The book of the Acts of the Apostles, which is read in the Easter season, is filled with the enthusiastic ministry of those who either had experienced Jesus or had caught the Spirit from those who had been with him. This morning there is a fantastical story – one of many in the book – which mimics that of the disciples on the road to Emmaus after the Crucifixion of Jesus when he appeared to them and explained the Scriptures and then disappeared when “they recognized him in the breaking of the bread.” In this story (ACTS 8:26-40), the apostle Philip is traveling in the desert on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza when an angel of the Lord tells him to catch up to a chariot in which rides a court official from Ethiopia. The official is reading the book of Isaiah about the “suffering servant.” Philip does what he is told, stops the chariot and asks the man if he understands what he’s reading. His answer is a good question: “How can I unless someone instructs me,” whereupon Philip opens the meaning of the Scriptures to him, referencing Jesus and what happened to him. The rest of the story includes the Ethiopian asking for baptism. Philip fulfills the request since they happen to be passing some water, and Philip then is “snatched away” by the angel of the Lord, leaving the man to tell the story just as he did back in Jerusalem.
Jesus had promised his disciples that they would be able to do as he had done – “and more besides” – and we have only to suspend our rational, judgmental, 21st century thinking to get in touch with the power of faith that fairly jumps from every page of the book of Acts. Today I am reminded of the second side of the coin necessary for the miracles written about to be effected. Not only is the power of the Spirit present in the “instrument” of God, but the one who is to be healed or converted must believe that it is possible. That’s why I like the question of the Ethiopian this morning. He needs to understand what is being offered to him and then to accept the offer because his heart has been touched.
I am in California this morning, getting ready to attend a four-day “think tank” with students of “the wisdom way” and a group of wealthy people who are committed to responsible use of their resources. They have called us to the Camaldoli Benedictine Monastery at Big Sur to reflect on the intersection of wisdom and money and how that might impact their decisions about projects to undertake because their “heart-knowing” will be engaged. Surely we will need to deepen our mutual understanding of what we each bring to the table in order to move toward this heart-knowledge for our mutual benefit. I am confident that the Spirit of God is living and active in our day, just as it was in the first century CE and I am hopeful that in the silence that wraps around and informs the monastery we will hear God’s message to us.
One thing about the monastery that will be helpful for the conference but not for communication is that there is no internet or cell service there. So there will be no blogging here after today until Monday morning. Perhaps a good substitute is to read sections of The Acts of the Apostles each day!