What is to prevent you. . .?

Sermon Preached on May 14, 2006
Easter 5B
Church of the Transfiguration
Palos Park, Illinois

In this morning’s first reading, we heard that “An angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went.” That’s it – he just got up and went. What makes Philip’s response so powerful in my estimation is that the cost of following the Lord has been made imminently clear. Just prior to this story in the Acts of the Apostles, another apostle, , Stephen, has been martyred1 and the church at Jerusalem had scattered because of persecutions under Saul2. Despite the potential perils, the uncertainties of the wilderness road, Philip trusted the voice of the angel of the Lord and responded to God’s call. What’s more, Philip hadn’t gone very far in his journey when he responded yet again to God’s call – this time through the urging of the Spirit – and joins an Ethiopian eunuch who is traveling in his chariot along the same road.

You and I might feel more comfortable among our friends referring to God’s prodding in our own lives as acting on gut feelings, experiencing chance encounters or uncanny coincidences. But make no mistake about it, whether we call it acting on our gut or listening for the will of God for our lives, such moments are ripe with opportunity.

As soon as I read this week’s reading, I was reminded of the discomfort Lane shared with us last week when he was asked in an interview to talk about the last time he had walked someone across the line of faith. I thought of this story, because the journey that is shared by Philip and the eunuch is not one of Philip walking the eunuch across the line of faith, but rather it is the story of Philip and the eunuch journeying together, sharing the scriptures – discussing the writings of the prophet Isaiah - and the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ with one another. And, in that sharing, the eunuch suddenly recognizes his own desire to be baptized. His own desire to be transformed by the waters of new life: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”

I was at the post office in Palos Park on Thursday morning, sealing the last of my ordination invitations. A woman came in and began speaking with the postal clerk. At one point I joined their conversation. A few minutes later, when she was getting ready to leave, she saw what I was doing, and asked if I was getting married – the envelopes look about the same as those used for wedding invitations. I said, “No, I’m going to be ordained on June 3rd.” She reached out and put her hand on my arm and, in that moment, it was clear from the changed look in her eyes that what had been her excitement for me at the thought of an upcoming wedding had become something much more than excitement – it was as if something deep within her had been touched or changed – perhaps new possibilities became imaginable for the first time. Like the Ethiopian eunuch who suddenly realized that nothing needed to prevent him from being baptized, this woman, hearing that I was about to be ordained, suddenly realized that nothing needs stand in the way of her following God’s wildest dreams for her life.

Why did I go to the post office in Palos Park? Why did that woman happen to come in when I was there? And what prompted me to join in a conversation with two strangers? Chance encounter? Uncanny coincidence? Or the work of the Holy Spirit? Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what the moment is called. What matters is that in that brief encounter both lives were changed as our journeys briefly connected and then continued on. “What is to prevent you from fulfilling God’s wildest dreams for your life?”

An angel of the Lord said to Debra, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Mount Prospect to Palos Park.” (This is a wilderness road.) So she got up and went. To be sure, my wilderness road has not been as perilous as the road Philip was called to travel and yet, moving one’s home and living in the chaos of unpacked and half-packed boxes can be a bit anxiety-provoking. But now I am here, with you, and our journeys have begun to connect. Imagine what lies ahead on our journey . . . What is to prevent us from working together in vital ministries?

Remember Philip? He heard God’s call to travel the road to the south toward Gaza- and he got up and he went. What if Philip had stopped listening at that point? In the first place, it is unlikely that he would have met the Ethiopian eunuch for the reading tells us that it was the Holy Spirit that urged him to get into the chariot and join him. And after they had traveled together for some time and Philip baptized the eunuch, we are told that Philip was “snatched away” by “the Spirit of the Lord” and the eunuch saw him no more. “Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caeserea.” My friends, Caeserea is no where near Gaza – in fact, it is north of Gaza – further north even than Jerusalem where his journey began. So you see, through listening to God’s will for his life and paying attention to the Holy Spirit working within, Philip found himself in a place he never could have guessed at the start.

Our journey together is just beginning and it is my hope that we will journey together, keeping our hearts and minds always open for the will of God – the urgings of the Holy Spirit – for our lives and for the future of Transfiguration. And then let us boldly respond so that people might say of us: So they got up and went. For what is to prevent us from responding to the voice of God?

1 Acts 7:54-60
2 Acts 8:1-4


Raisin said…
Great story for these readings! I hear that it is just grand to have you there... ;)