Sermon for Sixth Sunday of Easter, May 5, 2013
St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Acts16:9-15
Sermon Theme: “When God Wants You in Macedonia”
(“God Leads, Pushes, and….”)
(Sources: Emphasis online Commentaries; Emphasis online Illustrations; original ideas and examples; Concordia Pulpit Resources; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Through all the accounts in Acts of Paul’s missionary journeys, there is a clear sense of God working in the background. A man of Macedonia appears to him in a dream, pleading with him to bring the gospel to that land. Paul sails there, and a little while later, by a Macedonian riverbank, he is led to the devout and wealthy merchant Lydia, who will be very instrumental in establishing the church in Philippi. These things do not happen by accident, do they? We know that from our own experiences here in our church! However, a few of you are new members and don’t know our story. It’s a better illustration than any I’ve read about.
In the earliest planning stages of adding a new wing onto our church here at St. Paul’s, we had many, many meetings. At one, we talked about adding at least four Sunday School rooms as well as a fellowship area for eating and having VBS and other activities. Several people said we didn’t have any children, so we didn’t need Sunday School rooms, just a fellowship hall. One elderly gentleman spoke up, “I don’t plan to have any more children, do you?” Most of us had to agree we weren’t planning to have any more children at our age.
And yet there was a voice in our hearts that seemed to remind us of the Great Commission and of the fact that a church without children would die. So we insisted on including some Sunday School rooms in our initial plans. But then two things happened that were more direct than a vision or a dream.
A man walked into my office out of the clear blue one day and asked if my church wanted a duplex apartment; if so, he would give it to us. None of us even knew the man at all. To make that long story short, we received a duplex apartment which we sold for a nice sum of money. Our building program took a leap forward.
The second thing involved a decision by a former member of our church to transfer her membership back to us, her home church, even though she would continue living in Houston where I would go to give her Holy Communion. Since I do not drive in Houston, my wife, a woman-always-on-a-mission type, would chauffeur me. One day the power of attorney for the lady said that she would leave some money to the church when she died.
Little did I know how much she would leave when she died, — over $65,000. In the meantime other members gave money toward a new building. And so we built the Sunday School-fellowship wing with not four but five classrooms and paid cash for it. When God wants you in Macedonia, He will put you there, and He will send you a Lydia! Not every wealthy person is a Lydia; only when you use your money generously for the work in the kingdom are you a Lydia.
Our text for today tells only part of the story for the mission work of the early church, but, if we back up a chapter, and see Chapter 16 to the end, we can get the full fascinating story of missionaries with lots of problems just as we have in our churches today.
Now that the Jerusalem council had agreed to include Gentiles, Paul and Barnabas were eager to visit the Galatian congregations and personally tell them of the good outcome of the Jews-only or Jews/Gentiles debate. But Paul and Barnabas get into a hot dispute about whether John Mark should be allowed to go along or not, since he had deserted them on the first missionary journey. Barnabas wanted to try to work with Mark again, but Paul chose a new partner named Silas to join him in his travels.
So it’s then Paul and the new man Silas who head off for the newly established Christian congregations. At Lystra, they are joined by Timothy, a dynamic young missionary. At Troas, they ponder about their various options, trying to decide which direction to take the mission work. It was here that Paul probably had medical problems since Luke, a physician, joins them at this point. It was also at Troas that Paul’s vision sent them off in the direction of Macedonia.
What this means is that instead of moving farther into Asia Minor for mission work, the missionaries would instead move toward Europe. You see, God never removed Himself from the mission work. He blocked the path to Asia Minor and instead led the missionaries to the fringes of Europe. God has a plan for all of His workers, and He sees to it that His plan is carried out, in spite of all the obstacles.
It didn’t help matters that Paul and Barnabas got into a fight, verbal fight anyway. It didn’t help that John Mark reneged on his responsibilities when he should have gone forth. Barnabas had been as important to the Christian movement as Paul. The squabbles among these missionaries was a hindrance; Paul’s medical problems didn’t help any; being in hostile, pagan territory was always a setback; not having any long-established congregations made things unstable. Paul was not a young man any more, and he was in poor health. So keep that in mind before you try to send me out to pasture.
The missionaries then discovered a small group of Jews at Philippi who were worshipping on the river’s edge on the Sabbath. For a group of Jews to form a congregation, you had to have at least ten men, and this group was not large enough to establish a congregation. After all, this is Gentile country. This group included Lydia, the rich dealer in purple cloth we’ve talked about. When Paul began to talk about Jesus, the excitement began to grow, and eventually they formed a Jewish-Christian congregation that met in Lydia’s home. No synagogue, no Temple, no church, — instead, just Lydia’s home.
The point is that no matter how much bickering among workers in the kingdom, how shaky financial means might be, how uncooperative some of the workers might be, or even how indifferent and unmotivated they are, God is going to move His plan ahead in spite of us. He knew we had to be ready for the family of 12 children that were about to descend on us, and by giving us so much money to build with, He was and is saying, “You are surrounded by many who do not have a church home, and some who know little or nothing about Jesus, I am not going to stop with one family of twelve. I have made you ready for what is to come. I will send you more workers and more who need God’s word!” And He did and He continues to!
Just as He forgave Paul and Barnabas for their quarrelling and not working together, and just as He forgave John Mark for his reluctance to serve when he was needed, and just as He forgave those who were not financially generous like Lydia, He forgives you and me for our reluctance to eagerly follow and work His plan. Silas, not Barnabas, went on this crucial mission journey. Barnabas was the better missionary, but Silas went. If we hold back, He will send someone else, but He will work His plan.
Although God spoke to Paul through a vision, that is, a dream, daydreaming is a precarious thing. Many folks spend a lifetime daydreaming about what they will do, but they never “do.” You cannot build the Church on dreams, but the Church shall indeed be built on God’s Word as proclaimed authoritatively by the apostles and prophets, inspired by the Holy Spirit, and reminding us of all that Jesus Christ commanded and promised us. Nobody who follows the triune God’s directions will be put to shame.
Sometimes daydreams do come true, but not usually. As a church, we must perceive the reality of God’s plan for us, and we must carry it out, and because it is His plan, He will equip and enable us to do it, because when God wants you in Macedonia, He won’t let you go anywhere else. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.