14 October 2012


 (a sermon for 12 October 2008)
The Feast of Philip, Deacon and Evangelist

Acts 8:26-40

I apologize for being a little late this morning…I was checking our investment portfolio…

Yes, this past week has reminded us that we live in anxious times. Even for those us who do not consult portfolios daily, we know that the bottom line has changed. Even for those of us who do not put our faith in the stock market, we know that we are affected by its wild gyrations and quick falls. Most of us do require some type of financial credit, some type of trusting loan; and, this week, that credit and trust are scarce. Our world is prone to panic and to fear.

So, this past week, I asked several investment experts and financial advisors the same question. They are all friends of mine, and they know I am a priest. I said, “I know you are busy this week, but let me tell you what I have to do on Sunday. I am preaching on the patronal feast day of our church, the Cathedral of St. Philip. I know that my parishioners, when they come to church, are going to have the economy on their minds. They are going to be thinking about global anxiety and financial insecurity.” And so I asked my finance and investment friends, “What should I say to them?”

Every single one of my financial consultants and friends gave me the same sort of answer. They said, “Tell your congregation to focus on the truly important things in life: faith, family, relationships. Remind your congregation to plan for the long term, to focus on things that endure, not on things that are passing away.”

Yes, their answers sounded like sermons! I felt like I should have asked these guys to preach today. The answers they gave are the same things we have been saying in the church for generations! “Pay attention to long-term goals, not quick fixes. Pay attention to the enduring matters of the spirit. Remember that we can achieve great things when we act together. Stay close to communities, like church and family.” One financial advisor, on the front page of the New York Times yesterday, even suggested, “Pray if it helps!”

Now, I can take this sort of advice in two ways. For one: if finance advisors are now turning to religious platitudes, then matters have certainly gotten bad! But, I choose to take a second course: when the world does look confusing and anxious and panic-stricken, people of faith and hope and strength really do have an even larger role to play. The best finance advisors seem to know this.

So, on this morning, the Sunday after the wildest stock market swings in history, and also the Sunday of our patron saint, Philip the Deacon, I want to speak about the enormous responsibility now given to us people of faith. You and I –members of the Christian Church, members of the Cathedral of St. Philip—have just been given our mission for the coming year.

We are called to be people of integrity and hope in the days ahead. There will be many who despair, many who are already too confused, many who will sell into panics. That will not be the behavior of people of faith. Today, it is time for us to “hold fast to that which is good.” It is time for us to help those in need, to help those who may have no community or family to which they can turn.

For, there are people in the world today who have trusted in the wrong things. They have lived too long following the idolatry of irresponsible credit and irresponsible luxury. There are many who have not benefitted from the foundations of a loving community like church. Many may begin seeking the help of the church – not for financial assistance per se-- but for true spiritual assistance. We –you and I-- are to be the people who help them.

The original Philip the Deacon, the saint for whom our church is named, also lived in confusing and anxious times. Foreigners – Romans—had seized the land and the wealth of its citizens. Worse yet, early Christians were beginning to suffer persecution. People began to leave town, to leave Jerusalem, for safer territory. Philip was one of them.

He first travelled to Samaria to preach the gospel. He preached to a strange character named Simon, who was so taken with the power of the gospel that he offered to buy gospel power with money. Yes, this is a strange verse in the Book of Acts, chapter 8, verse 18: it says that “when Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the laying on of the apostles’ hands, he offered the apostles money, saying ‘Give me some of that power also!’”

And Peter, the chief apostle, said, “May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain God’s gift with money!” (Acts 8:20). Imagine trying to buy God’s power with money! But that is exactly what has been occurring in our time, hasn’t it? The gifts that God has for us – gifts like security and hope and trust and love—have been counterfeited by those who think money can achieve them. Money does not, cannot buy our deepest securities and trusts. It just cannot do it. May your silver perish with you, said Saint Peter.

Philip the Deacon was part of this new gospel message, having been driven out of Jerusalem and led into Samaria and across the world. Philip had been ordained deacon to preach and to serve, and he performed those ministries heartily.

In some strange way, the Spirit said to Philip, “Get up and go toward the south, down the wilderness road.” Those of you who have been members of the Cathedral have heard me talk about Philip’s journey before. You have heard me say, before, that just as Philip was called to travel a wilderness road, just as Philip was called to minister to an Ethiopian eunuch, a person who was a stranger in both heritage and gender identity, just as Philip took the initiative to get up into the chariot, so we today –following Philip—are called to enter wilderness willingly and with hope; we today are called to reach out to the Ethiopian eunuch, to the strangers in our midst. Philip’s call is our call. I have noted all this before!

But, today, I want to note another feature of this rich narrative. Note the occupation of the Ethiopian eunuch. What was his task in life? Well, he was in charge of the money. In fact, he was in charge of the entire treasury of the queen of the Ethiopians! Maybe he was the Henry Paulsen of first century Ethiopia!

I am not sure how far that analogy will go. But I am sure of this. The Ethiopian eunuch was in charge of all sorts of money, but he was poor. He lacked something, and he knew it. So he was reading the book of the prophet Isaiah. He did not understand it, but he was reading it.

I believe, in the coming weeks and months, there will be all sorts of new people entering this church, the Cathedral of St. Philip, looking for something they are lacking. They will hear the words of scripture and prayer, but they may not understand them. There will be Ethiopian eunuchs among us.

Our role will be to act as Philip the Deacon acted: to jump into the chariot with them. To explain scripture and tradition. To baptize people into a new gospel reality, where all can find true security and hope.

The assets of this church, the Cathedral of St. Philip, are not the kinds of assets that can be bought. The assets of this church are the free gifts of grace and love in Jesus Christ. We receive them when we baptize. We receive them when we take communion together. We receive them when we sing and pray together, and when we laugh and cry together. We receive them when we serve others in the name of Jesus Christ.

Yes, we receive when we give. We receive when we serve. We receive when we trust.

And those actions are exactly the actions that our world needs right now. The world needs trusting credit, doesn’t it? We can give it. The world needs some calm right now. We can give it. The world needs some stability right now, doesn’t it? We can be that stability. We can be that peace. We can be that trust.

Follow Philip the Deacon today. Join the Cathedral of St. Philip today. Be baptized into the gifts that money cannot buy. Be baptized into love and honor, service and trust.


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