May 8, 2016 “Where Is Macedonia”

SCRIPTURE   Acts 16:9-15

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.

MESSAGE    “Where Is Macedonia?”

This is a Sunday message with two parts.  The first part concerns Paul’s vision that led him to visit a new place, and part two concerns whom he met there.   Each of these two parts deserves a separate sermon, but I’m going to combine them today.

     PART 1:   In our reading from the Book of Acts we heard one of the most riveting verses in all of Scripture – a cry for help!  Paul was an apostle of Jesus Christ, doing his best to bring the Gospel of hope to the world far beyond Jerusalem.  He had gone places that no Christian had yet gone, but he was about to go farther still.  One night Paul had a dream and he heard a man begging for help.  “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”    Notice that the kind of help needed isn’t described, but Paul heard the plea and when he woke up he responded.  Like Paul, we are the kind of people who also hear and who respond.  We don’t always know exactly what to do, but responding is always the first step.  We did this to start the service, but let’s do it again.  I need someone to shout “come help us” as loud as you can.  Then I need everyone else to shout a response:  “We’re coming!”

So we’re ready to help, but where is Macedonia?  I can show you on a map, it is a land in the northern part of Greece, the western part of Bulgaria and the southern part of what used to be Yugoslavia.  It’s in the Balkan lands of Eastern Europe.  It’s been in the news a lot lately because it’s one of the countries that people escaping Syria and other troubled places are passing through to get to safety.

But Macedonia is more than a geographic location on a map.  For Paul and his friends Macedonia was a place way outside of their comfort zone.  Macedonia was far away across the sea, beyond their knowledge, beyond their experience, beyond their expertise.  A place of different peoples, different languages, and different customs, but off they went!

For us today, Macedonia is any place where people need help.  Who can name some places where people in the world are shouting “help!”?

Last Saturday for Presbytery Mission Day all of the volunteers met at Gates Presbyterian Church, then divided up and headed in different directions to respond to that call for help.  Every place that the volunteers went was Macedonia.

Here are some photos showing the Macedonia our team from Byron  visited, Cameron Community Ministries in Rochester.

But Macedonia can be a strange place, wherever we travel there, even if we think we know about it already.  Here’s something I’ve learned about Macedonia every time I’ve gone there:  I go there expecting to give, but what also happens – every time – is that the people I was helping also help me!   So let’s try it again.  Someone call for help.  And we know the response:  “We’re coming!”

Now, PART 2.  Macedonia – Paul and his friends decided that they had to go there to find the man Paul had seen in his vision.  It took some doing to get there.   They departed from Troas.  You’ve heard about Troas before, it’s the region where the city of Troy was located, where the Greeks and Trojans fought a huge battle centuries before.  Today, Troas is in the northwest part of Turkey.  They crossed over the Aegean Sea, and entered Macedonia.  When they set foot on that distant shore the Gospel of Jesus Christ had entered Europe for the first time.  They traveled to Phillipi, the main city of Macedonia.  Philippi, in case you didn’t know, was the home of Alexander the Great, the most famous Macedonian who conquered lands as far away as India.  There is something symbolic about Paul entering that city to proclaim a very different kind of future, not based upon the strength of armies and weapons, but based upon the love and hope of Christ.

In this short story we learn a lot about the way that Paul carried the Gospel to new places.  When he arrived, he had to learn about Macedonia, so perhaps he wandered the streets and visited the market.  Maybe he was specifically looking for the man who appeared in his dream?  As he wandered around the city he learned about a place where people gathered for prayer.  It wasn’t a building, it wasn’t even in the city.  It was just outside by the river that flowed past Philippi.   All he knew was that people gathered there for prayer.   So Paul went.

He was looking for the man in his dream, but instead he met Lydia.  And that is what happens whenever we go to Macedonia; we think we know what we will find, but there’s always something unexpected.   For Paul, it was Lydia.  Lydia, in case you didn’t notice, is unlike most women in the Bible.  Lydia is a merchant, she owns her own business, she sells purple cloth,  she travels from place to place, and she is prosperous.  In most Bible stories women are defined and limited by the men in their lives.  There are none like Lydia, independent and wealthy on her own.

There is one more thing about Lydia.  She was seeking to learn  more about God.  When Paul meets Lydia she is drawn to his message about Christ.  Soon, she and her household are baptized.    Lydia might be the first European to accept the Gospel.

Maybe it was from Lydia that Paul began to rethink how he was doing what he was doing.  On Mother’s Day we take note that the first convert in Macedonia is a woman.  Maybe it was his experience with Lydia that shaped some of his writings.  I wonder if he was thinking of Lydia when he wrote these words?

    “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.  [Galatians 3:28]

Paul went to Macedonia to offer help, but I think it was Lydia who ended up helping him.

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