Let’s pray Rev. Stuart Buisch
Four characters. Philip, Simon, Peter and an Ethiopian Eunuch. Philip, most probably the second deacon named in Acts 6 who leaves Jerusalem and spreads the gospel of Christ. Simon, a magician who by magic had all of a city in Samaria calling him ‘the power of God called Great.’ Peter, who was seen to be a key representative of the new Christian group, who came from Jerusalem to bless the work that Philip had begun. Finally, a eunuch who is given no name but who first follows the Jewish God and then believes the Messiah as Jesus.
Let’s start with Simon. It is said in Acts that Simon baffled the city that Philip was coming to with his magic. It is interesting to note that the same phrase occurs in vs 6 and 10 regarding how the people of this unnamed city ‘gave him their undivided attention’ to Simon and Philip. I wonder about Simon’s impact on that city. He isn’t mentioned as the recipient of their attention until after Philip has arrived and many in town are converted. Was this an easy place to get followers or was the cheap power that Simon wielded easily overcome by the life-giving freedom of faith in Jesus Christ. Nevertheless, at one point Simon had position and influence in this city and with Philip’s arrival and gift of faith to the people, Simon loses his position, and eventually he is converted to the new faith in Jesus Christ.
Philip, fleeing Jerusalem where the Jews were beginning to make life for Christians most difficult, leaves and presents the good news of Jesus Christ to them and accompanies his words with signs, casting out demons and healing many people, not just magic but miracle. What Philip talked about was not simply intellectual assent to dogma or ideas. The life of Christ made a difference in the lives of those in this city in Samaria.
Peter comes to the city in Samaria when word gets back to Jerusalem of the great response to the gospel. Their first response was to pray for the believers that they would also receive the Spirit as the apostles in Jerusalem had. It was clear that the empowering that had occurred in Jerusalem’s upper room had not yet taken place there. Following their prayer Peter and John laid hands on the recent converts and they received the Spirit. The scene was amazing enough to capture Simon’s attention. One could doubt Simon’s sincerity but he is also baptized, sometimes a sign of deeper connection to a belief system. When Peter and John lay on hands Simon gets an idea that he can buy the power displayed with the laying on of hands. Peter is quick to see right through Simon and condemn his idea and challenge his life to leave behind the evil that binds him and poisons his soul. It isn’t clear whether Simon received the Spirit, and based on Peter’s response to his request to buy this power, it seems to reinforce that he was watching but not receiving.
The Ethiopian Eunuch lives in this chapter without a name, without the hope of generations to follow him, but with the credential of servant to the Queen of Ethiopia. Philip is sent to this man at a particular time and a particular place and finds him returning from Jewish worship and reading a prophet from the Old Testament-Isaiah. Philip asks him if he understands and humbly the man asks for help. Philip explains the truth of that text for faith in Jesus Christ in such a way that when the Eunuch sees water, as the chariot journeys on, he asks for baptism. Don’t you wonder what that presentation was like? Do you wonder if Philip talked about what had happened in the city of Samaria? Philip baptizes the man and is taken away by God’s Spirit to another place. The Eunuch goes on home.
Which character speaks most to you? Each of us have our own gifts. Simon is clearly an opportunist. But there are those with gifts who bury them and never use them. Simon is not full of integrity. He likes the spotlight and attention of a community. He is clearly a big fish in a little pond.
Peter, has the weight of the church on his shoulders or so we are inclined to believe. It is really hard to read this account without our own presuppositions. We think Peter and even as protestants we give him a papal power and influence that may not be real to this account. Peter didn’t travel alone, he didn’t pray alone when he got there and he wasn’t the only one laying on hands. The rebuke to Simon was pretty much his own but there may be good reasons for that. Terrified for his life and John for his, they were still willing to go out of hiding and journey to a public place and be seen. Because they went the church in Samaria grew and prospered with the work of God’s Spirit moving in and through them.
Philip is clearly out of Jerusalem because Stephen was dead and the other six deacons saw their names on a ‘your next’ list for killing. Philip could have hid, could have fled and never been heard of again. There were choices but he took the opportunity to get out of Jerusalem to tell others about his faith in Jesus Christ. He grabbed the opportunity. I think when this chapter ends the rest of the details of Philip’s life that we know are simply legend and hearsay. But what a way to go: conversions, exorcisms, healings and the quiet explanation of a familiar text and truth that would change the state of faith in a whole country – ask the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
I guess my favorite is this character without a name, that makes him an everyman, right? ‘An every person.’ Anyone can read scripture but not all will buy in, not all will believe. Not all will dare to be baptized on the first day of a new experience. Impulsive perhaps but believing and that is what we need more of today. I need more of it in my own life. When I read scripture I need to listen for my life first and then as God wills for those around me. Even then I would do better entrusting those messages for others to my prayers rather than my spoken words. Amen.