I have never seen the wilderness in which so much of Scripture is set. I do have experience of the vast wildernesses of New Mexico. It isn’t a place in which you want to be stranded. One look at that vast expanse of barren beauty leaves me in no doubt as to my relationship to the creation - small.
Next Sunday, we will read of the apostle Philip who finds himself in the wilderness. Obedient to the command of the Spirit, he has set out on his journey. He has no idea as to the reason for his mission or what will become of his endeavor. Suddenly, he comes upon an Ethiopian eunuch seated in his chariot reading his Bible. (This man was clearly not a Jew, a Christian, and most certainly not an Episcopalian.)
We don’t live in a world populated by eunuchs any more. The eunuch was in charge of the entire treasury of his queen. He rode in a chariot. He was wealthy enough to own the written word. He had status, power, wealth - and he was sterile. For this man there was no prospect of children, love, or intimacy with a spouse. Prestige he had in plenty. But it was empty.
It is for this man that God has sent Philip into the wilderness. From the sterility of that landscape and the sterility of that man, God is to bring forth life.
Nearing the eunuch, Philip hears the words of the prophet coming from the lips of this non-man who was anathema to any devout Jew. He hears words read without understanding, but filled with hope. The scales fall from Philip’s eyes. He sees no longer a stranger, an abomination, but a frail man, a person, a human being precious in the eyes of God. Philip the Jew, the follower of our Lord, reaches out with his heart and sits beside the forbidden one to share the good news about Jesus. Isolation is ended, and together, they travel in the fertility of the Spirit. And both of them, Philip and the eunuch, go down into the water, and Philip baptizes him.
The gospel calls us to the far reaches of our world, to the wilderness; into places we do not recognize, places we do not normally venture, worlds of which we may be afraid, or worlds that make us angry. It could be a call into the world of a welfare recipient, the world of a stranger, the world of person of an orientation different to ours, the world of a bigot, the world of the homeless, of another race, another religion, another political viewpoint, another socio-economic group, or any world in which others stand outside our own comfort zone.
But, says the author of the letter of John, “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Love in truth and action is the root of our faith. Love and action know no outsiders.
The Rev. Susan N. Eaves