So once again the Christian faith is crossing cultures- this time its not being shared with ex-pats living in Palestine, but with proper foreigners on properly foreign soil- Paul has travelled hundreds of miles on foot, reached the edge of the Mediterranean and crossed over in a flimsy boat to mainland Europe (sounding familiar yet?), and the result is that the Christian faith arrives on these shores- Acts chapter 16 describes the events, but here’s what I said last Sunday, or at least some of my notes:
Paul and Silas are on the second of Paul’s major missionary trips- they’ve revisited the churches founded during Paul’s first trip, and then travelled further north and west into what is now Turkey… at various points they’ve found their way barred- and have continued where they were able to… its important to note that they were already moving when God guided them- they weren’t just stationary, expecting God to do everything. Their journey had had twists and turns- some very unexpected… things not going to plan… normally when planning a journey we might ask advice from friends who’ve been to the same places, look in a guide book, check a few websites…
The dream- not quite sure what made the man recognisably Macedonian… maybe he was wearing the national costume, but they responded… They recognised that it was God directing them- they knew his voice well.
Paul and Silas were by this stage used to following God, to stopping, pausing, waiting, going, and also used to discerning whether people around them were speaking God’s will or not- Go away, stay, be quiet…
So they went to Philippi and there they met Lydia, among others. They didn’t meet them in a synagogue- there may not have been one, and Lydia wouldn’t have been there anyway, as she was not a Jew. They didn’t go to the town square and shout the good news about Jesus in the middle of town…They went to the river, to a place of prayer- and spoke with some who were interested. After all the guidances of the Holy Spirit this is where Paul and Silas are led- to a group of people sitting around by a river… Lydia was ‘a worshipper of God’- the same as Cornelius, whom Peter visited in Caesarea. She was interested, and she was open.
She responded, and all of a sudden there were European Christians… She and her household were baptised- no hanging around… when God is at work, why wait?
If you were planning the spread of the Gospel into Europe, I wonder how you would have done it- who would you pick as your first convert on the European mainland? A woman in business- not a powerful person with influence and connections in all the right places… why?
- God values women BUT ALSO that this good news was for everyone and to show that God values those others do not, the poor, the diseased, the children, the women, the outcasts, the cultural minorities were and are important to God.
- And we can really KNOW this, because God made such a surprising choice to our logical minds choosing Lydia
So… What is God doing today? Where and how is God at work in this community? Where is he calling us to go and be his people?
Note to self and apology to anyone who was there- I managed to get myself confused when I spoke about Paul and Barnabas- Paul wanted to revisit some of the churches they’d founded, and Barnabas wanted to revisit others- they both wanted to encourage the existing Christians and found new faith communities.
But going back to the image of refugees and travellers- Paul brought the Christian faith to Europe. He wasn’t a refugee. He was a travelling preacher and migrant worker. He was also a citizen of Rome and so had access to the open borders policy of the Empire… Oh, it just gets more and more complicated… So am I saying that open borders to all is a good idea? Not sure. Am I saying ‘In’ to the EU? Well yes, but thats a personal thing rather than something I get from my faith. I guess I’m just making the point that its really easy to mix up the wood and the trees, to look back at something and say it was important while making sure that the same thing doesn’t happen again.