It was funny the way St Paul found inspiration, too! The Book of Acts tells the story of how the first Christians began to form the Church. The reached out with their news of Jesus and one of the most energetic of them was Paul, an early convert to the faith. Paul was keen to travel as widely as possible with the gospel. Perhaps, as a sail-maker he was more used to venturing further afield than the fishermen from Galilee. He had come from outside the fishermen’s province, anyway, so had more experience of the wider world. However, until now, the Christian message had not spread outside of the Roman provinces of Asia. A dream was to change the course of history, and today’s reading from Acts tells the story. It’s a story to inspire, encourage and challenge us today.
to a vision
This was the prompting they needed and as Paul shared his vision with his companions, they decided to try and respond to this special dream. They must have been encouraged that they were doing the right thing, because they made the crossing in good time. Sometimes the same journey could take 5 days, but this time, all they needed was an overnight stop at the island of Samothrace, half way, and then continuing to at Neapolis, the port for the main Macedonian town, Philippi.
How do we
know when God is guiding us to do something, make a certain decision or
go somewhere? We may not have a vivid dream like Paul, or expect to hear
voices. But if we stop and reflect about what has been going on in our
lives, if we attend to our true feelings and talk these things through
with trusted friends, we may begin to detect what the promptings of the
Spirit might be. Paul just felt that there must be a reason why it was
not working out, doing what they thought they were supposed to be doing.
Then, staying at a place where his options were open, the way forward
became clear. Perhaps that is the best place for us when we don’t
seem to be making headway on our original course. We need to stop in a
place where our options are truly open, where we say to God, “OK,
Lord! I am ready to do anything you want! I am in a place where I can
go anywhere. Please show me!”
Paul was in different territory. The writer of Acts (St Luke) doesn’t really pick it out, but in fact, Paul had just made a significant leap. Like Armstrong taking a small step off the bottom rung of the lunar landing module’s ladder, and making a giant leap for mankind, Paul made the short journey from one side of the Aegean sea to the other. But what he had just done was cross from Asia to Europe, and what he had done would change the course of history, for he had brought Christianity to a different continent.
in the Roman colony of Philippi, Paul and his companions were wanting
to respond to the call for help. How were they to do this? There were
not enough Jewish men to make a synagogue (you had to have ten). Instead,
having waited a few days until the Sabbath, and presumably exploring the
town and its environs, they made their way out to the river Gangites where
they hoped they might find some Jewish people praying. In fact, their
hopes were not in vain, and there they got talking to those who had gathered,
both regular Jews and those who attached themselves to Jewish congregations,
known as godfearers. Perhaps there were more women than men, because Lydia
was the main one who responded to Paul’s message about Jesus. Perhaps
with her talent for business and having come from elsewhere, she was more
open to new things. Paul’s adapted methods were proving successful.
Of course, finding God is sometimes the difficulty. In Jesus’ last supper with his disciples, as John records it, he had plenty to say about the presence of God with them. Jesus was about to go to the cross and to be taken from them. Naturally they were distressed and so Jesus speaks about the ways in which they would experience his continuing presence with them. Whenever they remembered his teaching he would be with them. Whenever they tried to stay faithful to his teaching, he would be with them. The way he put it was, “those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” As the disciples would one day be occupied bringing Jesus’ teaching to others, they would do so in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, promised them by Jesus before he left them. It is in remembering Jesus’ words, conveying them to others and allowing their power to change lives and to change the world, that we may know the presence of God.
Jesus answered him "Whoever loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and my Father and I will come to him and live with him. Whoever does not love me does not obey my teaching. And the teaching you have heard is not mine, but comes from the Father, who sent me."