Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
(Acts 8:26-31 ESV)
God told Philip to go somewhere ridiculous. Gaza is a remote place, kind of like taking the Alcan Highway. After you leave Whitehorse, there’s just not that much there all the way to Fairbanks. But that’s where the angel told Philip to go. He never said, “Philip, go to Egypt,” though that’s where he’d have ended up if he had continued down the Gaza road. And if you’re not a student of geography, I have news for you. Ethiopia is a long, long, long way down that road. You have to go all the way down along the Gulf of Suez, across the whole coast of Sudan, before you ever reach Ethiopia.
God told Philip to speak to someone ridiculous. Have you ever seen a picture of a Eunuch? Because of what has been done to them, usually pre-puberty, these people are so androgynous it is hard to tell what they are. They are very strong, docile, and shapely. They have the strength of a man and the voice of a woman. In any culture, they stand out.
You’ll also notice, by the way, that the Ethiopian’s sexuality is of no import to Philip. He treats this person exactly the way he treats any other. Until one day the church gets the message that a person’s sexuality or lifestyle or politics has nothing to do with whether they are acceptable to God, Christians are going to continue missing out on the opportunities God gives them to go and do ridiculous things.
God told Philip to say something ridiculous. The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah. He was reading an enigmatic passage from a Hebrew scroll he had probably picked up while on a diplomatic mission to Jerusalem. Now he was returning home. The passage is from Isaiah 53:7-8:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The man was probably trying to understand Jewish politics, not Jewish religion. For Philip to simply jump in and tell the man that Jesus’ humiliation was for him is a pretty bold thing to do. And pretty ridiculous. This was a man of some authority. What if he hadn’t liked what Philip had to say? What if he took out his sword and killed Philip? What was Philip thinking anyway, hitchhiking like that on the Gaza Road?
Sometimes God will tell you to do something pretty ridiculous. Your friends and family probably won’t understand why you’re doing it.
Our son Tim and his wife Alice have gone with their six month old son River to The Rainbow Gathering. This year it is in a state park somewhere way up in Washington State. They were told there is still snow on the ground in places. It is situated in a ring of (mostly dormant) Volcanos. Mt. St. Helens is there. Dormant… right. This is also the place on the planet with the most Big Foot sightings. When they left to go Alice and River both had colds, and they’re sleeping in tents for ten days out there.
God told Tim and Alice to do something ridiculous. They’ve gone out there with Inner Change (the mission group they work with) to serve pancakes to homeless hippies in the woods. They’ve gone out there because when you serve pancakes to homeless hippies, sometimes one of them asks why you’re doing this. And then you get the chance to say something ridiculous, like, “I’m here because of Jesus.” Some of those hippies are on drugs. Some are GLBT or Q. Some will look and sound pretty ridiculous. When you think about Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, doesn’t it seem that God loves ridiculous things?
When God tells you to do something ridiculous you will know it. He’ll send you somewhere ridiculous and ask you to speak to ridiculous people and tell them ridiculous things about how Jesus did something ridiculous and loved you.