Our congregation has recently joined with other congregations in our area in a facilitated process called Sacred Conversations. It is designed to enable to us to address issues of structural racism as people of faith and as such, has been very valuable. But its process has also caused us to realize how rarely we have come to make ourselves available to sit and converse with others outside of our established social circles.
This well-known story of Philip, the deacon who follows the prompting of God’s Spirit to be stretched beyond the table duty that was also a part of his service to the church, reminds me of just how valuable this process of sitting next to someone in a conversation made sacred by God’s leading can be.
Perhaps it is because in our current climate and time in which we live with digital communication overtaking face to face conversations that this conversation between Philip and the Ethiopian man compels me to look at it more closely. With all the drama of God’s Spirit sending Philip to that precise location at that time and the unusual way that Philip is transported away after the conversation, why focus so much on what should be one of the most natural of human interactions? A conversation between two people who are getting to know each other and finding out what is important to each one seems like something that should be happening with great regularity, right?
Of course, it’s more than a simple conversation, but the uniqueness is that it is two people who it seems in the natural course of events might have passed each other on the street with nothing more than a nod or a smile on a good day passing between them. They had little in common. They must have had a shared language, but their ethnic backgrounds, their cultural habits and their socio-economic standings must have been very different from one another.
This is one of many instances in the book of Acts where God’s people get put into circumstances to engage in conversation and service to people with whom they would have not had much in common. Our boundary-breaking God is continually making that statement in the revelation in these stories. I almost hear it so loudly that I cannot hear much of anything else: is God saying “just talk to each other in respectful and thoughtful ways people” and let me use that for my purposes?
Philip’s question to the man of how he understood what he was reading was not a leading question. It was a thoughtful way of seeking to understand what it was that was meaningful and interesting in that portion of Isaiah to the Ethiopian man. His respect, curiosity and genuine interest in the perspective of his chariot seat companion opened the door to a conversation that God made sacred with beautiful results.
Although I wring my hands and shake my head about the great divides that exist in our culture and across cultures, I wonder if God is speaking to me and to us as God’s people through Acts 8 about the simplicity and effectiveness of just sitting down with people whose lives are very different from our own with curiosity, care and thoughtfulness. God can do all of the rest in giving us the opportunities and yielding sacred results of our conversations when we are available to participate in them.