Traveling from city to city by expressway is fast , direct, and reasonably safe. But if you want to see new and interesting sites, and maybe have some fun along the way, it’s better to take the back road.
On the back road, you can see trees, flowers, fields and vistas that on the expressway are a blur. You can spot things like statues, windmills and birdhouses in people’s yards and gardens that from the main road would be invisible. You’ll pass through small towns and hamlets where you can discover unusual shops and chat with interesting local people that you will never find on the main road. Travelling the expressway is efficient, convenient–and bland. Heading out the back road may take you longer, and may even entail some risk, but is bound to yield more surprises.
And that’s what happens to Philip in Acts 8, the text we will consider in our worship on Sunday, January 18. On his lonely back road trip through Samaria, Philip is definitely surprised. He encounters one of the most interesting characters in the New Testament—a powerful, exotic Ethiopian eunuch. It’s a timely meeting, since this man is urgently needing someone like Philip. The two have a conversation, suddenly there’s a baptism, and the world is changed.
We need to note that Philip takes the unfamiliar route through Samaria not because he wants to see the scenery, but because the Holy Spirit leads him there. Which might lead us to ask: what kind of “back roads” in our daily life might the Spirit wish to lead us onto? What new experiences and interesting people might we encounter should we depart from our well-worn life paths? And, what “back road” might the Spirit have in mind for our church? What life-giving surprises might be awaiting us should we have the courage to follow the Spirit’s nudge and forsake the easy, habitual, predictable main highway for—as the poet Robert Frost put it– “the road less traveled?” For Philip, as for Frost, following the back road “made all the difference.”
(For an interesting complement to the story of Philip in Acts, see Robert Frost’s poem, “The Road Less Traveled,” easily available online.)