6-8 They went to Phrygia, and then on through the region of Galatia. Their plan was to turn west into Asia province, but the Holy Spirit blocked that route. So they went to Mysia and tried to go north to Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus wouldn’t let them go there either. Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas.
9-10 That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.
11-12 Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.
13-14 On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!
15 After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.
We are in a preaching series that invites us to connect with Our Creator – to become co-creators with God - creating beauty and love in our world. Today’s theme is called “Listen”, and is about how, when we listen to the Creator, amazing creative space can open up.
So here is our story from Scripture:
Paul, Silas and Timothy are traveling through what today is the country of Turkey – back then it was the Roman province of Asia. Paul has been here before – his first trip took him south of the province Asia into the coastal region of Pamphilia.
It seems that Paul had decided to expand his missionary travels into the central regions of this province, when the Spirit of God stepped in and blocked this route. Paul then thought to turn north, and again the Holy Spirit stopped him So he travels to the coast and arrives at a sea port called Troas: and I suspect Paul spent the night in prayer asking God where to go.
“Lord, we are at a port city – we can take a boat anywhere. My plans have changed twice: where to now?”
Pause at this point and ask us a question about change: How easily do you adapt to change? Paul had his plans changed – how would you respond?
• When you go on vacation – do you like to have everything planned out – or do you make it up as you go along…
• Try this one: when your cellphone company tells you that they have upgraded you phone – do you try to hang onto the old one, or are you first in the line for the new one.
Here is Paul, a pedantic, rule-following Pharisee, one who described himself as faultless in keeping the rules: having his plans turned upside down.
Now this was not the first time that this happened: you might remember the story of how, a few years earlier, Paul thought his life’s work was arresting Christians – and how, on the road to Damascus, God changed Paul’s plans. And this disruption opened up God’s creative possibilities in using Paul as a missionary to the Gentiles.
Here's something to think about: when your plans are disrupted – before getting angry or frustrated, pause and ask if this might open up space for God’s creative possibilities in your life.
And so back to Paul: his plans are changed – again. He has a vision that tells him Don’t go West, don’t go North – go across the sea to Europe.
And this is the moment when the narration of this story changes:
Proceeding on through Mysia, they went down to the seaport Troas.
9-10 That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, “Come over to Macedonia and help us!” …. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia.
Language has changed from “they” to “we”: many suggest that this is the moment that Luke joins the group: Luke is the writer of the Book of Acts…
Paul and his missionary team (now including Luke) had to sail across the Agean Sea, from the continent of Asia to the continent of Europe.
This was a big step, perhaps bigger than Paul even knew.
Paul’s missionary group sailed to New City/Neapolis and travelled to the Roman garrison at Philippi. It is the sabbath and so Paul and his friends look for somewhere to pray and to complete their Sabbath washing ceremony. And again Paul’s plans are disrupted – here is a Pharisee who has ritually cleansed himself – who is ready to say his prayers.
Paul’s religious training would be to keep away from women when you are praying – and at this moment God’s creativity breaks through. There are women present for Paul’s prayers.
And this time it is Lydia who listens! Lydia listens to Paul’s prayers and gives her life to following Jesus. And the first church in Europe opens in her home. And today there are 450 million Christians in Europe.
Here is the lesson from this story: when someone pauses to listen: God’s creative Spirit gives birth to a new thing.
• Paul makes plans, but he learns to be open to the prompting of the Holy Spirit – and when Paul is willing to change: God’s creativity has space to work.
• Then Lydia listens: and because Lydia was willing to listen to the prompting of the Spirit of God, she became part of God’s new, creative work in Europe.
So what can we take away from this?
This story challenges us about our capacity to listen…and to change.
We live in a culture that struggles to listen – and struggles to change:
We have become polarized into “us” and “them” / “my people” and “their people”.
And once I have identified who my people are – it becomes very hard to listen to anyone else….or to adapt to doing things differently from my group. And we have become angry, and mean, and bitter…
If we had less human opinions and more listening for God’s guidance, places such as the Ukraine, and the Middle East, and Central Africa, would have the tools to work for peace.
If the politicians, and the business leaders of our country would have less opinions, and listen more – we would discover God’s liberating creativity providing space for people to be fulfilled at work and in society.
And if we would listen more carefully in our relationships, and in our friendships, and in our human interaction – we would discover a kinder and more loving community.
I am pleading with us to learn to listen; and to be open to things being different.
- Pause and take a breath…allow our pulse to slow down and breathe: we have allowed ourselves to become angry and defensive…and so have stopped listening.
- Before answering someone - Pray. Not the kind of prayer that tells God to fix someone else: but Ask God if this might be an opportunity to learn something new.
- Be open to change. Not one of us is perfect! Let me speak for myself: I have blind spots – I have many weaknesses – and I have much to learn. And so, like St Paul – I discover that I need to change my plans so that God’s creativity is set free.
I know that sometimes it is tempting to say to myself: I am only one person – what difference can I make: this does not take our partnership with God into account:
There is a well known quote from Thomas a Kempis: "Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit" - “Man Proposes, but God disposes”
This quote can be paraphrased as “we might propose our plans – but it is God’s prerogative to change them”.
Which leaves us with the invitation: when we encounter change, let us pause, and listen / and see if God has something creative that is about to be born.