St. Philip, Deacon and Evangelist
In the calendar of the church we remember today one of Jesus’ early followers named Philip, traditionally referred to as a Deacon and Evangelist. Most likely this Philip is not Philip the apostle, but rather a namesake, one of seven appointed by the apostles to distribute bread and alms to the widows and the poor in Jerusalem. We hear in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Philip travels south of Jerusalem to Gaza, and en route encounters an Ethiopian who is trying to make sense of the prophecy of Isaiah. Philip was obviously prepared and ready to give witness to how Isaiah was pointing to Jesus.
The church has remembered this story about Philip; however it’s less to do with the conversion of this Ethiopian. After Jesus’ resurrection, multitudes of people were converting to Christ. The importance of this story is more about Philip. He was prepared. Jesus had talked almost endlessly about being prepared almost endlessly in his teachings and parables. “Be prepared.” “Keep awake.” “Be ready.” Be ready for an encounter that awaits you. We read in the First Letter of Peter: “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you.”[i] Be ready. If you claim to be Christian, why? Not why did you become a Christian, but why have you remained a Christian? What is the good news – what is it of Jesus’ “good news” – that keeps you a follower of Jesus today?
This awareness is the makings of a testimony, and that’s important for two reasons. For one: our own sake: the practice of the presence of God now. How is God breaking through to you now? How are you aware of God’s presence and God’s provision in your life now? This is to live our lives, not mindlessly but mindfully aware of how Jesus is making good on his promise to be with us, always: Jesus’ presence and his provision.[ii] Why are you still professing to be Christian? Practice his presence, and you will know his provision.
Secondly, it’s so important to have a “live” testimony in our heart and on our lips because we don’t know when we will be called upon to be “on.” All of us our missionaries. “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you.”
Prior to my coming to the monastery, I was a parish priest in the Diocese of Chicago. I was a Curate, and my Rector put this discipline to a daily practice. The Rector and I would both be present for the weekday liturgies. Following the reading of the Gospel we would meet in the middle of the sanctuary and reverence the altar. In that split second while we were bowed, our backs to the congregation, the rector would announce in a whisper which of us would preach, now. The rector would whisper to me something like, “I’ve got it!” or he would say, “You’re on!” (Sometimes we playfully fought a little for just a second. I would sometimes say, “no way am I going to preach on that,” and he would respond with something like, “You want a paycheck this week?”) Anyway, that became our practice week-in and week-out. I initially found this incredibly intimidating, to have all of about three seconds to turn around and deliver a homily. But the rector’s practice was to always be ready to share the good news amidst so much bad news that people face in the course of a day. Wherever he was, with whomever he was, the rector was prepared to share the good news of Jesus.
This is a very helpful practice for all of us: to be ready with a testimony to your faith in Jesus Christ. Here’s a good question to start the day. What is your testimony that would be cogent and credible to someone within the church, and to someone outside the church tradition… which is most everyone we meet these days on the street? No spiritual gobbledygook. If someone asks you today in Harvard Square or in your hometown why you are a follower of Jesus Christ, what’s the word, the authentic word in your heart and upon your lips? What is your testimony in real time? So we read in the First Letter of John, “Those who believe in the Son of God have the testimony in their hearts.”[iii]
[i] 1 Peter 3:15.
[ii] Matthew 28:20.
[iii] 1 John 5:10.
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