In the Narrative Lectionary, we continue to move through the Book of Acts, following the movement of the Holy Spirit and God’s kingdom from Jerusalem out toward “the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8b). Our story this week follows a co-worker of Stephen, whose witness we celebrated last week. Philip was one of the seven (alongside Stephen) who were selected by the community and set apart by the apostles to help run the community, to “serve tables.” But, just like Stephen, Philip did not remain a table-server, but became a traveling preacher, proclaiming the good news of God’s kingdom through Jesus in Samaria.
At the beginning of our story this week, Philip is led by the Spirit down a specific path for a specific purpose. Apparently, the Holy Spirit had set up a faith formation experience along a wilderness road. Faith formation, as you might remember, is every action, experience, or relationship that nurtures a relationship of trust with God and shapes the way we see and interact with God’s world. Faith formation is the very mission of God’s church, to equip followers of Jesus Christ and send them out into the world to spread God’s kingdom.
This is a story about a dramatic experience of faith formation, but we should be cautious to not force it into a mold of “traditional evangelism.” In the narrative of “traditional evangelism” the evangelist has the faith, the good news, and brings it to one who does not have it. Faith formation is not supplying faith where there is none, nor is it a one-sided interaction. At its best, faith formation is about sharing, about God using each participant in the experience to form and transform each other participant.
It would be a mistake to think that the Ethiopian traveler did not have an active, vital faith. After all, despite not being a native Israelite, he was returning from worshipping in Jerusalem. This took a large amount of faith to pilgrimage all the way from Ethiopia, especially since, as a eunuch, he was likely not even allowed in the temple. With the prevalence of written materials in modern times, it can be easy to forget how rare it would be for someone to have a scroll at all. Not only did the traveler have a scroll of the prophet Isaiah (likely the Greek translation), but he was taking the time to read it on his travels. This is a person with a faith that has been forming over a long period of time. But, despite his wealth (or access to wealth), influence, education, and faith, he still had questions he couldn’t answer.
For this, the Spirit brought along Philip, about whom we know very little. Judging from what was not said about him, we can guess that Philip was like most of the early disciples and not a man of wealth, influence, or education, most likely from the working class. But, he had a deep faith as well, and had had all sorts of faith formation experiences in the Jerusalem community and beyond.
This story is about Philip sharing the good news of Jesus the Messiah with this traveler, so we can see a sign of the change brought to the Ethiopian traveler’s life. However, do you doubt that the Spirit used this experience to continue forming Philip’s faith? How could an event this spectacular not transform his life?
It is unlikely that such a dramatic story like this will happen in the lives of all disciples, but we can remember that faith is formed by a series of experiences that forms and transforms each participant in that experience. We all have a lot to learn from each other, if we are open to it.
-Gregory Rawn (Publisher)
This week’s FREE resource is from our Living the Word: Small Group discussion guides, specifically from the “Living the Story” component. The “Living the Story” component is common among all of our Living the Word curriculum products and is designed to integrate the story of the day with the experience of a faith practice, in this case, the practice of worship. Living the Word: Small Groups consists of weekly discussion guides for any small group to follow and study each Sunday’s Narrative Lectionary text, and can be used either at some point prior to attending worship or some point afterwards.