Saturday, 4 May 2013

I went down to the river to pray...

Acts 16:9-16
During the night Paul had a vision:there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
The Conversion of Lydia
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.

On we journey with the apostles and the early church.
Last week, we considered the implications of the gospel becoming inclusive, Gods grace being offered to Gentiles and all those previously considered unclean.
We reminded ourselves of how the notion that all are welcome was as problematic to some church folk then as it is today.
In today's reading, we find that net spreading even wider.
Paul is accompanied by Silas and Timothy and they are actively seeking where to go next with the gospel.
They try a couple of places that they imagine will be good places to spread the word - but it seems they are blocked from going to the places they'd thought on.
Then, from left field, comes a prompting to go to a place that they hadn't considered.
Paul's vision, this time, is a call to go to Macedonia and preach the good news there.
Its important to note, from this passage, that even a vision that seems as convincing as Paul's to go to Macedonia requires to be backed up by the rest of the worshiping community - by the rest of the ministry team.
They all need to own this work and discern that it is God's will for them before they chase off to follow the Spirit.
Often, we imagine that our ideas are also God's ideas.
We can run off in all sorts of directions and discover, in fact, that its not where God wants us to be.
What we can be sure of, however, is that God will keep on prompting until our ways and God's ways collide.
That collision is worth waiting on!
Just this week, we've had a very real example of waiting on God as we seek to determine where next to develop our outreach in the parish:
I've been thinking for some time, that it might be good to set up Messy Church in our parish.
So I've been gathering resources, finding out about it.
But, for all sorts of reasons, the time didn't seem right.
I mentioned that desire at our Annual Meeting this year and a few people were supportive about it.
Then I organised a meeting for those interested in helping - and discovered that, while there are quite a few people on board, lots of other folk aren't sure what it's all about.
Because I've been living with it in my head for some time, I forgot that that doesn't mean that everyone else is as conversant with the idea of Messy Church as I am.
And folk need time to find out more and then decide whether or not to get on board.
That collision of Gods Spirit and our ideas hasn't quite happened yet.
And, while I'm sure it will, its worth waiting until that collision occurs.
Because the journey is much more exciting when God is on board.
In our Acts passage, with Paul's vision, we find the apostles back on a collision course with God:
Go to Macedonia and preach the good news there.
There's a wonderful sense of urgency about the gospel in this passage.
When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Before they know it, the disciples are in Macedonia and ready to find out what this call to Macedonia entails.
They were all set.
And the delays and setbacks they had encountered only served to make them even more prepared when the time was right.
So God revealed to Paul that Macedonia was the next place for them to evangelise and they were immediately up and running.
They got to Philippi and there, in spite of the seeming urgency of the call to Macedonia, the apostles take a few days before setting to work.
And when they do get to work, preaching the good news in this Roman Colony, it is not in the synagogue as you might expect, but another gathering place.
On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer...
Isn't it wonderful to have familiar landmarks - those places you know that, even if they're far away from your normal haunts, they will seem familiar - they will have enough recognisable elements to make you feel at home.
When we were away just after Easter, in the mountains of Virginia, we spent quite a bit of time around rivers and creeks and waterfalls.
I just love to be around water - and I can't imagine living somewhere that that wasn't an option.
Wherever we are, whatever time of year, before you know it, I'll be paddling in the water.
In the mountains, the snow was just beginning to melt because the temperature had risen - so that made the rivers extra cold.
But it was wonderful.
As I said to someone there- water soothes my soul.
So what a great place to go and pray.
The apostles, in Philippi, went to the river where they imagined folk would meet to pray.
When they got to the river, sure enough there was a group of women gathered there and the disciples got to work - speaking to the women about things of the faith.
One woman in particular, Lydia, responded to them.
She was a "worshiper of God" but, that day, in response to Paul's preaching, she and her household were baptised.
She then extended hospitality to the apostles.
Isn't it wonderful that her first act as a baptised believer was to offer hospitality.
A simple gift of which we are all capable.
Sometimes we overlook the simplest of gifts and underestimate their importance.
But there is nothing more sacred than to be made welcome and to be offered hospitality.
And so the spread of the gospel continues.
But, wait a minute...
Wasn't it a man Paul saw in his vision, beckoning to come over to Macedonia?
There stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
And yet the first congregation the apostles preached to in Macedonia was a group of women, of whom Lydia, not even a native, responded.
This encounter, down on the riverbank, seems miles from their usual style of preaching to crowds of folk.
Women - down by the river.
But it was Paul's simple encounter with these women that brought an immediate response in a confession of faith.
Such is the will of God.
And the work of the Spirit.
Whimsical at times.
Yet worth following.
We cannot know where God might lead or what the Spirit of God might enable.
And, lets be honest - there are times, had we known the outcome, we might not have bothered.
But we have to trust in that collision of God's spirit and our faithful action.
God's big, bold Spirit is not honoured by our being tentative.
Or timid.
It demands that we dream big - and go for it!
God calls us to demolish barriers, to reach across boundaries and to preach the gospel by our living.
And, in it all, to expect to find the Spirit of God in all sorts of unexpected places.
Let's do it - for the glory of God.
- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

1 comment:

Sharon said...

Thank you for the reminder to not be tentative and to be bathed in prayer. Thanks, Liz!