Rev. Scott Lumsden, Co-Executive Presbyter, Seattle Presbytery June 2, 2019
I want to read two passages this morning, one from the book of Acts, and the other from John’s gospel.
The passage from Acts is about a vision the apostle Paul has to go west to Macedonia. It’s important because before this, Paul had been trying to go East to Asia. But God had other plans for Paul and gives him a vision to go West to Philippi. There is some thought that Luke, the writer of the gospel of Luke and the book of Acts, lived for a time in Troas, where Paul receives this vision, hence the change in narration from “he/him” to “we/us”. Philippi is one of Paul’s most beloved congregations, so it’s interesting to note that God may have used this whole vision adventure to redirect Paul to create a new base for his mission West, not East. It’s not small thing that Lydia, Paul’s first convert in Philippi, is just the woman who can help him establish this new congregation, and be the anchor for his continued mission west.
The reading from John’s Gospel reminds us simply that Jesus’ departure from earth did not mean the end of his ministry, but rather it was the beginning of a new era for God’s mission in the world, where God’s Holy Spirit would be shared with all those who put their faith in Christ. But that celebration is for next Sunday…. In the meantime we just need to know that when we put our faith in Jesus, and commit to love one another and Jesus loved us, God truly comes and makes his home in us and makes us (all of us) part of his family.
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.” 10 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. 11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 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. (Acts 16:9-15 NRSV)
23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.
25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
(Jn 14:23–29, NRSV)
Come over the Macedonia and help us, was Paul’s vision.
Come over and help us. This may have been Paul’s vision, but it’s a pretty common vision in the church. God uses it all the time to stir us to action.
Come on over and help us out!
Come on over to the church this Saturday for Spring cleaning weekend. Come on over, we need volunteers for the food drive, to restock the food pantry, to decorate the church for Christmas, to keep the doors open this winter for our homeless guests, to offer a meal, and a place to rest — so come on over and help us out.
Sound familiar? If I know anything about Vashon Presbyterian, you are truly a C’mon over and help kind of people.
And it’s not just c’mon over and help at the church — you’re also hearing God’s voice call you to step out and into the community’s needs around mental health. What a hopeful and awesome thing to do.
But it’s funny how these VISIONS work, isn’t it? For Paul, it’s even funnier, because he gets this vision only after trying and failing to go in a completely different direction. You see, Paul was feeling called to go Asia, but the Spirit was apparently feeling something completely different.
Here are the verses just before our passage: “They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7 When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.” (And met Luke?) I call this divine redirection — we head out in one direction, while God all the while has a different plan, and so God redirects us to the plan that God has in mind. And that’s ok, isn’t it? Because at the end of the day, we’re not perfect are we? We get some things right, and we get some things wrong — especially when it comes to discerning how to live God’s mission in the world. It’s not always easy, and if God can redirect Paul, well, God can redirect us, don’t you think? The life of faith has its ups and downs, its turns in the road, does it not?
I remember when I was feeling called to attend seminary. In my family, as far back as I could tell, I was the first to feel this call. And maybe a little like Paul, I was feeling called to go in a particular direction, to a particular school, to go East. You see, Princeton had the best Old Testament department in the country at the time, and that’s what I was feeling called to study. But it didn’t happen right away. In fact, the first time I applied I didn’t get in. So I tried again, same result. I suppose, you might be thinking, maybe the Holy Spirit was preventing you from going East…maybe stay you should have stayed here on the West Coast…well, I considered that. But for whatever reason I still felt called to follow the voice I heard at the start. Long story short, and I suppose it’s kind of obvious since I’m standing here today, the third time was blessed. But interestingly, the Lord DID redirect my path once I got there, and to my surprise, God directed me to pursue ordained ministry as a pastor, as opposed to as a professor of OT. Go figure. Truth is, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
So isn’t it interesting that Paul’s whole missionary journey heads in a completely different direction when he sees this vision. And not only that, even though he sees a man in this vision calling out for help, the person he meets in Philippi, is a woman named Lydia. In fact at this point, it’s probably important to note that of all the churches Paul established, Phillipi is perhaps his most important, and most loved congregation. So, it’s no surprise to me that the “man” he was hoping to find was in fact a prominent woman; who not only heard the gospel, but acted on it and accepted it, and instead of being the person who needed to be helped, was one of the most important people who actually helped Paul establish this first congregation in the west, and now his new base of operations for his mission West.
Here’s how Luke tells it: 14 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. 15 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.
And she prevailed upon us…which of course she would considering she was a woman of means and was comfortable in the public square. Did you know that of all the gospel writers, only Luke records how the apostles were financially supported? In the gospel of Luke, after listing four women by name, he adds in 8:3: “and many more” to the list of women who “provided financial support for Jesus and his disciples.” (Luke 8:3). My point is that it takes a whole, faithful village to build a church. Strike that, apparently a whole village of faithful women (and maybe a few men). Truth is, it takes each and everyone of us to see a vision like Paul’s and follow through on it.
And this is no easy task. It has its challenges…things don’t always go the way we think they will. There are ups and downs; there are times of fallow and harvest; times when things harder and less fruitful, where things don’t seem to be growing or moving — times when there’s more struggle and challenges than seems necessary. And then there are times of growth, and progress, times when things seem to be really coming together. As Ecclessiastes says: everything in its season, I suppose. But when the people of God stick with it, and stay at it, because they are committed to the vision and keep coming together for this larger purpose… — watch out.
Paul didn’t have a vision to start a church in Philippi, but God did. Paul didn’t have a plan for the expansion of the mission in the west, but God did…And with the help of a faithful woman named Lydia, God made it happen. The point is, it never quite goes as we plan. Proverbs 16:9 says, “In their hearts humans plan their course, but the Lord establishes their steps.”That’s why we actually need each other. That’s why the Spirit gives each us different gifts and abilities — because only together can we hear God’s voice, because only together as a community can we see God’s vision…and only together can we make the kind of difference in our world that brings about God’s shalom/peace.
Today, you celebrate the conclusion of a plan God put on your heart years ago. It hasn’t been a smooth road, or an easy one, but each and every one of you had a hand in expanding your footprint, and canceling the debt. And your partners in Seattle Presbytery are taking notice. But this isn’t of course just a celebration of the end of debt on this beautiful addition, and it’s not just about how this plan came together, it’s about what the gospel writer John said, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.”
What you’ve done here is not built an addition, but you’ve made a home. You’ve made a home for welcome, a home for love, a home for hope and hospitality, a home for gathering and sharing, a home for faith to be discovered, explored, lived, and passed on. You saw a vision to extend God’s love and welcome to the community here on Vashon Island, and guided by Jesus’ deep and abiding love for you, you steadily kept the faith. Jesus says that when we are faithful to keep his word, he will come and make his home with us.
May God continue to bless this home, and may God continue to bless your vision to extend Christ’s hope and wholeness to all.