In your word I hope.
(adapted from Psalm 130:5)
1 Kings 9:1-10:29
The Lord told Solomon, "I'll be with you as I was with your father, but you must maintain integrity and uprightness, obey all commands, statutes, and ordinances I have given you. Otherwise, I will cut you off."
Solomon used conscripted labor to build the temple and his palace and many, many other projects. His fame spread. The queen of Sheba gave to see for herself. After observing his wisdom and his display of wealth, she pronounced her approval and gave him lavish gifts.
More wealth came to Solomon through traders, merchant, shippers, and the nations allied with him.
Wisdom and wealth, so far.
Through the first seven chapters of Acts, Peter and the other apostles have been preaching in Jerusalem. Successes and setbacks. Steven was condemned to death. Saul (more about him later) watched the stoning.
The persecution became so severe that the apostles scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (Go back and read again Acts 1:8.)
Philip is preaching in Samaria where crowds are listening eagerly to him and seeing the signs that he did (8:4-8). Peter and John returned to Jerusalem. And Philip is directed by a messenger from God to go to Gaza.
He is performing signs, drawing crowds, being praised, and baptizing. Philip is in a productive mission field. And God tells him to travel the wilderness road.
On the trip, Philip came across a court official of the Ethiopian queen who was returning from a trip to Jerusalem. He had gone there to worship, and when Philip saw him, he was reading from the prophet Isaiah.
We can speculate whether he had already read the part of Isaiah where eunuchs and foreigners are included in Israel's promise (56:1-8). [Tangent: We can further speculate on whether we ourselves have spent much time with that passage and whether we talk and act as if we believed it.]
The Spirit sent Philip over to speak to this foreigner. Philip responded to this command by running over to his chariot.
He asked him if he understood what he was reading. The Ethiopian replied, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to join him.
Some points to consider:
People who don't look like or who haven't been brought up like us may be sensing the call of God. God may be talking to us, and we ought to be listening.
If someone wants to understand scripture, and we're standing right there, we need to be prepared to step up to the need.
OTOH, scripture may not be transparent even to someone who has studied a lot. We need to look at the Ethiopian as a good example of someone who knew he needed instruction and was willing to admit it.
The Ethiopian had been reading from Isaiah (53:7-8), a passage first heard by a weak nation in tribulation caused by a powerful invader, a passage about suffering.
Who is the Ethiopian talking about--himself or somebody else?
Philip responded by telling him about Jesus.
Christians continue to appropriate the stories of Israel in exile. Some of us think all the prophets were talking about Jesus. Some of us think that we can understand the meaning of Jesus better as we learn the history of God's dealing with suffering through the millenia that preceded Jesus' time on earth.
He is not like them. He's from a different place. He lives a different life. But, he asks "What is to prevent me from being baptized?"
Philip sees no reason why not.
The General Conference of the UMC in 2012 marked the entry into full communion with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, the African Union Methodist Protestant Church and the Union American Methodist Episcopal Church. According to Rich Peck (see umc.org):
“We have a shameful history of blatant racism that led to the breakup of American Methodism into multiple denominations beginning in the late 18th century,” said the Rev. Stephen J. Sidorak Jr., staff executive of the United Methodist Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns.
Noting the existence of the Pan-Methodist Commission, Sidorak said, “There is some solace in the fact that there has been demonstrable dedication within The United Methodist Church to preserve a special relationship with the historic African-American Methodist churches.”
But not everyone is to be include in everything. The GC spent time trying to decide who should be included in decision-making roles, in the clergy, and in church weddings. The view of the Common Witness Coalition is that we did not succeed in inviting-all-to-the-table
This psalm helps give us voice to our laments, for those times when we are lost in situations of despair, times when we are not in control of the outcome. It is a reminder, an affirmation, that what we are waiting for is for the Lord to take control.
We are turning to the Lord even with the admission that we don't deserve help. God forgives. God loves. God redeems.
When I am in pain, and the situation is due to my own fault, how can I expect God to help? Why would God want to step in to that situation? The answer in the psalm is that God forgives.
I'm not good at memorizing, but as I read Psalm 130, I think I really ought to try to be.
Memory of what God has already done.
A slave who deals wisely will rule
over a child who acts shamefully,
and will share the inheritance
as one of the family.
The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold,
but the Lord tests the heart.
Prayer for Today: Choose a prayer from Joan Stott's website The Timeless Psalms.