“If You Can’t Take the Heat…” Acts 6:26-39

“If you can’t take the heat……

            That’s how the old phrase goes, but as we have started looking at the events of bearing witness to Jesus, we have a little different picture.

            Last week we looked at how the Disciples appointed seven trusted elders to do the work of waiting tables, and of caring for the distribution of food to the poor and the widows.   It was “kitchen duty” if you will.  “It’s not right for us to neglect the word…” the disciples had said.

            What is curious in Acts is how little you hear from the disciples though.   The crowd in Jerusalem fall silent, and except for Peter are never heard of again.

            Who do we hear about?   Well it’s all the people who were supposed to just stay in the Kitchen!

           We met Stephen, who took up the task and added to it, becoming one who proclaimed Christ to the Hellenists.    He was stoned to death for stepping outside the bounds of the kitchen.

            This week we hear about another of the group, Philip, who finds himself suddenly on the receiving end of God’s messenger.   An angel has him by the ear, and directs him out of the kitchen and out of Jerusalem where has this encounter with an Ethiopian eunuch along the stretch of road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.

            It seems that in the case of the proclaiming the resurrection, the heat isn’t found in the Kitchen!   It comes in stepping out of the kitchen.  That is what these “appointed ones” feel compelled to do!   They are not content just waiting tables.   But more than just being content, really they find themselves thrust into all kinds of situations they never thought they would end up in when they first agreed to help out.

It was the disciples who heard Jesus give the promise that they “would be his witnesses to Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

            It appears that the Holy Spirit has an expansion of Jesus’ promise in mind.

            Now, it’s impossible to look at this story without addressing a few awkward but interesting details of the story.

            We have here an Ethiopian in command of a chariot.  Not only is he black, from a far flung corner of the Roman Empire and highly educated, there is something else that becomes the signature mark of uniqueness, mainly that he is a eunuch. 

That’s what he is referred to repeatedly in the story, “the eunuch” so let’s just get the awkward part of the story out of the way.  This situation makes him a valuable person in that he can be trusted around women, particularly the sensitive royal type for whom it is very important that any births that should take place be the ones intended to pass on royal lineage and rights to the throne.  

            But, he is also someone who does not fit in anywhere.

            He cannot be a Jew, although he worships in Jerusalem and reads the Hebrew Scriptures, his awkward status as eunuch keeps him isolated, an outsider from virtually everyone. 

            This is where the story gets interesting, the more you look at it from the perspective of Philip getting out of the kitchen.

            You will note that Philip has this encounter with an angel, a voice that tells him where to go.

            The angel tells him to go to this road.    Once he gets there, this spirit tells him to approach the chariot.

            Like the last two weeks the rest of the story unfolds in the midst of the conversation between Philip and the Eunuch.   Did you notice what is conspicuously absent from this point on?

            Well, if an Angel is going to show you the road, and the voice of the Spirit is going to get you into the chariot, wouldn’t you expect that Angel or voice of the spirit to show up and clinch the deal now?
            But that’s not what happens!   Philip is very much on his own here.   “Do you understand what you are reading?”  he asks.

“How can I unless someone guides me?”  I can just see Philip thinking to himself, “wow, Holy Spirit talking to me, this is what Spirit must want, can’t wait to hear what that Spirit voice has to say next.  So he jumps into the chariot, the passage is read, the question is asked, “About whom ….does the prophet say this, about himself or someone else? 

            Silence!

            Any time now Holy Spirit.

            Bumping along, waiting for the word from above… the definitive word here….what you want to me say to this high ranking, African eunuch official…..

            Any time now Angel….

            Silence.

            Now you understand the kitchen comment.   The heat is on here, God has positioned Philip the dishwasher into the seat of the rich and powerful, and you would think God would give him something to say….. but God doesn’t.

            And so, Philip has to fall back on the same thing that you and I have to fall back on.   He has to use scripture, and he has to interpret it himself in the light of the resurrected Jesus!

            That was awkward!

            It was certainly nothing Philip had prepared for or had a chance to “bone up on” just for this occasion.  He doesn’t have the advantage of knowing ahead of time which scripture passage the Eunuch is going to be interested in, he just has to shoot from the hip here in the light of Jesus.

            Oh, and not only does he have to do that, he has to make a decision about a deeply controversial action on the fly.

            After hearing about Jesus, as they are bouncing around on the road, the Eunuch looks over and sees some water and asks, “what is to prevent me from being baptized?”

            Baptism, which marks entry into the community, for this one who is outside, what is to prevent it?

            I can imagine Philip again taking a little breath, looking up, listening, thinking to himself, “now would be a good time God, to give me a little direction, a little hint, maybe send someone more qualified to answer this kind of question?”

            Silence.

            You mean, I’m going to have to make this call on my own?  A kitchen hand has to decide of God’s grace is big enough to include a Eunuch, an African, a rich and powerful nobleman?

            Yes, that’s pretty much the way it is. 

            And so… gulp… they stop, they head to the water, the deed is done…. And then the Spirit shows up and whisks Philip out of the scene somehow, and the Ethiopian?   Well he’s left with his bible and an opportunity to read scripture again and see if he can now make out what it means in the light of Jesus who has entered his story.

            The more I read this, the more I am convinced that what we are really comfortable doing is not what the Holy Spirit has in mind for us to continue doing.

            I like it in the kitchen, you see.

            It’s a place of endless creativity where I can do my own thing, fancy or plain, and if I mess it up no one really needs to know about it but me.

            I like it in the kitchen, it’s the place where friends congregate, gather, exchange some friendly gossip and generally feel at ease because we only invite good and close friends to our kitchen.  

            In the kitchen we can be casual, comfortable, and not really have to make a lot of decisions on our own. There is always an authority to consult, either a cookbook, a trusted expert chef, or grandma.   We don’t have to be on our own.

            I would imagine that when the disciples first asked Stephen, and Philip, and all the rest for kitchen duty, this is exactly what they had in mind.

            “Sure, I can serve my church that way, no problem.  I like it in the kitchen.”

            But here is the thing, God is in the habit of moving those who like to hang around in the kitchen out in the world, so that the Word can be proclaimed in Judea, and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

            If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen?

            No, just plain get out of the kitchen!

            That’s what God has in mind for you.  That’s where the Holy Spirit will lead and guide you, and when you get out there, don’t expect any direct whispers from God as to what to do next.

            As the baptized, you have had the Holy Scriptures placed into your hands.

            As the forgiven, you have the words to speak, to begin a conversation that allows people to inquire of how YOU find comfort, hope, and peace in this world.

            You don’t have to “cook up” any fresh ideas, any new fads, any great gimmicks to tell people about the Risen Lord.   You do have to use the gifts entrusted to you to the best of your ability, and if this story reveals anything about that it is that God and the Holy Spirit trusts those who are moved by the Spirit deeply to complete the task they find themselves placed into.

            Much as you might like to hang out in the kitchen, following Jesus puts you out in the world, and that is where you will find Jesus, in the ones you meet along the way, and the ones who ask, “hey, what is to prevent me from being part of this?”

            May you have the wisdom of Philip in that moment.

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