The Sixth Sunday of Easter
The Rev. Dr. Stephen Caine
16: 6They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When 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.9 “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)
Let us pray: Gracious God, through a vision you sent Paul to preach the gospel and called the women to the place of prayer. Grant that we may be like Paul and Lydia, our hearts responsive to your word and open to go where you lead us. Amen.
I remember it very distinctly. It is one of those moments that adds perspective to life, to work, and to faith. It was nothing particularly earth shattering. As a matter of fact it happened in a meeting of all things. Imagine that something worth remembering happening in a church meeting!
It was a community meeting of the local clergy, civic groups and service agencies to discuss the growing need of hungry children in the County I used to live in Tennessee. No one knew the exact number, because there are never exact numbers when people are in need. This was seven years ago, in a county of roughly 30,000 people. It was reported that there were something like 50 children who were homeless. This was in addition to the staggering number of students in the city and county schools who received free and reduced lunch. There were 15 schools in the system and over 90% of the students in each school qualified for federal aid and free or reduced lunch. For many of these students these were the only meals they ate each day; the free breakfast and lunch they ate at school. So, they had nothing to eat when school was not in session.
Many of the churches partnered together and started a backpack program for the school system so these at risk children were given a backpack filled with food to take home for the weekend and over holidays.
The harsh reality of these statistics only told part of the story. A school teacher spoke in the meeting and shared how difficult it was each day to see the faces of these hungry students in her classroom. She went on to state that even the best teacher in the world cannot teach a hungry child. Later in this same meeting she made a very insightful revelation: “what was going to happen this summer when these hungry children aren’t going to be in school getting at least breakfast and lunch five days a week?” Her revelation hit us all, the magnitude of the situation and the need suddenly was overwhelming.
As silence filled the meeting room, her statement hung in the air. All of the usual suspects, educators, civic leaders, clergy, and government officials, used to talking and having answers were stunned, sitting there with our pads of paper and pens ready to plan out a strategy of how to solve this problem. But nothing! Sitting in the meeting was an African American woman, who had been quiet and then she said that feeding hungry children was on her heart. All on her own, she had been working on this problem of hunger of serval years. She applied for and received a grant, for feeding about 200 children every day all summer long for the past few years. The rest of us in the room sat in stunned silence until finally someone asked her how she did it.
“Well I just knew there were hungry kids who needed to be fed and I decided I wanted to do something about it. So I did.”
The rest of us in the room, we organized and by the book, educators, civic leaders, clergy, and government officials started trying to figure out how we could get involved. People started throwing out options and ideas only to be shot down the cynical realization on why this option or that idea wouldn’t work.
• We don’t have the money for it
• It would too hard to organize
• We have to run it by legal first
• We don’t have enough volunteers
• We can’t possibly do that
These were all very real and very legitimate concerns. And here was this get it done lady just listening. We with our pens and papers trying to calculate how many kids we thought we can realistically feed. We discussed the safety of the small kitchen and room where she fed them was, what would the Fire Marshall do if he saw it? What about safe church training and background checks on the volunteers? Someone looked at the lady as we are all planning and thinking and calculating, “So how many kids would you like to feed?”
Without skipping a beat she says simply, “Oh I’ve never thought about a number. I just want to feed every child who is hungry. However many that is.”
And that is when it happened, it hit me, this woman of faith had it right. She had a vision and passion and the faith to make it happen. I am not sure how it all came about. I don’t know if she had a dream, or a conversation with a child who was hungry, or if it was the Holy Spirit coming alive in her as she was reading her Bible, but I truly believe listening to her and watching her that the Holy Spirit was working through her to feed hungry children in that community. That is often how God works, we plan and we calculate and we prepare to go this way while the Holy Spirit works through someone such as this dear lady of faith goes that way. And she simply did it, she started to feed hungry children. She just trusted and did it.
Visions come in many forms and fashions. Visions are all over the Book of Acts. Our story today begins with a vision. Paul and his companions Silas and Timothy are at a loss for where to go next with the gospel. They stumble around the region, running into one barrier after another set up by God. Barred by the Spirit from going south and west into Asia or from going north into Bythinia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
Don’t you wonder why? Why didn’t they go? I don’t know. No one knows. All we know is whatever happened they attributed it to the work of the Spirit. The spirit opened the doors that needed opening and shut the doors that needed shutting. There is something comforting about such trust in the spirit. A trust so real that if we have faith the Spirit will lead us where we need to go and we will be where we need to be.
So for whatever reason, Paul and his disciples went to Macedonia instead. Because they had faith in and followed God – Christianity came to Europe and down through the ages to you and to me.
God had something greater in mind than Paul did. God can imagine things that we cannot, and God, invites us to be a part of it.
Much like the lady feeding hungry children. “I don’t know how many kids I want to feed. I see hungry children and I feed them.”
So, here we are, the Indian Hill Church two millennia later, about to receive names for a new Rector to lead our church. We will also be looking for a new church secretary to replace Karen Pauly, who is following and trusting in God in her own life. Change seems to be the one constant we have. Who will the search committee call? What kind of leader will they be? Who will be the new welcoming presence of the church now that Karen is leaving?
Then we read a story like this that call into question our attempts at control, to plan so perfectly, that we lose sight of the work of the Holy Spirit and where we are being lead to go?
This is really a hard message for a church full of planners; now please understand me; I truly believe that planning is good. We need plans and we need to be organized to keep the chaos to a minimum. But… it is often that the Spirit of God works in spite of our best laid plans, our preparation, and our meetings and deliberations. Just when we think we are supposed to go right, the Spirit in whatever ways the spirit works pushes us instead to go the left or to go up instead of down. Maybe it’s an urging or a pushing or a prodding. Maybe the Spirit is disquieting and unsettling our comfortable existence. It is the most difficult aspect of this endeavor called faith…it is trust. But if we trust that urging, that prodding, trust that the correct doors will be opened and the wrong doors will be closed, then we can trust and know that God is leading us every step of the way. To be still and know that God is God!
And how truly terrifying to is to think about trusting someone else or something else, to trust God or is it?
I will close with this quick example. I hope that each of you has had the opportunity to introduce yourself to our new youth Director, Randall Davidson. He is not exactly what we were looking for to replace Michelle as our youth leader. He is quiet and reflective, he is outdoorsy and a vegetarian, and he is bald and has a beard. He is not an Episcopalian nor a Presbyterian but he is exactly who we need even though he was not who we thought we needed. He is very engaging and has quickly made connections with the staff but most importantly with our youth.
So you see we just might find that it is actually extremely freeing to trust and to rest secure that God is in charge and we don’t have to have control over everything.
Thanks be to God for it. Amen.
Let us pray: