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Genuine Witness

Daily Devotional for Monday, February 1, 2021 from Rev. Eric Douglass


For our Monday meditations, we have begun a series on ‘early church life,’ as found in the Book of Acts.

Meditations on the Early Church: Genuine Witness

Acts 8:26-31: Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over to this chariot and join it.” So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him.

Note: Little is known of the Ethiopian eunuch…not even his name. In the story below, I have created a history based on the story we have, while adding a context that fits this time. 

Kofi stuck his head out of his wagon-like chariot, paused to consider the odd-looking scene, and thought to himself: “Why is there someone running alongside my chariot?”
 
It had been an odd day. That morning Kofi had met with no less than three rabbis, trying to sort out his appeal to become a full Jewish worshipper. The problem is that he was a eunuch—as required by his country’s laws—and eunuchs were not admitted to the assembly of the Lord (Deut. 23:1). So, the rabbis were discussing the intricacies of their law, trying to find a workaround, while he waited in the hall. It wasn’t even a nice hall. More like a stone tunnel with no place to sit. He wasn’t impressed.
 
Just a year prior, he had become convinced that Israel’s God was his God. As he put it to the rabbis: “Your God has come to my heart and mind, and I will not shut this God out.” Still, the rabbis had all manner of questions for him, such as “Why would a foreigner have any interest in our temple” and “What would you do to follow Israel’s God” and “How many years of study would you commit to?” These he answered, stating that no task or duty was too small for such a God. At one point he wondered if they were testing him, but the longer the questions went, the more he thought that they were simply distrustful of outsiders.
 
He sighed and waited. Finally the head rabbi came to the doorway and motioned him inside. “We have come to a decision,” he began in his most solemn voice. “You will begin a course of study. If you can show that you read with understanding, and that you have followed our ways, then we will move to the next step.” The other two rabbis stole a smirking look at each other, suggesting that they didn’t think this possible.
 
The head rabbi droned on: “You will begin with the text of the prophet Isaiah. Read it beginning to end, miss nothing…and I will survey your understanding when you return.” With that, the rabbis filed out a side door, leaving him with his thoughts.
 
And now, hours later, seeing a man running alongside his chariot seemed like the perfect finish to a bizarre day. He turned his attention back to reading, trying to get a start on this prophet called Isaiah. Of course, the text made little sense. His mind flashed back to the smirking rabbi, and he wondered if that man might be right. The text was impenetrable. Perhaps the second time it would make better sense.
 
That was when he heard a voice from outside: “Do you understand what you are reading?” For a moment he wondered how the man had known he was reading anything…but then, of course, he was reading out loud.
 
“How can I? The text is completely opaque.”
 
“Well,” the voice continued, “The text of Isaiah is difficult.”
 
“I never said that I was reading Isaiah.”
 
“I recognize the text.”
 
Kofi thought for a minute before responding: “Are you a rabbi, for it was a rabbi that bade me read this.”
 
“No…I am a common man, but I know these texts and their meaning.”
 
Kofi thought about his proposal for a moment. This was not like his time in Jerusalem with the smirking rabbis. They had made him feel like an outsider who needed a favor…and the favor would only be granted after completing their tasks…and the tasks were designed to make him fail. Yet here was a man performing a small act of kindness to a complete stranger.
 
And the eunuch invited Phillip into his chariot.

Our Lord:
 
We are so focused on the big things,
acts that change the world…
acts that produce fame…
acts that draw large crowds.
 
Yet changing the world requires the everyday acts,
of showing kindness to strangers…
of hugging those lost in mourning…
of small gifts to a sick friend.
 
God is revealed in the everyday acts,
as the people are healed…
as the grief melts away…
as the isolation dissipates…
 
And so the kingdom of God comes.
 
Amen.

About the Author
Eric Douglass is the covenant pastor at New Hanover Presbyterian Church, where his work emphasizes adult education. Writing meditations is a natural extension of this. During the current pandemic, his goals have been to ensure that the folk at New Hanover see the deep connection that they have to God and the community, even though the community can’t meet in person. This connection is not just one of continued fellowship, but of God’s presence in the community. God stands with us, no matter what path we are on. In this way, God acts like the father and mother who refuse to abandon their child, no matter how wayward that child, or how difficult the situation. Psalm 23 captures this perfectly: “The Lord is my shepherd.” Eric is a graduate of the University of Missouri, initially earning a degree in biology, and then his medical degree from that university’s Medical School. After practicing medicine for many years, he earned a Masters in Divinity and a Masters in Theology from Union Theological Seminary, here in Richmond. Since that time, he has authored two books, frequently delivers papers at the Society for Biblical Literature, and is an adjunct professor at Randolph-Macon College. But the work he enjoys the most is teaching at New Hanover. Whether in casual discussion during the coffee hour, or a structured Sunday School class, or a Wednesday night special event, this is where he finds authentic people engaged in living out their life with God. Eric lives in Mechanicsville, VA, with his wife (Felecia). He enjoys doing fine cabinetry work and hiking. He has two children, Michael and Daniel, who both live in the DC area. His family is especially fond of playing board games, through which they have whittled away many a winter’s evening.