Readings: Psalm 67, Acts 16:9-15, John 14:23-29
We pray: As we hear your word opened to us O God, may we all find nurture, challenge and assurance that we might better be the generous gifting of love to a world that is hurting and in pain. May we respond in faith we pray. Amen
During the night Paul had a vision…..to go to Macedonia
Earlier in Acts - Peter had a vision……to go and preach the word among the gentiles
Peter had no intention of sharing the word of God with the uncircumcised but his vision said otherwise.
Paul had no intention of going to Philippi – he was staying in Asia but his vision sent him into Europe.
Visions were not unusual in the days of the early church – visions were the work of the Spirit speaking into the lives and choices of the disciples.
Today, visions are contained in one pithy (or not) sentence and supported by twenty pages of strategic directions and expected outcomes.
Vision, dream, the working of the Spirit – whatever words we put around this, in the bible we hear of many experiences of God working in people’s lives and often sending them in directions they had no intention of going. How many said, like Peter, ‘I don’t totally get why this is happening but who am I to hinder God?’
For Paul the vision was of a man of Macedonia asking him to come to them, to help them – quite the opposite direction to their carefully thought out route through Asia Minor – but God had spoken, convinced them to go.
And in consequence they were doing just what the Psalmist had envisaged – that God’s way may be known upon the earth, among all nations – all at the bidding of a vision, the Spirit, in their lives.
And when they get there things don’t quite go according to the usual plan –wait for the Sabbath to discover who the devout Jews are so that Paul can approach with some hope of ears to hear. Perhaps searching for the synagogue, they come upon a group of women in a place of prayer – and they stop, sit down and talk. Not necessarily what one would have expected from Paul – I would venture to suggest that would not have been his preferred option, that he would not have comfortably sat down with a bunch of women to talk and that it would have taken some prodding to do so. And so Paul meets Lydia.
And the Spirit is working strongly in Lydia – talk about an open heart and a decisive response to the word. Her first response was baptism, there and then, and her second response was offering, with some insistence, hospitality. And from this woman come much of the passion and drive for the church in Philippi.
Quite some character our Lydia. How come? Ronald Cole-Turner puts it this way:
Lydia is decisive because she is discerning, she is discerning because God has opened her heart to a new level of perception, she has this new level of perception because she comes to worship, she comes to worship because she is hungering for something more in life than her financial success, she is hungering for something more because that restless Spirit has stirred up a holy longing in her soul. Every step of the way the Spirit prompts and calls and blesses her.
Lydia and Paul and Peter, among so many others in scripture, are the testimony to Jesus words in the Gospel - where he says to his disciples that neither he nor his Father will leave the disciples alone, that they are sending another to teach and remind – the guidance of the Spirit is present in their lives.
And she along with the Peters and Pauls are also testimonies to that fact that the living God has made a home within each of them, a place of peace that encourages bold action, far reaching visions, decisive response. Why? Coming back to the Psalmist, surely so that they may take the word to all the nations and all people will be glad and sing for joy.
Now that describes the church today doesn’t it?
On Wednesday night a few of us at Study Group began to engage with the Green Paper that the Moderator has recently distributed to the church. And there was some fairly brutal analysis of what is preventing us being the church of the psalmist, of what hamstrings us changing direction in response to the urging of God like the early church, where the God making a home within us is scrabbling to be heard above the clamour of other voices.
Just some of the thoughts from that night.
We are really good at propositions – suggesting ways in which we can plan or organise or offer opinions on how to be the people of God – surely the starting place is our experience of God, where we know the presence of God dwelling in us. But we kind of like to be in control – it takes some courage to relinquish that and to respond to the nudgings of the spirit in our lives.
Our institutionalism – more than an administrative bureaucracy but the sense of signing up of the individual to a done and dusted lifetime membership, the settling into the rules because they have been there for time immemorial, the valuing of personal salvation over the diversity of the community and all the moral judgements that go with that, the looking inwards because you are in …. the list goes on.
That being a Christian is a natural part of our lives – it’s a 24/7 indwelling of the spirit that impacts everything we do in every nook and cranny of our lives. We talked of the experience within other cultures where the God part of us was neither muted nor a very large hammer – simply who we were. As easily as we would talk weather and family and work, so we would talk God. We have, in NZ anyway, become an inarticulate people of God: either personally or publically our voice is tentative, piecemeal, apologetic, uncertain or judgemental. One comment made is that we are much better at arguing people out of the kingdom of God than in.
That we need to find the courage and the vision to live a model of Christianity that works for us in our culture and in our time. For instance we do not necessarily connect with the concept of being washed in the blood of the lamb – or if we do there is every chance it enables us to keep the truth of it at a historical distance and thus keep control. For the reality is we are no longer a people deeply connected with animal sacrifice, our experience is not particularly rural any more – so how do we say and show the deep and powerful truth of these words in a way that conveys the deep and abiding love of God that will give all to bring us to new life in Jesus – how do we say that in a way that will not only connect but transform.
The early church was an explosion of God’s love into the community and the world – can it be so for us?
Of course it can – and is. There are places in this community, in this world where the love of God is a light to the nation, not without risk and certainly not without mistakes but with God indwelling and speaking clearly into the visions we see and the dreams we dream.
You see, I think the Lydias and the Peters and Pauls, human and fallible as they were, knew in their hearts the absolute peace of Christ – and that peace is nothing less than the presence of God within, a presence that not only transforms us but the community and nations in which we live.
As we gather round the table today – may we know that peace and experience the presence of the Christ who said that he would never leave us. And may we go from here may that presence be with us in all that we do and are. Amen.