Sit Beside and Talk (Acts 8:26-39)

Joan MacPherson, May 7, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

Sit Beside and Talk
(Acts 8:26-39)
Maybe you have noticed that Steve Horhota, our Steve, is not here in worship this morning. That is because he is away celebrating a grandchild’s birthday. No need to worry that he isn’t here because he followed in the footsteps of Stephen from our scared story. Our Steve has not been killed. Stephen has been. Not long after that powerful experience of being called and commissioned to be part of spreading the way of Jesus Stephen has been stoned. The newly ordained deacons are reduced in number but not reduced in spirit and commitment. At least Philip isn’t. He knows what happened to Stephen but off he goes on his ministry. To Samaria first where he is effective and faithful and shares the good news that love wins. Then we meet him in this morning’s reading as he is sent out of Jerusalem to go south toward Gaza.
Our sacred story says it was a wilderness road. Travel in those times was a risky thing. You didn’t move along at high speeds in the protective shelter of a motorized vehicle. Mostly you plodded along, step by step, fully exposed to the elements, fully accessible to thieves and bandits. Maybe you had some wealth and could be pulled along in a carriage or on the back of a donkey but still your speed was minimal and your exposure for harm vast.
Let’s play with this a little bit ok? Phillip is on the road, again. I assume he is walking. He has been traveling a bit. He has put some miles in since he left Jerusalem. Miles on dusty roads. In the desert. Exposed to the sun. No Motel 6 with the light on and hot showers. In my minds eye he is dust covered, not primped and polished. As he makes his way along the wilderness road he hears something ahead of him. The sound of hooves stepping in unison. Ah, there it is. A carriage coming toward him. Its quite a fancy get up. He can’t see in it yet but he can see the driver of the chariot. His skin is really dark, much darker then his. Then he gets a peak in the chariot and there is a man, also with very dark skin, but this man has very fine clothes. There is wealth for sure. The wealthy Ethiopian in the chariot gets a peak out as well. He sees dirty, bedraggled Philip. There is nothing these 2 have in common. They are different races. They are different nationalities. They are different socio-economically. Philip would likely just step to the side and let the chariot pass. Philip would turn his face down and cover his nose with his tunic to keep the dust out that the chariot is stirring up. Like 2 ships that pass in the night. Aware of each other and their differences. Passing by and on to their own endeavors. The end.
Except the Spirit nudges Philip to go over to the chariot and when he does he discovers that this very “other” person is reading the words of the prophet Isaiah. This very “other” person is holding the same sacred story that has shaped Philip’s life. This very “other” person is opening to God and the Prophets. They are so different and yet they share the same sacred story. They are so different and yet they created by the same loving God. The Ethiopian invites Philip to get in and sit beside him and they have a conversation about the text. A conversation in which Philip tells the message of Jesus and the Ethiopian is moved to join in. A conversation in which the power of love is palpable and transforming and inviting. Conversation that is about two very different people talking to each other about God and God’s ways. Conversation that leads to the recognition that we are bound together by something far more life giving then our differences.
This is what can happen in our community of hope. Philip and the Ethiopian show us what can happen when we sit down beside and have sacred conversations with those who are very different from us. How hard was it for Phillip to approach that chariot? How risky was it for the rich man to invite that dusty guy in to sit beside him? It’s hard. It’s risky. It’s not with out bumps and scrapes. It’s not without challenges. It’s life giving and hope filled. This is the peculiar power of church. We are a community that intentionally seeks to gather together those that are different. This doesn’t happen in other parts of our lives. There we are segregated by economics, education, political leanings. Here we are eager to be diverse and different. To celebrate that the “other” is hugging us when we come in the door, that the “other” is bringing me a meal after surgery, that the “other” is praying for me. The “other” is not me. The “other” has their own experiences, values, ideas, dreams, pains, perspectives. Sisters and brothers, what our congregation and the world needs now is for us to model and experience sitting beside each other (particularly the “other”) and having conversation - particularly about the things that we see differently. Conversations in which we listen to each other and open to the presence and guidance of God in our midst.
I don’t know about y’all but having significant conversations around differences of opinion was not something that I was taught as a child. In my house the over riding rule was to keep the peace and that generally meant keep quiet. It has been my love for Jesus and watching what he did that has moved me to embrace having the hard conversations. I often don’t do it well. I know there are folks in our midst who excel and sitting down and sharing and learning and opening no matter how hard the subject - thank you for being models for the rest of us that find it more challenging. Expert and anxious together building a community of hope full of “other”. May we be a community that sits beside and talks to one another - daring to share opinions and differences remembering always that we are connected by our God who orchestrates unlikely relationships that bring life, that bring healing, that bring transformation. Unlikely relationships that open us to the love and presence of God that endures, sustains and makes new. Amen.

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
May 7, 2017

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
Please do not redistribute without permission.


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