Where ever you go—there you are. So: the character Pigkiller said this in the 1985 cult classic, Beyond Thunderdome, (you remember pig killer right?) Buckaroo Bansai said this in The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension—that was in 1984. Various deep thinkers have used this phrase at different times, just inquire of dr. google and you can find out “who.”
I admit its kind of weird, but there is something to be said for “Being” where you are whether intentionally there or not. There is learning and benefit and some humility-maybe a lot of humility- in being present where you are and focusing on that, really “seeing” that. But in good Presbyterian fashion—know that it matters HOW we get to where ever we are, or where ever we are going.
What does the going look like? How do we, or others get “there.” Two weeks ago in a small, rural Arizona town we stumbled on an off the grid amazing burger joint by following that lovely female-esque voice in the electronic box who was taking us somewhere else at the time. Others still read paper things called maps to be guided. Some take down directions from a friend. My husband, the good boy scout, can get a good idea of “where” by noting where the sun is in the sky or the stars. The right guiding can enhance a trip; the wrong guiding—like when the GPS totally messes up, can land you in a path down the middle of a corn field— it once happened to me West of Scranton with GPS signal dieing!
Look at this text in Acts. We read about the Ethiopian Jewish servant of the queen. He was her money man. He had High access to the powerful one. His status as a eunuch potentially made him safe and the perfect choice to look out for someone else’s money and to be around the queen’s court. We don’t know his name, sadly, but we know that he had gone to Jerusalem to worship in the temple. That was an important thing for a good Jew to do. He was on his way home, so we can assume that he knew his way and that the road was at least somewhat familiar. But he is on more than one journey, isn’t he? While traveling the man was reading for himself from the scriptures; he was reading the text of Isaiah. And it happened to be that he was reading one of the texts that the early Jesus followers pointed to and said “see…these words are about the Messiah, this is Jesus, this is whom we worship, who was crucified and raised from the dead”
The man knows enough about the scriptural material in front of him to know that he isn’t getting it all doesn’t he? Maybe the Spirit was nudging within him. The Eunuch knew there was more in the scripture that he wasn’t grasping. And as his chariot is traveling along familiar roads, guided by driver and horses, along comes Philip, walking close to the chariot and Philip simply asks him “what are you reading.” And with that Philip begins to guide the eunuch in that other journey that’s going on, the journey of faith. And the man is ripe for that guiding. Getting to where we are going, often involves some kind of guiding.
And here I want to pause. I am convinced that God calls you and me, incomplete and imperfect as we are, God calls us to be his hands and feet and voice in the world. And that means, God calls us to be a major part of kingdom work. God has planned for that work to be done by us. Whether we think we can do that or not, god does. Gods crazy right? It’s Humbling right? But what this means to me in light of this text, is that we, even though we will always need guiding in faith, we are also to be guides in faith. Helping people to see where they are and to move more deeply into Christ, like Philip does. So I am claiming that role of guide this morning for you and me and inviting us to learn a few tricks from Philip about doing that. And there are three big ones that I see.
One: Can you imagine Philip walking along with the chariot in a way that didn’t freak out the driver or scare the horses? I can only guess that they were going slowly and he could keep a calm pace until the eunuch noticed him. Its still strikes me as a bit odd: Philip notices what the eunuch is doing. And Philip opens up the potential guiding relationship, by asking, “what are you reading,”- and that gives the eunuch the opportunity to invite Philip to come alongside him. “Come sit with me.” Now again, no one says the chariot stops to pick Philip up….we will leave that scene for the movie version.
But about guiding: It is important that in our faith as we are joining others in their journey or reaching out to see if they are interested in learning more about Christ, that we do not land on top of them with our agenda for them, ignoring them as persons. When I was a teenager traveling with a youth choir, we learned to TELL people all about Jesus, but didn’t learn to listen to them, or ask them their name! I don’t do it that way anymore. We need to recognize that others—are like us—are God’s own, and when we meet, we often know nothing about them. We have no standing with them. There is no relationship thru we can connect with them. Philip literally met the eunuch where he was—on the road, reading. Philip shows his curiosity, and values the eunuch by doing so- “what are you reading”- and with that, Phillip is invited into the chariot and into the reading by the man. And as Philip sits by him and listens, the journey is able to continue. Philip shares gospel as a response to the eunuch’s question and need, starting from the place in the scripture where the man was reading before Philip got there. As those reaching out, potentially guiding others in faith, we need to meet them in their world, where they are, as they are, value them as children of God, and then we need to start a conversation that allows us to walk alongside of them sit alongside of them, live and speak gospel next to them, with them. And there is always the possibility they may NOT want that. The eunuch did.
Secondly, Phillip allowed the man to set the pace for his own growth- or so it would seem. For many years I was, among other things, the Christian educator in Hudson River Presbytery in New York. And I can remember in the 90’s I would hear more and more tough stories of great angst about congregations confirming kids or not confirming kids because the youth wouldn’t parrot back the language of orthodox faith to the teachers or to the session in their faith statements. Or worse yet, the youth would say to the leaders, “I don’t want to join the church now.” In some places, the journeys of the young people and their attempts at faith expression were valued, not because they rewrote the apostles’ creed but because they wrote honest words of seeking and learning. In other place there was panic amongst the adults when the youth didn’t do it right. I applaud and continue to applaud those who will meet the youth where they are, building relationships, valuing their community participation and not forcing them to hold to words that aren’t real for them but instead choosing to keep up the conversation about faith. They are allowing the youth to set the pace for their growth, within the community of faith.
In our story in Acts 8—Philip, we assume, has gotten to the part of the story where Jesus is crucified and resurrected, and where the communities of believers are forming and those who believe in Jesus are baptized. He’s shared that with the Eunuch, and as they ride along their way, they come by a pool of water- did you notice this- it isn’t Philip who says: “you should be baptized.” Whose agenda would that be? It is the man who says, “What is to prevent me from being baptized?” and in that I hear the eunuch saying: “I recognize baptism is important. I want to move into that next step of faith— Philip will you go with me there too?” As we walk with others and meet them where they are, we also need to listen closely and let them set the pace for growth and stay alongside them, and that may mean that when the pool of water presents itself it isn’t yet time to get in. Can WE guide that way, remaining in the relationship? Remember: God is all and in all.
So: we guide by meeting people where they are, valuing them and staying alongside of them; we guide by keeping in conversation and being attentive to the pace they set for their growth in faith; And finally..…wow is this one clear….here’s what happens next: (you may be ahead of me!) once the eunuch has grown to the point of baptism and understands how Jesus fits into what he already knows and how Jesus will take him beyond that. Once there, Philip’s time to guide him is done, and the eunuch will journey from here to figure out how these new understandings and this new awareness will be lived out through him and perhaps just perhaps, he himself will go on to guide others. According to the text, Philip just disappears and is sent somewhere else. Can’t get any clearer than that. Translate that to those of us who don’t have the divine transporter system working for us—we need to be aware in our guiding when it is time for us to move on, when it is time to let go and trust that God will continue to move the person or people with whom we have walked. We don’t want folks to be dependent upon us for their faith! We might even hold them back, and need to be careful about that. Certainly, to know that we are playing an important role in another’s life can feel really good. But it never is about us, if it is then we are in trouble, and so sometimes the onus is on us to change, or let go of that relationship so that someone can fly in faith and move on in ways that are not ours to guide. That’s often a piece of kingdom relationship that takes a lot of prayer. Those who are good counselors, therapists, coaches know this one well and can be of help to us.
Where ever you go… There you are. Certainly, God takes us with Jesus, in the spirit to places we would never have imagined. But how we go, and how we help others to go along the way of faith is a big piece of our call. I believe that is why this story of Philip and the Eunuch is so important for us today. Like our lord, we need to meet people in their place-as they are-with their stories and their questions. We need to come alongside of them and be with them in relationship. And in that relationship, we must be sensitive to their own walk into faith. It is their timing with God that is important, not ours. The Spirit will help us with that, and the Spirit is already helping them. The spirit will help us to know when our time is done and when we joyfully-though occasionally with some grief-are to move on into our next adventure. That is what the disciples, like Philip did over and over again. It is one of the great learnings in Acts. And God counts on us—demands of us-that we follow in their way. May it be so. Amen.