The Ripple Effects of Being Present
When they came up out of the water, the Lord’s Spirit suddenly took Philip away. The eunuch never saw him again but went on his way rejoicing. –Acts 8:39
The Book of Acts 8:26-40 in the Second Testament tells the story of Philip being told by the Spirit of Jesus to walk on a certain road where he then encounters an Ethiopian eunuch who happens to be responsible for the entire treasury of the Ethiopian queen. That high ranking official also happened to be reading the prophet Isaiah, so Philip offered to explain those ancient words to them. This led to the Ethiopian eunuch insisting that Philip baptize him immediately at the first sight of water, making them perhaps the first Gentile convert to Christianity recorded in the Bible. That’s how important it was for Philip to be on that particular road at that particular moment, and how crucial it was for him to be so present in his brush with a stranger that it led to the Ethiopian eunuch becoming a baptized disciple of Christ. But what stands out to me most about this story today is how it ends, and where it invites our biblical imagination to wander with the happy eunuch.
When Philip vanishes from the scene, the newly baptized disciple never sees him again, but they go on their way rejoicing. I wonder what that rejoicing looked like. Who all did the Ethiopian eunuch tell about that radical rendezvous on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza? What did they say about their meeting with Philip and what he taught them about the Scriptures? How did they describe the epiphany of seeing a body of water as an invitation to a new life, to a new way of being in the world? How did they explain all this to the queen, and how did her highness take this joyful news? These are the unquantifiable ripple effects of two strangers stumbling upon each other and being completely present to one another, ushering in the possibilities of God’s goodness and giving the Spirit room to breathe.
I’m reading this story in a new way because of a memorial service I attended recently. A dear friend of mine’s mother, Jane Stinson, had died after a bout with cancer. At the service, my friend addressed the large gathering of family and friends. He shared a story about the final hours of his mom’s life. When it was apparent that she didn’t have much longer, my friend’s family called for the hospital chaplain. The chaplain entered the room and introduced herself. “My name is Morgan.” My friend raised his hand and said, “That’s my name, too.” Then my friend asked, “What’s your last name?” “Fritz,” she replied. Morgan’s dad raised his hand and said, “That’s my name.” The chaplain proceeded to sit with the family, all of them in slight awe over this chance encounter with a clergyperson whose first and last name immediately connected her with the strangers she was called to care for.
When it was time for her to leave them, Rev. Morgan Fritz said, “Did I mention that today is my first day as a chaplain here?” My friend Morgan then told the gathering of people, now chuckling and quietly saying, “Wow!,” that his mom made it possible for that chance encounter to happen, and on that chaplain’s first day, no less. “So, I imagine,” he said, “she’s maybe telling that story right now to someone she loves, or maybe to a stranger she just met at the hospital, and that person is feeling some joy from how incredible it is. And I imagine she’ll be telling that story for the rest of her life about her first day on the job, meeting a woman’s family with her same first name and her same last name, inviting her, a stranger, to come in and just sit with them in a tender moment.”
Beloved, in memory of Jane and in witness to an incredible story from the Acts of the Apostles, all I can say is this: be present to one another. Whether it is someone you love and spend time with routinely to the point that you might take their presence in your life for granted, or it’s a complete stranger in a particular place at a particular time that you happen to find yourself in, give of yourself by being present. Just as loving others as we love ourselves has the power to transform this world for the better, being fully present to one another can have just as immeasurable an effect on them as it does on us. Leaning into moments that call us to simply be present with, for, and to one another ushers in the possibilities of God’s goodness and gives the Spirit room to breathe.