Rev. Shepard Parsons is the pastor and preacher at the First Church of Christ in Woodbridge.
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
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.) So 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 and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now 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.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.’
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As 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?’ He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When 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. But 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 Caesarea.
It was one of those days. You’re walking down the road wondering, “How did I get here?” Not just here on this particular piece of geography, but how did I come to be in this place in my life. The heat and light play tricks on your eyes and you think you see something coming out of the wavy, blurred edge of the blacktop’s horizon. Can’t be. But there it is, a pickup barreling toward you and you think, “How’d they get here?”
It was one of those days. Another let down, another disappointment, one more discouragement and rejection. And so you take to the road either to remember or to forget. Your mind flits back and forth from the events of the day and the always moving, never changing landscape outside your window. You gaze ahead and out of the shifting edge of the future there is a figure, a person walking toward you. “Who is that,” you wonder, “‘What are they doing in the middle of way out here?”
And so it was that an Ethiopian eunuch and a believer in Jesus crossed paths on the road through the desert between Jerusalem and Gaza.
They couldn’t have been more different. The carriage belonged to an African eunuch in charge of the Queen of Ethiopia’s treasury. Philip, a Hellenistic Jew, was on foot and had been responsible for the welfare of the widows in his Christian community. The eunuch wanted to be part of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, but could not because of his castration. Philip was part of a Jewish community being persecuted because they believed Jesus to be the Messiah. The only thing the two shared at this moment was the time and place. So they stop.
In an attempt to bridge the chasm between them, Philip seizes upon the book in the eunuch’s lap and asks, “So, what are you reading?” (how often the question is asked to break the ice?). “A book I picked up in Jerusalem but I don’t understand it. Can you help me?” replies the eunuch, who then invites Philip to join him. And then it happened: right then, at that particular time and place between these two very different men inspired by the Holy Spirit, they study the Bible together. We’re told Philip proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. Their time together was so powerful that the eunuch, who had spent his life excluded and outside community, asked to be baptized into the community of Jesus; and the only thing Philip could say was “yes.” Was this the first time Philip understood the passage this way as well? The writer doesn’t tell us anything more about the eunuch and not much more about Philip. We can only speculate as to how that scripture-inspired conversation changed the lives of the two whose journeys crossed on the road from Gaza to Jerusalem. We do know the story has changed ours.
Weekly Bible study at First Church Woodbridge is fun and challenging and sometimes inspiring. We’ve been meeting together for several years and have come to know and love each other. But we’ve only been able to interpret the scriptures from where we are in our lives right now, from our own perspective, and we know this is limited. How might we read the Bible together with those from whom we are different - in any way one might think of “different?” How do we build relationships with other communities that we might study the scriptures together? Maybe it’s studying the Bible together that builds relationships of mutuality, respect and love? Maybe we need go get on that road running from Jerusalem to Gaza like Philip and the eunuch and ask, “Who is in the distance coming our way?,” and by God’s grace run into someone who will ask, “What in the world are you doing out here?”
O Lord, you take to the road and find us wherever we are: the one to Emmas, between Jerusalem and Gaza, and the one that leads to Damascus; on I-95, the Merritt, the one in front of our house. We ask that your traveling mercies be upon all who travel, especially upon those who travel the road to Damascus and between Jerusalem and Gaza today. Shield them from the violence surrounding them. May reign of love and justice come soon. Grant, O God, that as we travel he roads of our lives we see all whom we meet as your precious children, and fill us with the courage to practice your spacious hospitality. This we pray in he name of Jesus, who walks alongside us. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Drew Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Prayers of Intercession:
- for safe travels for our Korean Partnership Delegates as they return from visiting our partners in the Gyeonggi Presbytery.
- for the family and friends of Joe Heaps Nelson, brother of Rev. Mary Nelson, South Central Regional Minister. Joe died on April 16. He was 49.
- for those grieving or suffering in North Korea after a traffic accident left 36 dead and 4 injured on April 22.
- for those greiving or suffering after a restaurant shooting in Nashville left 4 dead and 4 wounded on April 21.
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
- for the renewal of the Spirit felt by those who attended the CTUCC Youth Revival on April 22.
- for the color green as it slowly regains its hold on our lawns, gardens, and forests.
Please Remember These Connecticut Conference Churches
In Your Prayers:
First Church of Christ in Mansfield Congregational
Congregational Church of Marlborough UCC
Center Congregational UCC
First Congregational Church of Meriden
The Second Congregational Church of Middle Haddam
This Week in History:
April 23, 1564 (454 years ago) The presumed birthdate of William Shakespeare. Though not officially known, his birthdate is based on church records which show that he was baptized on April 26, 1564. It was customary to wait 3 days to baptize a newborn in his time. Shakespeare also died on April 23, in 1616 at the age of 52.
Retired from parish ministry having served churches in Hartford, Waterbury, New Haven, Milford, Shelton and Woodbridge, CT
April 23, 2018