Getting Directions

Acts 8:26-39

26 Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and  go towards the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) 27So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ 30So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. 32Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’
34The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ 35Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. 36As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, ‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ 38He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. 39When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing.

I have one of those genetic disorders linked to the Y chromosome.

This disorder is different from most, though.

I don’t notice it at all, usually.

My wife Karen does.

What is this disorder you ask?

I don’t ask directions.

And I know I am not alone.

I’m pretty sure this has been a male trait since creation.

Alison Armstrong says this:

Almost every woman has a story about a man who drove around for hours looking for someplace and refused her entreaties to stop and ask. To women, this seems like the ultimate display of male arrogance and stubbornness. But what if it isn’t?

It is important to understand that a man is NEVER “lost.” … He simply hasn’t gotten there yet, and he has complete faith in his ability to do so.

… [T]he moment he asks … for directions, he has put his life and yours in the hands of a stranger! … The way he sees it, you are both better off searching for your destination yourselves than being at the mercy of someone he doesn’t know and trust.

On the other hand, maps are the be-all and end-all of travel. With a map, a man can make a solid decision based on reliable information.

A woman who understands—and even likes—reading maps becomes a highly valued travel partner. To quote men, a woman who happily reads maps “becomes useful in the hunt,” and is “awesome” and “nearly perfect.” … [I]f you’re consulting a map, you’ll find a man more than willing to follow your directions.

She must have been in the back seat with the kids when Karen and I were traveling.

But what does this have to do with Philip?

This story from Acts is about a man who needed directions.

And a man who was sent to give him those directions.

I love this story.

It is one of my favorites.

Phillip, one of the Apostles, was doing what Jesus had told him to do.

Go and take the Gospel to the entire world and baptize all who want to enter the Kingdom of God.

And Phillip did.

He went where the Spirit took him, and gave directions to the Kingdom to everyone he met.

His directions were simple.

Follow Jesus.

And he told everyone.

No one was excluded.

In today’s story, Phillip comes across this guy sitting in a chariot by the side of the road.

Unbeknownst to Phillip, he is the Secretary of the Treasury of Ethiopia, a big kingdom in Africa ruled by the “Candace”.

It seems this unnamed fellow had been checking out the Hebrew God in Jerusalem.

 He was probably on some kind of spiritual journey.

No religious affiliation.

Looking for meaning.

Just like so many people in our post-Christendom world.

Just like 20% of all Americans and 33% of all Americans under 30.

He was “spiritual but not religious”.

In the world today, church affiliations are no longer passed down from one generation to the next.

Heck, we can no longer assume Christianity will be passed on to the next generation.

But folks are still out there – in here? – trying to find God.

Trying to find God’s kingdom.

Reading about spiritual things.

Trying to make sense of life.

Trying to find a connection with eternity.

Trying to have an experience with the divine.

Like this Ethiopian.

Our Ethiopian friend acquired an Isaiah scroll.

He was reading it but not understanding it.

I have an image of him reading it aloud to everyone with him and then raising his palms to the sky saying, “Anybody got a thought? Anybody? Anybody?”

I know what that feels like.

I remember when I was in high school I read “The Great Gatsby”.

I hated it.

My reaction was “So what?”

Just a bunch of amoral rich people with too much time on their hands.

I did not do well on the Gatsby test.

Some years later I read “Reading Lolita in Tehran” by an English language literature professor at the University of Tehran.

Part of the book turned out to be an in-depth discussion of “The Great Gatsby” from her class lectures.

Let’s say, she got a bit more out of the book than my 16-year-old self.

She peeled back the layers of Fitzgerald’s story and identified themes and perspective I never thought about, certainly when I was 16.

Had I read her book before I took the Gatsby test, I might have done much better.

I think this Ethiopian was like my 16 year Gatsby old self.

He was reading something that made no sense to him.

He was lost.

He needed directions.

Someone to peel back the story and disclose its true meaning.

But no rabbi or priest was going to teach this fellow about Isaiah no matter how much he was willing to listen.

The Ethiopian was a eunuch.

And this is important.

Because he was a eunuch, under Jewish law he was cursed and permanently unclean.

He was not even permitted in the Temple.

Even if he wanted to, he could not become a Jew.

Though he searched for God, there was no way for him to find the way.

It seemed he was unwelcome.

Yet he had gone to Jerusalem to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus.

Somehow, he had acquired an Isaiah scroll.

Maybe he could fine directions to this great God.

A place.

A way of life.

A purpose.

A destination.

An encounter with the divine.

But what he got was this road worn ragged guy named Philip.

I imagine their encounter went something like this:

Phillip: So … what are you reading?

Ethiopian: Some Jewish prophet – Isaiah.

Phillip: Oh?

Why?

Ethiopian: I’m trying to have an encounter with the divine.

Phillip: What do you think?

Ethiopian: Think?

I don’t know what to think.

I don’t understand what the point is.

Reminds me of the Great Gatsby!

Phillip: Oh? What part are you reading now?

Ethiopian: I am particularly interested in this:

‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter,
   and like a lamb silent before its shearer,
     so he does not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
   Who can describe his generation?
     For his life is taken away from the earth.’

Phillip: Do you know what it means?

Ethiopian: How can I?

I’m a eunuch.

No one will explain it to me.

Phillip: I will.

There was a man named Jesus…

While we do not know what Phillip said exactly, we do know how the Ethiopian responded.

‘Look, here is water! What is to prevent me, a Eunuch, from being baptized?’

Phillip’s answer?

Nothing.

Nothing about you is unwelcome in the Kingdom.

Jesus sent me to tell you that.

Come on; let’s get it done.

And the Ethiopian goes home rejoicing.

Why?

Phillip taught him about Jesus.

About divine love.

That he was a subject of that divine love.

And when the water was poured on his head, the Ethiopian had an encounter with the divine.

Now comes what Paul Harvey would call the rest of the story …

This fellow goes back to Ethiopia and tells the Candace what Phillip told him about Jesus.

 And next thing we know, all Ethiopia is Christian.

The first Christian nation … ever.

We have all known people like this fellow.

We have all been this fellow.

Post-Christendom, spiritual but not religious, non-denominational, searchers.

While I have been a life long Presbyterian, I had need for directions.

Here is my story.

I grew up in the church.

I went to college and did not go back to church in any consistent way until AJ was born.

Sound familiar?

Then one day I got a call from my brother.

“Let’s take Dad to a Promise Keepers conference.”

Two days of worship and praise at Three Rivers Stadium.

It would be an outing with our Dad.

Saturday afternoon I was sitting there listening to Crawford Loritts, a Baptist preacher from Tennessee.

I have little memory of what he was saying.

But he picked up his Bible and said “this book must be the foundation of our lives” or something like that.

I felt like someone thumped me on the chest.

Jesus?

This guy Loritts was right!

I needed to look into this.

So, I read the Bible.

All of it.

Took me a year.

Then, suddenly, it all made sense.

I just knew.

I was like that Ethiopian.

I had an encounter with the divine.

The world has never looked quite the same to me.

It’s still not perfect.

It’s still a dangerous place.

It still ends with my physical death.

But I also know that Jesus loves me for who I am, as imperfect as I am.

And that because Jesus lives, somehow I will, too.

And now I try to be like Phillip.

Over the past several years I have met several people who show up at church looking like the Ethiopian.

Like the Ethiopian they are looking for something.

A place.

A way of life.

A purpose.

A destination.

An encounter with the divine.

When I meet such people, I listen to them, ask God for a word or two that might send them in the right direction, and then I share with them some story from scripture that I think they need to hear.

It does not always come to me right away, but it always does come to me if I listen long enough and often enough.

Something that will have impact.

Like Phillip teaching Isaiah to the Ethiopian.

Phillip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is a story that teaches us how to give directions to lost people.

Tell them about Jesus.

Give directions to the Kingdom.

Many here today have such a story.

But many are still searching.

And if you are still searching, I offer this.

Come here and meet the living Jesus.

Get directions to a destination where we are all welcome and loved.

The Kingdom of God.

And all we need to do is follow Jesus.

Actually, I think that’s why we all come here.

To hear a word from God.

To experience his presence.

To be spiritual and religious!

Religious in the sense that we are part of the Kingdom of God.

The Body of Christ.

His church!

A place.

A way of life.

A purpose.

A destination.

Where we can have an encounter with the divine.

To rejoice like the Ethiopian because we found what we have been looking for.

God.

But we also need to become like Phillip.

Looking out for those post-Christendom, spiritual but not religious, non-denominational, and even Presbyterian, searchers.

To be ready to invite them into the water, giving them directions to their own experience with the divine.

With Jesus.