On the Wilderness Road

Spring brings the new stories, the newest newborn church stories. The Mary stories, Thomas stories and Emmaus stories. Stories of turning and knowing. And not knowing, too. Just like spring. This is a season of joyful growth just about bursting through and then sudden strange and dark weather, too.

It strikes me that post-Easter-not-yet-Pentecost is the natural season for the church. Just like the earliest Church, we’re joyful and doubting, overthinking and wondering, commissioned but often sitting around waiting and working out community in the day-to-day. That’s who we are. That’s what we do.

Today, it’s time for Philip. We don’t talk much about Philip, really. He is a quiet, lesser leader of the early church. but his story is a good one. Philip was sent to the wilderness road – and courageously he went. He didn’t go looking for a road or a place to preach. He went because he was sent. So this isn’t like the Emmaus road – it isn’t a road away – but it might be a road through. It is a precursor of the Damascus road because this traveller’s road is a place of encounter. This is where Philip met the Ethiopian court official. He was travelling from Jerusalem and sat in his chariot, reading and wondering over the strange images he found. When he saw Philip, he asked him to explain.

He recognised Philip as a local and one who could explain these local faith stories. What he hadn’t known was the Philip, as a follower of Christ, was also a pilgrim on the road, discovering new territory as he walked in faith. Hearing the Ethiopian’s questions, Philip could have provided a predictable, faithful, law-filled answer, covering the historical facts and details. And when the Ethiopian asked “What is to prevent me from being baptised?” he could have given a long list of Old Testament laws and the layers of who might be included in the covenant and how law must be fulfilled. But Philip didn’t. Instead, he proclaimed.

“…and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.”

We don’t have the details of this speech, just as we don’t know just what how Jesus opened the scriptures to his friends on the Emmaus road, but we can imagine that Philip took his cues from Jesus. How would he tell this story on this wilderness road?

How would he trace the people’s history, the ongoing relationship between God and people, the feelings of promise and sanctuary and provocation? How else could he do it other than simply tell the story, to live the story and let the story break into the court official’s heart?

Storytellers are heart teachers. They unfold roads before us and behind us. They show us where the rough places are and where we might find good water. They accompany us as we walk through our own stories.

Philip followed in the footsteps of Christ and told the story of faith to one who longed to make it part of his road. The act of telling then became part of his journey – and ours, too. We are richer when we surround ourselves with stories.

Who are the storytellers in your church? Where do they share their stories and how are their voices included?

Maybe these are timely questions, not just for this season of the earliest stories of the church, but also because the end of the school year is on the horizon (Yes! It is. I can just about see it if I stand on tiptoe.)  As we plan Sunday School picnics and celebratory services, how might we celebrate our teachers as storytellers?

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About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.