May 9, 2010 – Mother’s Day in 2010
Acts 16:9-15 – Paul has a vision during the night: A man from Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’
Psalm 67 – Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you.
Revelation 21:10, 22 – 22:5 – And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God… No temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb… Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
John 14:23-29 – 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.
John 5:1-9 – Jesus heals a man at the pool of Beth-Zatha, by the Sheep Gate of Jerusalem.
Another Dream: The Gospel in Europe
At this point we make a big jump in Acts. Last week we discussed Peter’s vision of the sheet that came down with unclean things to eat, and God’s invitation for him to break the kosher laws and eat them. This week we jump ahead five chapters in Acts into Paul’s second missionary journey:
- Paul’s first missionary journey: Acts 13-15
- Paul’s second missionary journey: Acts 16-18
- Paul’s third missionary journey: Acts 18:22-21:16
- Paul’s fourth missionary journey: Acts 27-28
What unites this passage with last week’s passage is the vision. Peter had his vision. So did Paul. Our text begins with the words, "During the night, Paul had a vision." For Luke, the message is clear: God speaks in visions. Zechariah has his vision in Luke 1. The women at the tomb have a vision of an angel telling them Christ has risen, Luke 24:23. In the prophet Joel (chapter 2), God had said in the last days the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh. Young men would see visions and old men would dream dreams.
Paul’s vision is quite different. He has completed his first missionary journey and set out on his second. The first journey began and ended in Antioch. It is quite successful, and yet he must stand before the Council in Jerusalem and explain why he is allowing these new Christians to remain uncircumcised. Some Pharisees are teaching that you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised. For Paul circumcision or uncircumcision does not matter, only Christ. He has decided Christ is all that matters. The Council finally agrees and decides not to "trouble" the Gentiles. Indeed.
The second missionary journey is conceived as a tour to visit the churches where they went on the first missionary journey to see how they are doing (Acts 15). Barnabas wants to take John Mark (Acts 12:12), but Paul does not, because John Mark "deserted" them during the last tour (Acts 13:13). In the end, Barnabas sails off to Cypress with John Mark and Paul sets off with Silas.
Paul begins at his furthest point in the first missionary Journey: Derbe, this time by land, then Lystra where he picks up Timothy. They travel through Galatia (Turkey) but are forbidden by the Holy Spirit, the "Spirit of Jesus", to go into Asia and Bithynia (home of Nicaea and Byzantium, which will later become Constantinople, the home of the largest Christian Church in the world, then eventually Istanbul). One would love to know how exactly the Holy Spirit did this forbidding. We are not told. They are somehow driven on to Troas, in the westernmost part of Turkey. This is where Paul has his vision.
I have often spoken of how I wrestle and wrestle with things, only to have them resolved in a dream. What to do? Where to go? How to proceed? Then suddenly one has a dream that makes everything clear. The obvious choice emerges, and you go. Paul doesn’t yet have a vision for carrying the gospel to Europe, Greece, Thessalonica, Philippi, Rome and Spain. He is feeling his way through this. Then laying in his bed, perhaps on the roof of a house in Troas, with the salty breeze blowing over him from the Aegean Sea, Paul has his dream. A man from Macedonia says, "Come and help us."
Who is this man? Is this a real man, or a subconscious representation of an emerging sense of call? Who knows, but the next morning Paul has a sense of clarity. Paul, Silas, Timothy and one other person set out from Troas for Neapolis. Who is with them? The author of course. This is so subtle the reader is likely to miss it. Luke writes: "We put out to sea from Troas…" We? This is the first time the author has spoken in the first person plural. Prior to that it was "they", even three verses prior, "they passed through Mysia…" So we learn something vital here, if we don’t miss this very subtle clue. This is how the author comes to know the gospel and write his gospel. He is a traveling companion of the apostle Paul, who somehow came to know them in Troas. We have to assume that much of his understanding of Christianity then comes from Paul, Silas and Timothy. And of course he has Mark in front of him. Could it be that the theology of Luke is the closest relative of the theology of Paul?
Once Paul, Timothy, Silas and Luke set foot onto Macedonian soil, in Neapolis and Philippi, a leading city and Roman colony in Macedonia, the gospel of Jesus Christ arrives on European soil. And with that, the history of Europe is changed forever.
Imagine the history of Europe if Christianity had not come to European soil. Would we even know about Plato today if Benedictine monks had not copied him over and over again, preserving him in their libraries? What would the history of Europe be without Augustine, Aquinas, cathedrals, medieval universities, Dante, the Crusades, the Inquisition, humanism, Luther, the Reformation, Bach, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, Marx, Hume, Kant, Wagner and Voltaire? E. P. Sanders writes: "Of course if the Faith had not been European, and Europe had not adopted the Faith, there would have been some other story. But it would not have been our story." (As quoted by Wilson, Paul: The Mind of the Apostle.)
In Philippi they ("we") go down to the river, where they assume there will be a place of prayer on the Sabbath. There they encounter Lydia of Thyatira (SE of Pergamum). She is named Lydia because that is where she is from: the region of Lydia. Thyatira is in the region of Lydia, a center for the production of red/purple dyes, very popular among the aristocracy. She is a businesswoman of means (a "dealer"), and she is a "God-fearing woman," which means she is a Gentile who is interested in the Jewish law. She is not a strict observer, but prays on the Sabbath. She and "her household" are baptized. Why is a man not mentioned here? Interesting. She invites them to stay at her house, and they agree. Lydia of Thyatira is the very first European Christian. She is the matriarch of Christianity in Europe.
What if Paul had not gone into Europe? What if he had rolled over and shaken off the dream or forgotten it? What if he had gotten up that morning and chosen to not pay attention to his dream? I am convinced that the Spirit speaks to us constantly, directing and forbidding. The Spirit speaks through intuition, through dreams, through others, through prayer, through the reading of Scripture. Sometimes we are simply too busy to listen. We have too much noise in our heads. Perhaps we don’t really trust that the Spirit speaks. Perhaps we are too focused on what the Spirit forbids or directs in others to pay attention to what the Spirit forbids or directs in us.
What is the Spirit saying to you? What recurring dreams do you have? What messages do people say to you over and over again that you write off, ignore or pass over? If you were completely open to the prompting of the Spirit, where might that lead you? Are you taking time each day to ponder questions such as these? If not, make a commitment right now to do so. Consider using the process of Ignatian consciousness examen, or simply use the shorthand questions above. Each morning reflect on yesterday’s events, conversations, and realizations. Take notes. 30 minutes a day. You never know what might happen.
Yours in Christ,
Michael Rinehart, Bishop