Rev. Katherine Todd
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.” When 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.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On 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. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper 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. 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.
“I have said these things to you while I am still with you. But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.
This story of the Apostles figuring out how to follow the risen Jesus, by the power of Jesus’ gift to them of the Holy Spirit – this is what fills the pages of the book of Acts. Clumsily these apostles keep running into the borders and boundaries of God’s call on their lives.
They have been given this ultimate gift – to know the Lamb of God, Jesus – and to receive forgiveness of sins – what a gift!?! The Spirit has been poured out on them, and they are all in, eager to share the good news with any who will hear, but they keep awkwardly hitting boundaries. In the bit just before our passage today about Paul dreaming about a man in Macedonia begging him to come, Paul and Timothy try to go many places, but we read that the Holy Spirit limits them. It says the Holy Spirit forbade them to go to Asia. And then they tried to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit would not allow them.
I wonder what this looked like. How did they know it was the Holy Spirit? We are not told if they both were given hunches or premonitions, we don’t know if they received visions forbidding them to go, or whether or not they deducted the Holy Spirit’s leading by which doors were opened to them and which doors were closed. But I am very curious, because in our everyday lives, this is what we’re in the business of determining.
It is very easy to read these stories and to make a mental separation between what WAS and what IS. It isn’t so very difficult to accept that the Holy Spirit led these two early disciples in spreading the Good News – after all, we are all here today because something they did worked! We know about Jesus because of their good work and those who followed in their footsteps, generation after generation.
It can be another thing to believe that such things happen in our lives today. So do you believe? Do you believe that the Holy Spirit is still active and living in the world today, still speaking to our hearts today, still guiding our steps today, still interceding for us with sighs deeper than words today?
I certainly hope so!
It gets tricky because how can we be sure? It isn’t a scientifically proven thing. It isn’t black and white. It isn’t something we can fully perceive or even begin to understand.
So in this modern world of facts and fiction, it can be hard to know when and if the Holy Spirit is active and moving. How do we know?
Well, first off, as scripture says, “For now, we see through a mirror dimly, but then we will see face to face.” In this world, we do not see with clarity and breadth. We cannot. And so when it comes to the Holy Spirit, we must approach with eyes of faith. It is by eyes of faith that we believe and then see.
Nicole’s mom Bonnie, Jayne’s sister is a praying person. When she heard about the needs of a young family in our congregation, she wanted to help. She offered to buy the baby girl her first pair of shoes and a new dress for her first birthday. So she spoke with the mother who measured the child’s feet, and Bonnie set out to buy a new pair of shoes. She went to a shoe store and spoke with the clerk. She told the clerk about this family and how the child had never before owned a pair of shoes but that she wanted to get the little girl her first pair. The woman was moved by the Bonnie’s story and said, give me your number, I have several bags of little girl outfits AND shoes. I want this little girl to have them. When the clerk dropped off the bag to Bonnie, the clerk explained, ‘The day before I meet you in the store, I was cleaning out all these old clothes from my daughter and preparing to store them. My daughter, 3 ½ years old, came in and said, “Mommy, there’s a little girl that needs those clothes. Don’t put them away.” ‘
Bonnie was so moved by this. It was so clear to her that God had spoken through this child. It was clear to her that God loved this young family. It was clear to her that the Holy Spirit had directed this mother and was directing her.
And this gift freed Bonnie to put her money toward caring for the rest of the family, the mom and dad. And even as she shopped for the parents, she prayed and paid attention. Even the sales seemed so appropriately suited to the family, and Bonnie followed that trail – she followed the Holy Spirit.
How do we follow the Holy Spirit?
How do we understand when God says, “Don’t go there,” “Go here,” “Say this…,” “Don’t say that…”
I do believe that the Holy Spirit is still living and moving among us here and now. I do believe that God is still speaking to us in ways that we uniquely can here. Even now as I sit and write this sermon for you, I do not have a plan of what to say. I’m not mapping things out. No, I am praying and listening and following the trail. If I am doing this well, it is because I am following the Holy Spirit as I serve in this way.
For the Spirit of God knows the deepest heart. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with sighs deeper than words. The Holy Spirit can use any means by which to guide and direct us.
And so, I believe the key is to listen, trust, and follow.
Will we ever KNOW FOR SURE that we are following the Spirit of God? Probably not in this lifetime, but when in doubt, I have prayed to God saying, “Lord, I hear you, but is this what you’re really saying? Please confirm it to me.” And as I’ve kept my heart open, as I’ve stayed alert, listening, I have heard confirmation, God has given me clarity.
Sometimes this clarity has come over years and decades. Sometimes it has come in days or even minutes, but our God loves us. Our God is good. Our God has given us this precious gift of the Holy Spirit SO THAT we might follow God well – SO THAT we might continue to do the work of Christ, in the power of God.
Only God knows what’s going on in our secret hearts. Only God knows the questions we dare not speak. Only God knows the feelings we dare not acknowledge. Only God knows the path that leads us to fullness and quality of life!
And so may we take this good gift!
May we, like Paul, bump into the boundaries and borders of this gift – trying out wrong paths and being redirected until we hear and find our way. Scripture says, ‘…Whether you turn to the right or the left you will hear a voice behind you saying, “This is the way. Walk in it.” ‘ We don’t need to know the way head of time. We just need to set out, to start, and to listen as we go.
May we, like Paul, be alert and listen to the many ways God speaks to us – be it in dreams, or visions, friends, or facebook, strangers, or little children.
GOD STILL SPEAKS.
May WE be a people who are open – open to the Spirit of God, living and active, working and moving, calling and inviting, opening and closing doors – that the love of Christ might spread abroad in hearts and minds, setting captives free, giving sight to the blind, proclaiming God’s favor.
It is for this, that we are called!