In seminary students are asked to name a biblical story they most identify with in terms of ministry (actually for those seeking Holy Orders a sponsoring parish will ask this long before they reach seminary). Where do you see yourself in the church? And in so identifying a single story, the student or postulant, begins to get a sense of what his/her ministry will look like. Will it be proclaiming as Peter on public steps and baptizing with the Holy Spirit? Or laying on of hands and healing? Are they called to walk with strangers in strange lands and then invite them to the table? Or are they headed to reconciliation work with the Beatitudes as their guide? Is an open, knowing and graced ear for the brokenhearted their gift, calling them to pastoral work at the well? Or is it to be at the ready – perhaps weekly at a pulpit or daily at a typewriter – to explain and unpack the revelation found in the Word, as Philip does today in the reading from Acts.
For many, the account of Phillip and the Eunuch stands as one of the primary ministry inspiring biblical accounts. For a variety of reasons the story of Phillip’s encounter with a seeker resonates as they see themselves full of the truth of the gospel, ready and waiting to proclaim, explain, and share the good news of the risen Lord. In the story are myriad threads that make up the fabric of that truth: the Word, Isaiah, prophecy, Jesus, a proselyte, water, a road, a journey, Jerusalem, the Holy Spirit.
This wasn’t the story I identified with in terms of ministry when I was in seminary or when I was in the process of discernment for ordained ministry.
It was a commentary from Charles Spurgeon that came to mind this morning – one I had read a few years back when I was considering different scriptural stories that best identified the essence of my call to ordained ministry. He said this about today’s reading from Acts:
Ah, my brothers, you and I have need to understand the Bible. I will suppose you read it—let me hope I am not mistaken; but when you read it, do labor, above all things, to understand it. The Book was written to be understood. It is a book which speaks to us about our lives (for the soul is the true life), and about the bliss eternal, and the way to win it. It must be so written as to be understood, since it were a mockery for God to give us a revelation which we could not comprehend. The Bible was meant to be understood, and it benefits us in proportion as we get at the meaning of it. The mere words of Scripture passing over the ear or before the eye, can do us little good.
If anything, I was more than doubtful about my capacity to explain anything of the Word because, frankly, I didn’t know the Word in any such depth. And I realized, seminarian or not, that the only person I identified with in the story was the Ethiopian; the seeker.
And then God sent me a Philip. The irony. There I was reading the Word, studying it, reading the passage to see if it ‘fit’ as an identifying ministry call, and God makes it known to me that a Philip I was not. And He sends me one, someone who asked ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ 31And I replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’
Through this passage, the Spirit spoke to me, met me on the road and sent me an angel of the Lord to guide me.
My knowledge of the Word was so incomplete I couldn’t even imagine a day when I could unpack scripture, let alone guide someone to the truth. And I felt more than presumptuous about what I thought was a ‘call’. How could I be called to serve God in God’s church when His Word was still so foreign to me?
Ah, but faith – His steadfast faith in me and mine in Him.
And so, here I am today. Not in ordained ministry, but on a blog and asking you, “Do you understand what you are reading?” and inviting you to hear what the Spirit is saying to God’s people through my lens, my understanding, and personal experience, my witness.
There’s a fullness of the gospel that is realized when the Word is unpacked and understood on a personal, particular, contextual level, I believe. And as the one who was the Philip in my story said to me about this passage and this concluding verse:
39When 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
…truly when the gospel comes in the fullness there is always joy.