An account for the hope that is in you – Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Br. Geoffrey Tristram

Philip, Deacon and Evangelist

Acts 8:26-40

‘Hey! Do you go to church? Why?’ ‘Are you a Christian? Why? Just tell me in a few words.’ What would you say?  If you only had 30 seconds, a kind of ‘elevator speech’, what would you say?  ‘I go to church because…’ If you don’t say anything, you may have lost an opportunity. St Peter in this first letter tells us, ‘Always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you.’ So, what would your 30 second account be?

Today we give thanks for a man who was always ready to give such an account.  His name was Philip, and along with Stephen and five others, he was chosen by the apostles to be one of the first deacons in the church. Each of the seven men chosen exercised their vocation in different ways, but Philip was above all, an evangelist. And he must have been a wonderful evangelist because in the whole of the New Testament, filled with apostles and teachers and prophets, Philip is the only person to be called an evangelist. In Acts chapter 21, St Paul writes that, ‘When we came to Caesarea, we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him,’

We don’t know much about Philip and his work as an evangelist, except for one very memorable story which we have just heard read. An angel of the Lord commands Philip to leave Caesarea and turn south and take the desert road down to Gaza. He does so, and as he walks he comes across an extraordinary sight. He sees an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. This man was traveling the same road, but seated in a chariot. This is actually one of the stories I remember from Sunday school. We had to draw it and color it in. In the middle of the barren desert there was this magnificent chariot carrying a great man in charge of a fortune. He had just been to Jerusalem to worship and as he traveled the road he was poring over the Hebrew scriptures – the prophet Isaiah, which he couldn’t really understand. So, Philip, inspired by the Spirit, accepts the eunuch’s invitation to come sit next to him and help him understand. Philip, the great evangelist, proclaims to him the good news about Jesus, and the eunuch comes to faith there and then, and eagerly says to Philip, ‘What’s to stop me being baptized now?’ The chariot stops by some water and Philip baptized him. An amazing story.

But it is a story I think that tells us how we, even though we may feel quite inadequate, might become better evangelists ourselves. St Paul, in the 9th chapter of his first letter to the Christians in Corinth says, ‘Woe to me if I do not proclaim the Gospel.’ That’s a text that’s sometimes written on pulpits, just to remind the preacher! But it’s not just for preachers. It’s a text which we might all be wise to take to heart. How, by my words – maybe just 30 seconds – and my actions do I proclaim the gospel?  Would anyone know, by my words and actions, that I follow Jesus? If you feel challenged to be a better witness to Jesus in your daily life, this story about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch has a lot to teach us. What made Philip such a good evangelist?

 I think first of all, Philip was a man of prayer. He kept in close touch with Jesus in prayer. He spent time listening to God’s voice so that he did not miss the moment. In the story we read that, ‘an angel said to him, “Get up and go south to the Gaza road.”’ Then later we read, ‘The Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to the chariot and join it.”’ Philip did not spend time thinking up methods of evangelism, he spent time in prayer. He kept close to the Lord in prayer, and so heard clearly when God called him, and he acted on the word.

Secondly, Philip was completely at God’s disposal. There is a French theological word which I find helpful. It is the word ‘Disponabilité’, which is hard to translate, but it is about being fully available for God. It’s about having an interior freedom, free of attachments. It is something Jesus demanded of his disciples, if they wanted to follow him.  Fr. Benson our founder, knew all about ‘disponabilite’, when he challenged his brothers to be ‘men of the moment’. Philip was a man of the moment. He was interiorly free enough to drop his plans and suddenly go where the Spirit was leading him. Perhaps this is a challenge to us and to the whole church, to be less wedded to structures and traditions – ‘We’ve always done it like this…’ and more available, more open to the Spirit.

Then thirdly, Philip was a good evangelist because he was obedient to God’s call. The angel tells him to pack up and go south. He could have said, ‘Look, I’m already preaching here in Samaria, and wonderful things are happening.  Many people are coming to faith. I can’t leave now. But he was obedient, and did as the angel asked. This obedience to God was not sullen or grudging; it was a joyful obedience. I love the way that when the Spirit tells Philip to go over to the chariot and join the Ethiopian, the text says, “Philip RAN up to it’. This ‘running’ suggests that for Philip, to obey God’s will and to preach the Gospel was a joy and delight; like the Psalmist, who loved to ‘run the way of your commandments.’

So today, much thanksgiving for the life and witness of Philip the Evangelist. Philip, a man of prayer, Philip, a man who had the inner freedom to follow God’s call, Philip, a man who was joyfully obedient to the call to preach the Gospel. Perhaps his life may be an inspiration to us as we respond to Peter’s challenge: ‘Always be ready to give an account for the hope that is in you.’

 So, when you are asked that elevator question about your faith, your 30 second reply could change a life.

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7 Comments

  1. John Wolf on October 11, 2023 at 15:13

    I am always challenged when reminded of the need, no the requirement, to be obedient to the words and teaching of God. Whether expressed by Jesus, the Christ, the Son, by teachers and apostolic leaders, by evangelicals reminding me, or . . . , I am always challenged by the need to be obedient.

    Of all of the parts of the Rule of the Order, the parts of my own Rule of Life, or my own internalized values, Obedience remains the Mote in my life’s eye, so to speak.

    I just remind myself constantly ” Not my will but yours, oh Father”.

  2. Gervaye on October 11, 2023 at 09:59

    It’s hope. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess for he who promised is faithful.

  3. Chris Eggert Rosenthal on October 11, 2023 at 05:42

    ’. Philip was a man of the moment. He was interiorly free enough to drop his plans and suddenly go where the Spirit was leading him

    This phrase really spoke to me. What is it truly like to be interior.y free. It sounds simple from the words, yet it is so hard for us in todays world , I think, to hear and act on our Spiritual messages, I can over think, pause, perhaps miss the moment
    But this sentence is motivating me to look at myself
    Thank you

  4. Alan Rollins on November 1, 2022 at 13:50

    It is has always been a challenge for me when, on rare occasions, I am asked the question “why are, or what makes you, a Christian”? Now, I can only answer that through experiences, through listening to my rector, watching and listening to my fellow parishioners; and then collecting all of that, and with God’s help, giving the most honest answer I can. My answer has to include the hope that I have in talking with God, privately and in worshipping with others, that Jesus will greet us when we depart this life, and lead us to our home with the Father. I think that is in the heart of my evangelism.

  5. Fred Whipple on November 1, 2022 at 09:37

    Through many troubles, toils, and snares
    I have already come.
    ‘Tis Grace has seen me safe thus far
    And Grace shall see me home. (last verse of “Amazing Grace”)

    In church, God often grants me this reassurance and justification- the deep knowledge that I am loved and protected. That the hard roads I have already walked have been walked with Him by my side. He sometimes gives me those things elsewhere as well, but (most of the time) the experience of church is well worth the effort of getting there. Much of my life is endured without that feeling (too much). Going to church is one of the things I can do to seek that out and (often) receive it.

  6. Bobbi on October 14, 2022 at 08:31

    Thank you, Br. Geoffrey, for those simple, and yet provocative questions. I’ve been pondering my responses; this is what I’ve come up with so far.
    I go to church to worship God with others people and to be in community.
    I am a Christian because Christianity gives me hope.
    I could elaborate, but for an elevator response, it is enough!

  7. Lila Campbell on October 12, 2022 at 23:38

    Wonderful. Thank you. Interior freedom is valuable and so important – resonates so positively with my life right now and finding purpose. Again, THANK YOU! And Bless you.

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