Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C
May 1, 2016
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.’ Acts 16:9
Visions, dreams, and gut instinct are powerful forces with which to be reckoned. You know the drill. You have that nagging feeling that you ought to call an old friend. Finally you do, and you find out that she really needed to hear from you. Or, you have dream that is so clear and compelling that you have to act on it. These are not accidents or random occurences. Sure, some go ignored or untested, and we may never know what God was up to, but when we love God and listen to the Divine presence in our daily lives, it’s quite clear that God is still speaking and is quite active among us.
Things had not been going so hot for Paul and Silas in this week’s first reading from Acts. Luke tells us that the Holy Spirit had been blocking their plans to preach in Asia and had kept them out of Bithynia. That’s when Paul has a vision of a Macedonian man pleading with him to come and help. Immediately the two missionaries set sail and end up in Philippi, where they remain and meet Lydia and other women on the Sabbath at their place of prayer by the river. Lydia, a prominent businesswoman, and her entire household receive Paul’s message eagerly and are baptized. She then offers them hospitality. Paul’s vision leads to an unexpected turn of events that turned out to be just what God intended.
Paul’s love for the Lord opened his ears and heart to hear the divine voice speaking in a nocturnal vision, and as a result of his obedient response, the gospel is spread in a powerful and profound way. In turn Paul and Silas are ministered to and offered hospitality by this woman of means and faith.
What would you do with a vision like that today? Would you go eagerly and immediately? Would you allow God to lead you in a different direction? Or would you ignore the dream, question your hearing, and go on with life as usual?
This is the thing about being a follower of Jesus. You never know where you’re going to end up next. Following God into this world is wholly risky holy business. It’s about far more than plunking one’s behind in a pew on any given Sunday morning. It’s about following God’s vision for this beautiful, broken world, and doing so in response to God’s amazing love for all creation. This week’s gospel lesson makes it clear that when we keep Jesus’ word, we will be loved by God, and the Triune God will make a home with us. But look out! When Jesus and God move into the neighborhood, things change. The status quo gets shaken up.
Christian activist Shane Claiborne, writing in The Irresistible Revolution, says, “The more I get to know Jesus, the more trouble he seems to get me into.” Yes, that’s the trouble with visions. They can lead to some truly unexpected results in strange ways by unexpected paths. That seems to be the pattern since the first group of disciples set out to share the Good News. Why should we expect anything different?
What we can count on is that God goes with us. We need not be fearful or troubled. We have the promise of our Lord’s shalom, that ultimate sense of well-being and wholeness into which we live and grow and love. We have community and hospitality, both within the Body of Christ and found in surprising places, as Paul and Silas found community among the Gentile women worshiping on a river bank.
So go ahead; listen and look for that vision, for that dream, and for that gut reaction that signifies the Spirit of God at work in your life. You may be forced to move out of your comfort zone, and you may find yourself having to think in new ways with decidedly different people, but that’s o.k. God is with you. God loves you. On that you can surely stake your hope and certainty, even your very life.
If you have the capability to project a video, consider using “Psalm 67 – A Song for all Peoples” from Stephen Faux’s Psalm Project, volume two. The video was filmed in Uganda and show the joy of people dancing and rejoicing. Alternately, consider using this version of Psalm 67 sung by the Westminster Abbey Choir.
Consider this week’s gospel lesson (John 14:23-29). Invite youth to consider how it must have sounded to Jesus’ followers. “I am going away, and I am coming to you.” I’m going away, but don’t be afraid or troubled. It seems almost like ping-pong Jesus here. Yet, how is Jesus with us today? Where do we encounter Jesus (hint: communion, baptism, word, proclamation, the beloved community)? How then can we keep our calm and sense of well-being in the midst of the concerns of the world? Invite youth to ponder this, perhaps to do some art around the theme that can be shared with the congregation.
Talk with the children today about the word shalom. Tell them that in today’s gospel the word shalom is translated as peace. But it is much more than a saying “peace” to someone. The word is also used as a greeting and a way to say good-bye. But again, the word is much more than that. In Hebrew it means well-being, completeness, wholeness. When Jesus gives us his shalom, his peace, he is desiring for us to be complete. We encounter Jesus’ shalom, or completeness in baptism, in communion, and in our time with one another as the Body of Christ. We also take this shalom into the world to share with others, because the good thing about Jesus’ shalom is that there is plenty to go around!
Give the children small cards with the Hebrew letters spelling “shalom” on one side and the words “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” John 13:27
Invite the children to keep one card for themselves as a reminder of Jesus’ shalom and to give others to friends and family who may need a reminder of Jesus’ desire that we be whole and complete in him. Finish with a simple prayer.
Photos: Robert Crouse-Baker, Leonora (Ellie) Enking, and Orval Rochefort, Creative Commons. Thanks!