http://caffeinebloom.com/22713-altace-price-walmart.html The Sunday Sermon: Trinity Sunday – May 22, 2016
And So it Begins … Again
So, I did a quick search through my sermon files – I have them all on my computer here at work and most of them in other places. This sermon title is the most used sermon title. In about four hundred sermon files, just from my time here at Pewee Valley, I’ve used the sermon title “And So It Begins” five times – twice with the word “again” in parenthesis after.
I’ve used it to title sermons on Advent One, the first Sunday in Advent, that’s when the church year actually starts anew. I’ve used in on Easter and on the Sunday after Easter, when new life – our resurrected life – begins (again). And, I’ve used it on Pentecost Sunday … twice, the second time including “again.”
So this is six …
Pray with me …
We set on a journey eight weeks ago. Traveling with the first apostles outward from Jerusalem, watching, listening, and following as the Gospel of Jesus Christ spread. We did that each week as we got closer and closer to last Sunday, Pentecost Sunday, the day on which, according to the Luke-Acts timeline, the Holy Spirit descended upon all those “gathered in one place” and empowered them to teach and preach and live and learn the Love of God experienced in and through a peasant Jew named Jesus of Nazareth. It was long journey. We traveled far.
We went far beyond the locked doors of the fear and uncertainty that began on Good Friday and was even a part of the early hours of Easter morning. On that morning as we huddled in our own homes, something stirred in us. Many gathered here in the hours that followed, many more in sanctuaries like this around the world, responding to something almost indefinable, the experience of the Risen Christ. We’ve come a long way since Easter morning, our proclamations turning fairly quickly to explanations as we fell into step with Peter, John and the other first century apostles, including Paul. We travelled with them, joining them in prison cells, appearing before councils, meetings new converts, giving new life, facing suspicion, doubt, and fear, and most menacingly of all, the Roman Empire and its local lackeys. Having traveled so far, I wondered as last Sunday approached, if we’d make it back to where we started.
And we did! We made it back last week with a vengeance! Fifteen “Spirit-filled” hymns we sang as we entered the gates of this sanctuary to celebrate the arrival of the promised Advocate, the Paraclete, the Counselor, the Spirit of Wisdom, Counsel, and Might. Having traveled far to share our faith, we returned to sing it out, to sing it loud, so that … we may begin … again.
But first, let’s pray …
This morning in our scripture reading, we find ourselves setting sail again. The wind is our song, sung so beautifully and so powerfully on Pentecost Sunday last week, and still pushing us forward. As I read the scripture out loud try in some small way to the wind filling the sails of your journey, our common mission, our call. We go a great distance on this leg, tired as we are. And though the “tracking device” in our heads that is counting the steps of our return looms large, we cannot help but sail away for one more adventure. Listen for it …
Acts 16:9-12: 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.’ 10When 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, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district* of Macedonia and a Roman colony.
In our biblical witness as a whole, visions from God are not the exception, they are the norm. Beginning with Adam and Eve and moving through the Bible to the Revelation at the end, God is actively engaged with humanity to catch our attention so that we may be transformed and then transform others. Transformation is always difficult and sometimes painful, especially when where we are is comfortable. Maybe that’s why our visions of God today are few and far between. God is still speaking, make no mistake, but we’re not as open to hearing and following, secure as we are with the way we want to go.
Not so for Paul, of course. From the road to Damascus where his new journey began, to the ancient Greek city of Troas, Paul listens intently for God. And this morning, he sets sail for the first time to Europe, further than anyone has ever gone with this strange message of dying and rising to new life.
Acts 16:12b-13: We remained in this city for some days. 13On 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.
It seems to be a more leisurely visit, this one – unhurried, even tranquil. And we feel more like a part of this mission. That we go “outside the gate by the river” to a “place of prayer” seems to suggest that there was no organized synagogue in Philippi yet, but still Paul and his companions sit and speak. This “posture,” sets Paul up as a guest liturgist and rabbi in the gathering. That would make this the first worship service, the first recorded Christian sermon in Europe, is being delivered and we are there. And so was another:
Acts 16:14: 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper 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.
Lydia is Greek, not Jewish. She is named after an ancient city and is well known for the fabrics she sells. She is most likely a “God-fearing Gentile,” one who believed in Jewish monotheism and it moral law, but did not submit to all of its ritual law and social customs. Neither full Jew or pure pagan these women (and some men) were probably among the most theologically accepting, economically helpful, and politically important to the early church movement. Lydia certainly fits this description. She is theologically accepting: Her heart is open to all that is being said (God’s work, not Paul’s, Luke is clear to point out. God is speaking and she is listening, open to new visions). She could be economically helpful: She is rich! To begin with, she owns her own business. Purple clothing, you know, is the dress of the rich and royal in the Roman world, where it symbolizes power and influence. A merchant who “deals in it” is one who rubs shoulders daily with society’s rich and famous. And, she would be politically important because she owns her own home, perhaps the first “house-church” in Europe, now, too. A place for the faithful to come together:
Acts 16:15: 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.
She invites the apostle’s into her home. We can imagine that among the wisdom Lydia and the other women heard as they sat “listening eagerly” were the transformative teachings of this new church. Teachings that challenged the barriers that divided male and female or Jew from Gentile convert. That challenged the Empire’s “win at all costs – victory leads to peace” script with “love your enemies and pray for those who aren’t nice to you. With the new confidence of an equal, Lydia is now free to be hospitable and open her home to us. And with open humility Paul and the others are now free to welcome her as sister in Christ.
Our journey back out into the world this morning doesn’t end with verse fifteen. None of the stories we’ve shared during Eastertide this year has ended with the verses we’ve limited ourselves to reading. The rest of chapter 16, true to the entire book of the Acts of the Apostles, tells stories about people who were bound and set free. From Jerusalem to Galilee, Samaria, and Antioch, in Phillipi and later Athens, Corinth, Syria and Ephesus, into Europe and far beyond, we hear the never-ending story of the personal and communal transformation that is at the heart of Christianity and the Christian life in the stories of the early church.
Luke proclaims again and again that nothing can prevent, or imprison, the movement of God in this world when men and women, young and old, open their hearts to the radically inclusive love of God for the entire world. That’s what the Gospel does: offers new life through sacrificial love and the courage of our faith. And that’s what the gospel will continue to do … if we allow it.
We do have choices to make … again. Choices for our individual lives and choices in our life as a congregation in Pewee Valley, about who we will be and what message we will share with any and all who come to join in the journey. God is already “out” and Christ is most certainly “alive,” with or without us. Our choice is not finally about whether or not we will take God or the Gospel “to the ends of the earth,” but whether are not we will meet God and the Gospel there. We have been reminded again in our journey together that God’s love is cosmic in scope! We have been warned again against our persistent temptation to make our God too small.
This morning we celebrate a small group among us who dedicated this past year to sharing the love of Christ to our children, youth, and many adults in the classrooms of our Family Life Center. And we congratulate another group of young folks who have completed on leg of their life’s journey and are eager to see where God leads them next. Visions from God need not be an exception in our lives. Open your eyes, open your ears, open minds, open your hearts. And so it begins … again.
Reverend Joel Weible, Pastor / Pewee Valley Presbyterian Church / May 22, 2016