Dear friends in Christ, grace and peace to you from God our father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Young students today are confused by old-fashioned typewriters. One 7-year-old, having seen a typewriter for the first time, felt sorry for it because it couldn’t “Facetime” with anyone. She also thought it was a mystery how you could load paper into it. A10-year old felt that typewriters were too loud with all that clacking and ringing of bells. And another 13 year-old thought they were too slow- especially when all the keys got caught up in the center. Perhaps the old fashioned typewriters were too loud and too slow. For many of us, however, learning to type on a Smith Corona, Olivetti, or Remington typewriter was a rite of passage. Typing meant we were entering a new chapter in life. We were entering into the possibilities of adulthood. One thing we could all agree on, it was a transparent form of communication. When writing on a typewriter, mistakes were inevitable and they couldn’t magically disappear. Of course, that’s where White-Out came in handy. It was a lesson for life.
In the process of learning to type, we learned another important lesson as well. You can’t let one bad chapter define the rest of your life. The key to success was learning from that chapter and daring to re-write your own story. Indeed, new chapters are being written every day, not because of mistakes made, but by ceasing opportunities. I rather suspect that was what Philip discovered on that lonely wilderness road, but that was not how he saw it at the beginning of the day.
My friends, God is hoping to write a new chapter with you and your life as well. Like Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, you and I are being invited to make a choice, to take a chance, and to follow on a journey of faith that will bring about change. And it all begins with a choice. Life, you see, is like a book, and if you never turn the page, you’ll never know what the next chapter holds and how the new chapter will begin. So let us journey to that wilderness road.
It was an unlikely place for a spiritual encounter. The wilderness road was the major trade route between Egypt and Africa and the Middle East. Caravans and pilgrims to the Holy City of Jerusalem often sojourned along this way. But this was not a destination where one lingered long. The road was known for marauders, scavengers and thieves. Poor Philip must have been startled by the change of landscape. One moment he was driven out of Jerusalem by the Temple guards who were persecuting the followers of Jesus, the next day he was preaching to crowds of Samaritans in their villages, and now he found himself alone on the dusty, wilderness road between Jerusalem and Gaza.
As he stood there, he saw a cloud of dust hovering along the horizon. He followed the haze of an entourage of chariots drawing near, with one man at its center who was obviously a leader with great power and authority. His chariot was marked with the emblem of a foreign monarch, but what was most visible was the color of the man’s skin. He was not from the Middle East, nor from around the Mediterranean Sea. He was from Africa. From Philip’s perspective a wealthy, black magistrate from a foreign kingdom was an unlikely candidate for the Christian faith. What was God thinking?
Saint Luke records that he was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, and that he was responsible for her entire treasury. And what is a eunuch? The word in ancient Greek has a colorful ring to it. “The watcher of the bed.” Eunuchs were especially suited to this purpose. Whether by birth or by surgery, they were considered harmless. Powerful but weak. Influential but without strength. With authority but without voice. The Ethiopian treasurer could not open his mouth without the secret of his life being revealed. He could never live the life of a loving father. He could never witness the birth of his own heir. He could never entrust his memory to the next generation. He accepted regretfully, the sad truth that his name would not be remembered and his life would be as one taken from the earth.
The Ethiopian treasurer had walked with kings and queens. He had journeyed to Jerusalem to worship to God to find the fullness that his life was lacking. But as a eunuch, he was considered ritually blemished and could not enter into the Temple. He was segregated to the courtyard of the women and the Gentiles. And so he returned to his homeland, filled with sadness. Journeying home he was pondering the words of Isaiah written on the scroll that he was reading. The prophet’s words spoke to his own emptiness and despair, but he could not understand them. “Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth.”
The stunned and somewhat doubtful Philip standing on the wilderness road heeded the voice of the Holy Spirit whispering to him, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” And in what must have appeared as an awkward and humiliating scene, Philip ran alongside the chariot and hearing the distinct voice of the eunuch, he asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The treasurer replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. The eunuch then asked Philip, “About whom may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”
As Christians, we never know where we should begin when telling the story of Jesus to our neighbors and those who have not heard, but it’s always good to start with the place of interest or curiosity that intersects with Scripture. That’s where Philip began. Beginning with that the Prophet Isaiah’s words, he told the man about Jesus, about his selfless sacrifice, his dying service to the creation, and the promise of eternal life for those who believe in him. And then just as miraculously as God had brought Philip and the Ethiopian together on that wilderness road, he brought them to a place in the desert with a pool of water where the treasurer asked, Philip, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the Ethiopian went down to the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the treasurer saw him no more, but he went on his way rejoicing.
The story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch is a story of mission and evangelism. It teaches us that the good news of Jesus does not travel to the ends of the earth primarily because of focus groups, strategic plans, and good intentions. The good news goes forth with its story of hope, forgiveness and redemption, because of individuals who gladly carry it there. And how different the story would have ended had Philip not made a choice, to take a chance. It’s true for every one of us. Life’s story is like a book. If you never turn the page, you’ll never know what the next chapter holds.
Unfortunately, when many of us find ourselves on a deserted road, we think that there’s no way back to the civilized world. Just like writing on the old typewriters, our mistakes are transparent for all to see, and there is no “white out” sufficient enough to make them disappear. We believe that there’s no new chapter waiting for us to discover and experience. Instead, we think we have to hide on the fringes of the world. It may have nothing to do with our own decisions and actions. It‘s what happened to the Ethiopian Eunuch. He was never really accepted into the community of the faithful in Jerusalem. Most likely, he wasn’t accepted in his homeland in Ethiopia either. And when we think there’s nothing more, then there is nothing more. We can’t see or believe that God has miracle in store for us.
Of course, sometimes the mistakes on the written page are the result of our own decision. A lifestyle hungering for more, the hopes of a job that will bring you to the top, a relationship that is not healthy with a coworker, an addiction that you just can beat and you have rationalized as minor hundreds of times. It is a sad commentary on how people choose to live when real change is possible. My friends, you can’t start the next chapter of life if you keep re-reading the last one- if you keep feeling sorry for yourself and the choices you have made. If you want a change in your life, in the next chapter, you have to make a choice to take a chance.
My friends, to close let me suggest three ways in which God will surprise, support and bless you when you dare to take that first step.
First, God has a wonderful sense of humor if you are open to the possibility. Unfortunately, we are often blinded by our own short-sightedness. We surround ourselves with people and things which make us comfortable. Philip was no different. But when the apostle opened himself to God’s sense of humor and to the possibility of a chance encounter with the Ethiopian Eunuch in the wilderness, his life was blessed.
Second, God will provide a meaningful exchange between you and your neighbor, when you honor them for who they are. We often rush to judgment too quickly. We observe our neighbor’s actions, customs and the idiosyncrasies, and we are convinced that we understand their emotional, spiritual and psychological make-up. Philip, too, rushed to judgment. Observing the movements of the chariot, the princely dress of the treasurer, and the sound of his voice, the apostle thought he knew him, but he didn’t. Be open to conversation with your neighbor and those whom you have hurt. For only then can you learn from your mistakes.
Finally, if you want God to lead you out of the wilderness, you must trust that he has a purpose bringing you there. I pity those who have endured hardship and have become merely callused by the challenge. We often deny ourselves the blessing of wonderful, healthy memories. Why, because we believe that the wilderness and hardship are to be simply endured and not experienced. You can’t compare your first new chapter to someone else’s 20th. Let God have his way. There is healing, wholeness, joy contentment, peace and wondering waiting for you.
My friends, God is still writing and rewriting great stories for people alone on the wilderness road. He can work with those mistakes embossed on the page with the oldest of typewriters. He can do that for you and bring change to your life, if you will simply make a choice and take a chance. Yes, a new chapter is waiting for you. Amen.
May the peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.