We looked at how God, who is a God of Love, has marked, identified each of us who follow Jesus with the Mark of Love last week. Marked as Disciples of Christ when we love one another in all of our interactions with each other. In every word, every value judgement, every side comment, every decision, and every action.
In that identity comes a call to action. Love is not a passive, descriptor of who we are. Love is an action verb moving us ever closer to God and to all of God’s creation when we allow it to move us out of the “Hearing” mode into the “Doing” mode.
Nike has built an entire marketing strategy around the phrase “Just Do It” showing us images of all the athletic, energetic, muscle building things we can do if we just wear Nike products.
Powered by the Holy Spirit we are called to “Just Love” and that moves us in ways and to places we least expect it.
Paul, committed to sharing the love of Christ as far and wide as he can, prepares for his second missionary journey. It is a journey which is a check back on the churches Paul already established, no new plans for church plants. First Silas, and then Timothy, and then Luke join as his companions, a reminder that ministry is not a solo endeavor, it requires companionship. As they end their “check in” part of the journey they decide to go west into the province of Asia, but the Holy Spirit would not let them preach the Gospel there, so they kept traveling north and west until they decide to enter Bythinia, which is north and east along the coast of the Black Sea. But the Spirit would not allow them to preach there either.
They had planned to head to Asia. The Spirit stops them, not just once, but twice. We aren’t told what that looks like. There is no description of how the Spirit stops them. A withdrawal of funding? A border crossing problem, concerns raised by those who know the climate of where they are going? A gut feeling? If there is a vision, it isn’t described for us in the verses before those read this morning.
We may experience the Spirit preparing us to go in a new direction in a variety of ways.
Funding for what we think we should do isn’t available,
Circumstances within our families or communities make it difficult to take that direction right now.
We lose a job or a major customer.
Someone we thought could join us in the plan, cannot.
We all experience those times when the Spirit stops us, forbids us from moving in the direction we think we should. Maria in the Sound of Music has one of those moments….
Maria is disheartened that what she believes God has called her do is being stopped abruptly and the new direction seems so counter to what she thought God had planned for her.
Paul may have been feeling disheartened. Frustrated that his plans aren’t going as he thought they should, as he tried to heed God’s call. Many of us can identify times in our lives when that is where we are.
After the door closes, Maria finds God’s open window, as she develops new relationships, finds new God given direction, Maria is a bit reluctant to accept the change in plan, but goes and we know how the story ends.
Paul finds the open route in a vision of a man from Macedonia asking him to come help. Paul discerns that the vision means they are to go to Macedonia to share the gospel, rather than to Asia, and he goes. Once he catches the vision, Paul is quick to move, as we learn that he gets ready at once to leave for Macedonia.
For some of us, the vision is more difficult to catch when what we think we should be doing gets derailed by the Spirit working to help us get where we need to be – Mother Superior sending Maria in a new direction; Circumstances and a Vision (new idea) setting the direction of Paul’s journey; Brothers and sisters in the faith pointing out where they see God moving us in new directions, Roadblocks and glitches in our plan pushing us to reconsider the vision.
For some of us, once we catch the vision we get ready at once to move on it. To “Just Love” wherever God through the Holy Spirit pushes us to go. For others, that takes a little, or a lot longer.
Slow to catch the vision, or quick, those responding to the movement of the Spirit in their lives cannot sit back and see how it goes. They need a new plan
For Maria, the plan is to be the best “Just love” nanny she can be in all situations.
For Paul, it is to find the best location and most receptive hearts from where to begin sharing the message he is sent to share, a message of Love as modeled in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Paul, Timothy, and Luke head to Philippi. It is an important city, sitting on the famous Egnatian Way that linked east and west. This crossroads town was full of retired Roman soldiers who were free to travel the Empire, a perfect launching point for the mission to Europe, Philipi is on the edge of Greece.
They spend a few days getting to know the place and likely figuring out where those who are the most open to hear the story of the Messiah with open minds might gather. They may also be determining who has the communications skills and the ear of the people so the church can grow even when they move on
There is no indication that any of the apostles tried to establish churches with which they would stay for extended periods of time to continue the ministry. Evidence is that they shared the message and trained those who began to follow Christ to continue deepening their own spiritual life while inviting others to share the journey and equipping them to do the same.
Paul and the others have discovered there is no synagogue in Philip. A new Roman colony, recently planted or re-settled community without a synagogue.
Without a synagogue, people gather at the river on the Sabbath to pray, so that is where Paul and his ministry companions go. Paul saw a vision of a man asking them to come. What he finds is a group of women praying. He doesn’t seem to be challenged by that, and joins them in prayer, sharing the gospel with them.
Maybe Paul would have dismissed the original vision as just something he ate if he had heard a woman calling. In the culture of the day men did not socialize with women and they rarely had any property or standing apart from their husband’s.
The Spirit leads him in yet a new direction, this time not geographically, but in who God is calling to support and continue ministry into a new area.
Lydia is a woman who prays, a woman who worships the God of Israel, who is a business person, a leader of her household. She is connected to those with leadership and financial connections, those are the only ones who can afford and see as important, the purple cloth which she sells. She is open to the leading the Spirit, as we hear that the Lord opens her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
Her response to hearing the news of Jesus Christ, is to be baptized, and to have her household baptized. Believing in Christ, she moves to live in Christ, to “Just love.” It is no small decision she makes, to immediately invite Paul and the others to base their ministry from her home, not an action without consequences in her daily life to begin funding that ministry.
Hearing the message Paul brings is not something she keeps to herself, not something she protects as if it would be diminished if she shared. For Lydia, following Christ means committing herself, her relationships, her financial resources into sharing God’s Love with others. To equipping and encouraging others to do the same.
Lydia’s life, spiritually and physically is changed forever. Her home is a base for receiving people in and sending them out. The flow of her work, her schedule, meal prep, and household organization all changed as she is redirected by the Spirit and God’s love. Her gifts and graces, skills and resources unique to the call God puts on her life through Paul’s redirection. She is there supporting Paul’s ministry for years to come. Her home is the place he returns after being released from prison, the church in Philipi the one that brings him joy when he thinks about them as he continues to journey to other places.
Where Maria went to follow the call on her life was not bad or a poor choice. Where Paul thought he should go was somewhere the message of Christ needed to be shared. How Lydia was responding to God was appropriate, and yet God had others plans, and those plans led to more coming to follow Christ than if the Holy Spirit had not prevented them from staying their original course.
As Maria is challenged by Mother Superior to explore another way to serve God, Paul is challenged to go somewhere he hadn’t considered, at a time he hadn’t scheduled, to speak to someone he didn’t expect. Lydia is challenged to follow Christ and faithfully use all of her resources to share the message of God who emptied himself, became human, died, is resurrected, and sent the Holy Spirit to guide and teach us,
We are challenged to see where the Holy Spirit is nudging us, or maybe slamming some doors, so that our plans, our connections, our schedules, our commitments and resources, come into line with God’s direction. Challenged to hear where a loving God is sending us.
God’s revelations always move us from where we are to where God wants us to be, whether the journey is geographical, spiritual, or both simultaneously.
We are Sent by a loving God, the Spirit shows us where.
 The Adventurous Lectionary Sixth Sunday of Easter May 26, 2019