Acts 8:26-40 (NRSV) 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.” (This is a wilderness road.) 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 worshipand 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?” 3He replied, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
The eunuch asked Philip, “About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus. As they were going along the road, they came to some water; and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?”He commanded the chariot to stop, and both of them, Philip and the eunuch, went down into the water, and Philip baptized him. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord snatched Philip away; the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he was passing through the region, he proclaimed the good news to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.
I do realize this is perhaps not a common scripture for a memorial service. Most of the time, we stick with common passages that serve to comfort the mourners, and make us feel better about our loved one being in a better place- where there is no more illness, no such thing as pancreatic cancer, no suffering, no tears. And there is nothing wrong with sticking to common, ordinary memorial scriptures; except this is Charlotte's memorial service- and she was anything but ordinary. And when I think of her life, her ministry, her gift to all of us- this is the passage that comes to mind, for a whole host of reasons.
Philip, first of all, is one of those disciples that is, in my mind, underrated. He didn't shoot from the hip, like Peter, or coin notable phrases, like John. He was not renowned for being a doubter, like Thomas, or a convert like Matthew, or thankfully a traitor, like Judas. He was simply, one of the disciples. Even Philip's call story is somewhat un-glamorous. We have recorded for us only one sentence: "Jesus found Philip and said "follow me." That's it.
And I love that. It's simple. The Spirit of God whispered into his ear and Philip's life was forever changed- he became a missionary, and evangelist; a disciple.
The passage I just read to you catches up with Philip after Jesus' death and resurrection, when he has been sent on a missionary journey, sharing the good news, or what we call, the gospel. Ever sensitive to the voice of the Spirit, Philip hears an angel telling him to take a wilderness road- and ever obedient to the Spirit, he does. Philip sees a court official to the queen of Ethiopia traveling home in a chariot- and again, led by the spirit, he approaches, and hears the eunuch reading scripture. If it were you or I perhaps we would be hesitant to interrupt a scene such as this, but not Philip- 'do you understand what you're reading?'he asks. And without flinching Philip volunteers to explain not just the scripture, but share the good news. And he does so in such a way that the eunuch wants to be baptized- and of course, Philip plunges him into the faith then and there.
When I read about Philip, especially in this passage, I can't help but to think of Charlotte. Her call story perhaps not glamorous as others- The spirit of God whispered into her ear, 'follow me' and her life was forever changed. She and her husband George, ever sensitive to the voice of the Spirit respond when they are called to take the 'wilderness road' and go to India. She became a missionary, an evangelist, and taught those whose presence she graced to be disciples.
When she and her family returned to the states twenty plus years later, her call never wavered. She started working for the denomination in various capacities, she taught school, she worked with underprivileged kids, she volunteered at Riverview, ABW, choir, and gave of herself in so many other ways as well. She was friend and confidant to many, and through it all she lived her faith.
Charlotte was one of those rare individuals one can call a living witness to the love of Christ, and she bore that witness to all who came in contact with her. She was no respecter of persons as far as doling out the grace of God. It didn't matter if she met you in the church, or at an after school program, or a church women united event- she could run into you at the nursing home, or invite you to a Lenten lunch at her home- but wherever you had the good fortune to run into her, you could feel the joy of Christ within her. And she was always happy to see you!
Charlotte was intentional about her engagement with people- and whether you were riding in a chariot or a wheelchair or just waking down Main St, she would stop what she was doing to help you understand- to share with you the good news- that you are loved by a God bigger and greater than you could imagine- that you are loved by that God exactly as you are, no strings attached. She didn't flinch when it came time to stand up in front of people, whether it was to teach, or lead, or share the story of her faith. When you were with her, you learned from her calm thoughtful demeanor that it's OK to wrestle with tough questions; it's OK to try new things, no matter what your age, and that there is always some new insight or teaching from God that is worth talking about.
One final thought about the scripture passage before we depart from this place. First, the person Philip was teaching was a eunuch. I know we didn't touch on that aspect, but a eunuch in the first century was considered an outsider- neither identifiable as male or female, the eunuch represents the 'other' in our society. How many times did we witness Charlotte reaching out to those 'not like her' with a word of welcome, without a hint of judgment, and with compassion? If you talk to the people of First Baptist, and I would say most of the people here, you would be hard pressed to find a time when she didn't show those things. She embodied those attributes.
I wonder, is there a better way to honor Charlotte's memory than to begin to embrace her way of being? Can we, un-glamorous as our story may be, begin to be sensitive to the voice of the spirit, calling us to follow the ways of Christ? To stop what we are doing listen the the whisper of the spirit- in order to bring understanding to others?
May we learn from her, what it means to be a disciple, to live without judgment of others, and to share the good news of God's unconditional love with everyone we meet- not just with our words, but with the voice of our actions. We have an opportunity this afternoon- to listen, to learn, to love. May God bless all of us as we cherish the Spirit that is Charlotte.