is across the road from where that old school burned down about thirty years ago. Turn left on the gravel lane there and go down to where you see a great big oak tree. There is a road to right. And off in the woods to the left is that big ranch house that some lawyer from the city built last year. You can t see it from the road, but it sure is a mighty big place for one man and his wife. Anyway, don't turn there, just keep on going. When you get to a place with some mail boxes, I guess there must be six or seven of them, Well maybe eight, because old man Johnson s son moved onto his place last year and built his own house. There is a road around the bend from there about a quarter mile. After you cross the bridge that the Simpson girl ran off of in the flood of 61, you will see a dirt road. Take it on down the lodge hall and we will be around there somewhere.
Needless to say, my dad's guide was not a very good one. He had to stop about three times to ask for clearer directions. He needed good guidance, which is something we all need in life.
Today's lesson from the book of Acts tells us something about a better kind of guidance. The story is one of a royal officer in the Ethiopian court - traveling back home from worshiping in Jerusalem. He was reading aloud from the Hebrew Bible - from the book of Isaiah. The man s traveling companion was an early Christian disciple, Philip.
Philip became inspired to ask the Ethiopian if he understood what he was reading. "How can I? He replied, unless someone guide me?" So Philip began to teach him the Good News of Christ.
The Ethiopian had been reading Isaiah 53 - a passage we know as the suffering servant hymn, an account about God s servant as one led like a sheep to be slaughtered, who in humiliation was deprived of justice and whose life was taken from the earth.
Philip explained the passage as a prophecy of the crucifixion of Christ. He used it as a springboard to tell his new friend that the one who was spoken of in Isaiah was actually the one who died for us.
He told about astonishing Good News - that from this unjust death, God raised the suffering servant to be the savior of the world. Philip revealed the truth of the awesome power of this dying and rising, of the Resurrection of and transformation of human lives and human relationships.
In response - the Ethiopian asked to be baptized - then and there, and after Philip baptized him, the new Christian went on his way rejoicing.
In the story we see a good guide, Philip, and the committed searcher - the newly converted Ethiopian who accepted the guidance in the way of God in Christ. These two offer us proper examples for living out the implications of the Good News of Christ.
The Ethiopian was hungry for God. He was looking for meaning by reading the Bible. He was confused by his reading, but he was open to new possibilities. He was willing to be guided - but he needed a good guide.
What happened to the Ethiopian after his Baptism?
When he returned to his homeland, who was there to continue guiding him? Perhaps there was no one. If not, we must wonder how well he could continue his new found faith without any one to continue leading him in the way of Christ. Each of us is like the Ethiopian. Though we too are baptized, we still need proper guidance. We wonder In what ways we can find the spiritual guidance we need?
We are all like Philip who was moved by the Holy Spirit. God s Holy Spirit can guide us through prayer, informed Bible reading, the application of church teachings, and the witness of mature, committed, courageous Christians.
And each of us is also like the Ethiopian. We are part of a faith handed down from generation to generation, and we depend on guidance from others.
We can never learn all we need to know for our soul s health without accepting guidance throughout life. We are guided by our parents, Godparents, Sunday school teachers, clergy, and fellow pilgrims on the journey of faith.
As our faith matures, we are also called to become guides for others. Ours is a faith that thrives on mutual nurturing and the modeling of the Christlike life. We are called to take seriously our responsibilities to offer guidance to others, showing them by word and example the Good News of Christ.
Throughout our lives of faith, we continue to nurture others as we have been nurtured. Just as Philip taught the Ethiopian about meaning of God s actions in Christ, we teach others are we are taught.
Today's Gospel lesson teaches us to follow both the example of Philip and the Ethiopian, to be both disciple and guide. In so doing, we will heed the witness of today s Gospel story. Jesus said, If you love me, you will keep my commandments.
Today's lesson from Acts reminds us of the importance of guidance on the Christian journey. As we reflect about Philip teaching the Ethiopian about the Good News of Christ so long ago, let us remember who is the true and ultimate guide for life s journey. Let us remember who leads us in the direction of loving God and others. Let us turn to Jesus as our guide. In so doing, we will learn his way so clearly that we may guide others into the way of all truth.