E-mail, St. Philip’s Episcopal Church Easthampton, MA, October 13th, 2016
I am a bit embarrassed to admit what I learned two days ago, as I was saying my prayers, using the Daily Office as a resource. (I invite you to use “Mission St. Clare” on your electronic device for this purpose. Having it on a phone is extremely convenient.) For on the Christian calendar, October 11 (this past Tuesday) is dedicated to “Philip the Evangelist.” As I read the site’s commemoration of Philip, it was made clear to me that the October 11th’s Philip refers to one of the seven original “deacons” whom the Twelve Apostles appointed to oversee the care of the widows and orphans in the infant church. (See Acts 6). Yet, Philip the Apostle (one of the Twelve disciples who is mentioned in Acts 1:13 and in several places in John’s gospel) is commemorated on May 1st. I hadn’t put all this together before. Throughout history, these two names have often been confused, and in the “St. Clare” commemoration of “Philip the Evangelist” the thought was raised: What if both the deacon and the apostle were the same guy?
In the 6th chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, we hear of the first organization of the early church. The mission and ministry of Christ’s Body in the world (i.e., the church) had developed so much and so quickly that the Apostles (the eleven, plus Matthias) had to get help. In order to be able to focus on their unique ministry of being “eye witnesses to Jesus,” the Apostles appointed seven individuals of good spiritual reputation and wisdom to oversee the application of the gospel’s care of the people, especially the most vulnerable among them: the widows and orphans. Philip was among this group of seven, who were the prototypes of the office of deacon. We also hear of this Philip (the evangelist and deacon) facilitating the conversion and baptism of the Ethiopian eunuch and breaking through cultural barriers to minister to the Samaritans.
In John’s gospel, Philip the Apostle appears several times, being described as being from Bethsaida, obeying Jesus’ call to follow him, and persuading Nathaniel to meet Jesus. (1:43-51) This apostolic Philip also appears at the feeding of the 5000, observing with practical analysis that six months wages would not cover the cost of feeding the throng.
The interesting question is: What if these two individuals and their respective gifts for ministry belonged to the same man? What if the man who was a faithful “eye witness” to Jesus’ life, ministry, death and resurrection was also the same person who ventured well-beyond his own comfort zone to convey the Good News of Jesus to those not of his tribe? What if the one with apostolic authority was also the organizer who could not only administer feeding large crowds but also be a bridge person to the stranger and the “other”?
That we will never know the answer with certainty shouldn’t, I think, keep us at St. Philip’s, Easthampton, from thinking and dreaming about how we might combine the gifts and skills of “both” Philips into action in our own time and place. For instance, how can we increase our sense of the “Apostles’ teaching and fellowship” (cf., the baptismal vows: BCP., p. 304) to fuel our passion for God and the God-life? How can we share our faith with others, especially those beyond our borders and comfort zones? How do we create and sustain ways in which the hope of the gospel and the transformational power of knowing God-in-Christ may be organized and effectively offered now and for generations to come?
As we continue to focus on our parish canvass and the raising of funds to support our life and mission, I invite you to consider how each of us might contribute our time, our talents, and our treasure to making our St. Philip’s stronger examples of Philip the Apostle and Philip the Evangelist. How can we carry on this legacy of faith in action?
To the poet’s question: “What’s in a name?” may we provide in and through this fall’s canvass a resounding answer that does honor to our patron saint, as well as to our baptismal vows.