Serapion the Sindonite traveled once on a pilgrimage to Rome. Here he was told of a celebrated recluse, a woman who lived always in one small room, never going out. Skeptical about her way of life—for he himself was a great wanderer—Serapion called on her and asked, “Why are you sitting here?” To which she replied, “I am not sitting. I am on a journey.”
I’m not sure why that little piece of desert wisdom appeals to me but I believe it is because the word, journey, has always held such strong connotations for me. And, despite the fact that I spent six months backpacking from Georgia to Maine, I can also easily see that a journey can be taken while sitting quietly in one small room.
In the weeks leading up to the 77th General Convention, interest arose among three bloggers for The Episcopal Church to experience an Acts 8 moment. The deacon Stephen is martyred at the end of the seventh chapter of Acts. The eighth chapter is what follows as the Holy Spirit thrusts the church in crisis forward into mission. It’s an in breaking of the Holy Spirit. Those interested in taking time to pray and discern God’s will for the church met a couple of times to toss around some ideas for the types of things that could be done: praying together, Bible studies and dreaming about what the church can be, among other things.
During the second meeting, just before Convention ended, our Bible study centered on Acts 8:26 through the end of the chapter. As Susan Snook began to read, my attention was caught immediately: “Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.)”
Why, I wondered, did Luke find it necessary to point out that Philip was instructed by the angel to travel a wilderness road? My first thought was to compare a wilderness road (or path) to an interstate highway. In the wilderness, one must be constantly alert: the road can be rocky and uneven; snakes, lizards and other wild creatures are often present; there are no clear exit signs to mark where one might need to turn; there are no rest areas with their usual amenities.
Philip, naturally, would have been prepared for this. And perhaps that is why, despite all the obstacles, the early church grew. The Apostles knew they had to be on the lookout for every possible opportunity to spread the Gospel. So, when Philip met an Ethiopian eunuch who happened to be on a spiritual as well as physical journey, and on a wilderness road no less, he gladly accepted the opportunity to share the Gospel.
Have we traded the wilderness road for the interstate highway, breezing by all the “Ethiopian eunuchs” out there just waiting to have scripture explained to them? We’ve grown so accustomed to the way things are done that we’ve lost our way on The Way.
The New Oxford Annotated Bible notes that “get up and go toward the south” could also mean “get up and go at noon.” I am sure it is not a coincidence that in the very next chapter of Acts that Saul, also on a journey, has his first mystical experience with Christ. And like Philip, who opens up the Gospel to someone who, prior to Jesus, would not have been allowed to become a proselyte, Saul brings the Gospel to the gentiles.
It is my belief that in order to renew the church, we must return to the wilderness road. It is time to pull ourselves out of the “that is the way it has always been done” rut we have fallen into and actually begin to look at the road ahead of us.
I don’t have answers at this point, so much as questions:
- How might we leave behind the comfort of well-worn paths for the excitement, energy and promise found on the wilderness road?
- How might we put ourselves in a place to once more come in contact with the Ethiopian eunuch of today?
- What is preventing us from rising to the challenge of this new Acts 8 Moment?