Christ is risen!
Everybody loves a celebrity. All you have to do is stand in line at the grocery store and see the many different magazines dedicated to keeping us informed about the lives of this or that celebrity and you can’t escape this weakness in we humans.
But so many of our celebrities turn out to be just as weak and just as fallible as we are, and we love learning that too! Maybe it makes us feel better about ourselves.
Look at our lesson today in Acts 8:5-17:
IN THOSE DAYS, Philip went down to a city of Samaria, and proclaimed to them the Christ. And the multitudes with one accord gave heed to what was said by Philip, when they heard him and saw the signs which he did. For unclean spirits came out of many who were possessed, crying with a loud voice; and many who were paralyzed or lame were healed. So there was much joy in the city.
But there was a man named Simon who had previously practiced magic in the city and amazed the nation of Samaria, saying that he himself was somebody great. They all gave heed to him, from the least to the greatest, saying, “This man is that power of God which is called Great.” And they gave heed to him, because for a long time he had amazed them with his magic. But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Even Simon himself believed, and after being baptized he continued with Philip. And seeing signs and great miracles performed, he was amazed.
Now when the apostles at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent to them Peter and John, who came down and prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit; for it had not yet fallen on any of them, but they had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.
So, Simon was famous in the area for his magic tricks he passed off as miracles. This guy is going to be trouble! And yet, he is moved by St. Philip’s preaching. The amazing thing is that a Jew (Philip) is in Samaria at all. You see this part of the world was a place of half-breeds, strange religions, weird beliefs, and some really shady religious characters. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it?
And yet, here is this Jewish man, a follower of Christ, proclaiming that this Risen Savior is for the Samaritans as well. In fact, He’s for everybody, regardless of your ethnic background or your economic situation, or your education level. In fact, there is only one barrier that will keep you from this loving Lord; your own lack of desire to know Him! So, what was the result of Philip’s preaching? The age-old and timeless response to the timeless Christian Gospel: Believing and Baptism. Even Simon himself, that old magician and con man, believed and was baptized. St. Philip, obeying Christ’s command to continue His ministry to the world, preached and healed the people and Simon could tell these weren’t just magic tricks, but real lives were being transformed by the Holy Spirit present in the Church.
Even though Simon was a local celebrity and even had the nickname of “the power of God which is called great,” he believed the preaching of Philip and entered the Church through baptism. Now, don’t get too excited because Simon isn’t finished causing trouble and he isn’t quite getting what he needs to get to escape some of his old ways, but that’s for later. Suffice it to say that we stumble when we get caught up in the flash of celebrity, thinking that popularity equals maturity or even insight. No, all of us, no matter who we are, all need the healing grace of Jesus Christ to do the internal work of maturing us, and our popularity isn’t a shortcut to maturity.
Today, are you tempted to be dazzled by popularity? Do you catch yourself comparing yourself to someone else that might have a bit more “name recognition” than you? Don’t! Know that all of us are meant to travel the spiritual journey of growth and maturity by humbly embracing the wisdom of the faith, actively participating in the power of these spiritual disciplines, and resting in the sure knowledge that God is “no respecter of persons” and loves you and me as much as He loves everyone else. Make being Orthodox on Purpose your only claim to fame!
P.S. Dear Lord, popularity and prestige is such a hollow trap that is still so very tempting. But it seems even when we know it’s shallow and fleeting, we still seek it. Why Lord? Is it because we are so insecure, our egos are desperate for any affirmation? Are we so gullible as to believe the dangers of worldly popularity won’t affect us? O Lord of mercies, please forgive me when my motivations are mixed with a desire to be popular or to be praised. I know that never ends well for me, and I need to gain my praise only from hearing You say “well done, good and faithful servant.” That is the only popularity worth giving my whole life for! Amen