Greetings everyone. It’s good to be back from vacation.
A funny thing happened while I was gone.
Pastor Megan started as our new lead pastor. It’s been great getting to work with her this week. I look forward to where God is going to lead us with her at the helm.
Speaking of God leading us, that is what our series has been about this summer.
We’ve called the series “Blowing in the Wind” and have jumped around in the book of Acts to explore the wild ways that the Holy Spirit moves and works in the world.
Last week we were in Acts chapter 5 with Peter and John dealing with opposition, this week we jump 20 chapters and find Paul in a very similar situation.
Before we dive into the story, I have a question for you:
What do you do when your best plans have been disrupted?
Have you ever found yourself in a situation when you had made some specific plans and then circumstances came through and completely derailed those plans?
Maybe those plans were even really godly plans that you thought we all about serving God and helping a lot of people, and even then, they got derailed.
Has that ever happened to you?
Um, Steve, we call that the year 2020.
My guess is that you are like me and you have spent the past four months trying to figure out what God is doing in the midst of a pandemic and social unrest.
Pretty much every plan I had was completely wiped out.
As fall approaches we are all holding our breath to see what will happen.
- What’s going to happen with schools?
- When will we get to worship again?
- What is going to happen to the economy?
I have two answers for you:
- I have no idea. That’s helpful, isn’t it.
- I think we can learn a lot about these questions by looking at our text for today and taking some cues from Paul.
Let’s dive in.
We learned a few weeks ago
that Paul was hand-picked by the Risen Christ to to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom of God to all people, especially to the Gentiles.
Paul traveled across the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and planted churches in cities all along the way.
He ultimately wanted to go to Rome, the center of the Gentile world (as seen in Acts 19:21).
That was his plan. Go to Rome.
My guess is that he pictured himself booking his own boat, traveling to the capital city, setting up a tent shop and preaching like he did in every city.
It didn’t work out that way.
Our text today is in Acts 25, but you really need to know what happened in chapters 21-24 to understand this part of the story.
Here’s the quick recap…
Paul went to Jerusalem to deliver relief funds that he had collected for the people who were suffering from a famine. While he was there, he went to worship God in the Temple. He was attacked by a mob in Jerusalem, falsely accused by the religious leaders of desecrating the Temple, and was threatened to be murdered in an ambush.
The Roman soldiers intervened. They were about to flog him when he played his Roman Citizen card to escape an unjust beating. He was then whisked away to Caesarea to be protected from the ambush.
Then, he was kept in prison by governor Felix for TWO YEARS before he could even have a trial. And then, when he did get a trial, the religious leaders were plotting to kill him en route to Jerusalem.
Now, a new Roman Governor named Festus has come into office.
He’s heard about this prisoner that’s been detained for two years.
He’s heard that the religious leaders want him dead. He wants to make a good first impression on the religious leaders,
so he brings Paul out and tries to play some political games with him.
That brings us to our text for today.
“So, Paul,” Festus says in verse 9, “Do you want to go up to Jerusalem and face these charges?”
Paul knew that the Jews were planning to kill him on the way.
Paul wasn’t afraid to die, but he also didn’t want to be falsely accused.
Remember, Paul was a Roman citizen. This had kept him alive so far. He was faced with two choices:
- Go to Jerusalem and most certainly be killed in the ambush, or
- Use his rights as a citizen and appeal to Caesar.
Festus says in verse 12, ““You have appealed to the emperor; to the emperor you will go.”
So, to Rome he went…as a prisoner.
Think about that.
Paul had wanted to go to Rome on his terms.
Now, he sat in a prison for TWO YEARS…TWO…YEARS. And now he’s going to Rome…as a prisoner.
Why would God do this? Why would God allow such horrible things to happen to Paul?
I’m sure he asked himself that question a few times while he twittled his thumbs in the prison cell.
Here’s the interesting thing…
Now, as a prisoner, he would be able to have an audience with the Emperor himself and proclaim the Risen Christ to the most powerful man in the world.
How else would he have been able to get that access?
If there is one thing I’ve learned in 25 years of ministry, it’s this:
- God almost never works things out the way I plan them.
- There is almost always pain.
- And, it always works out far better, and radically different than I could have imagined.
Our lives have been disrupted by COVID-19 or over four months.
We’ve been locked out of our schools and our church buildings. Many of us have had to work from home. Many of us have lost our jobs, or are forced to work in very dangerous environments.
It is very easy, and very normal, to become extremely anxious. We are all wondering what will happen with school this fall?
I’m wondering how we are going to do Confirmation and all of our Children, Youth and Family ministries.
Here’s where I think we need to take some cues from Paul.
Why was Paul able to roll with his ever-changing circumstances?
Because he was clear about his mission.
He was called to proclaim the Good News of the Risen Christ to all people, that’s it.
What is your mission?
- Is your mission to achieve a certain level of income, to get a particular job or status in society?
- Is your mission to be correct and win every argument?
- Is your mission to hold worship in a particular way in a particular place?
- Is your mission to be in control of every detail of your life?
Circumstances like we are in right now give us an important opportunity to check our personal mission.
As a disciple of Jesus, what is my mission?
Quite simply, Jesus gave me my mission when he said,
“As you are going, make disciples of all people. Drown them in God’s love and teach them to love God and love their neighbor.”
Does our current circumstance keep us from loving God and loving our neighbor?
Actually, it doesn’t.
We don’t need to gather in a particular place.
I’ve actually found great freedom and joy in working from home.
Doing online worship has opened up new opportunities to connect that we never expected.
Perhaps you have found a new connection to your family and to the people in your immediate neighborhood.
Perhaps God, right now, is trying to show us that there might be a different way to get to Rome than we ever imagined.
I don’t know exactly what God is saying to you, or what you need to hear right now. But, please know this.
The Spirit of God is blowing through this place and God is working in and through these circumstances.
May we never lose sight of our mission
to love God and
to love our neighbor.