I am an author whose work you probably know pretty well - I wrote the Gospel that you call “the Gospel of Luke”, AND I wrote an early history of the church that you call “The Acts of the Apostles”, or often just “the book of Acts”.
You will notice in the book of Acts that some of the time I write to you about what some of the other disciples did, that I heard about from them, and sometimes I write about things I saw and participated in myself.
We were living in incredible times - in these early days of the church. Each day was history, each day was a new and incredible adventure - partly in where we went, partly in who we met.
And, most importantly, it seemed that each day meant more learning about our faith.
Paul and his companions had been travelling - Paul’s second big journey - and had come up from Jerusalem, through Lysteria and Iconium. They told me that they had a plan - to go into Asia. But it just seemed that God did not want them to go there then - the Spirit just seemed to hold them back.
So they came along through part of Phrygia and Galatia. But when they got to Mysia, they had a plan to enter Bithynia, just to the north. But again, the Spirit stopped them.
At an impasse, they continued on to Troas, back on the coast, to ponder what to do next. Stalled in Troas. That’s where I joined up with them, while they were stalled.
Isn’t that the way things go sometimes? We figure we have a plan - for ourselves, for the church.... and sometimes things seem to be going along just fine, and the plan, our plan is great. Until. Thump, the plan comes to an end, and we end up looking around in puzzlement, wondering what to do next. We feel that our lives, or our congregation, is at some kind of dead end. Sometimes we all end up - metaphorically - in Troas.
And then, maybe if we wait with open eyes, open ears - we will find God’s voice.
And that’s how it was that time.
Stalled in Troas, and then just after I got together with them, Paul had a vision in the night.
Now, I know that many of you have not had visions. And I know that some people, even 2000 years later, still have visions - but rarely speak of them, in part because other people shake their heads in disbelief and denigration.
We, though, did not disbelieve Paul, nor did we denigrate what he told us.
He told us that in his vision he saw someone of Macedonia pleading for us to go there to help them. It was not to help them in some material way: it was to help them in faith, it was to go to proclaim the wonderful good news to them.
And so we set sail from Troas to the island of Samothrace, and then on to Neapolis the next day, and from there to Philippi.
An uneventful journey, this one - no shipwrecks, no threats, just time waiting as we sailed toward what is, 2000 years later, northern Greece.
We stayed in Philippi for several days. That’s all you’ll read in the book of Acts - our history book - but we were not doing nothing, and we were not sightseeing - not visiting the gold mines, nor the fortifications, nor the Greek theatre. Whenever we could we shared the Good News - sometimes speaking the some of the Jewish people living in the city, sometimes speaking to those who were on their way to their hero worship cult gatherings, or whoever else we could speak to.
The Sabbath day came. Often we have gone to synagogues on the Sabbath, but we had been told of another place where people gathered for prayer.
And so we made our way out of the city gate, and down to the river, following Paul’s leadership.
It was a bit of a surprise to me to get there. Not because we were down by the river - that, in and of itself was not strange, for often we find such places of tranquillity to be wonderful sanctuaries in which to find God. It was a surprise that we had come to this place, and it was only women who were there.
At least - that is how I thought when I got there. Please, remember - I am a product of my time and my culture, and I did not see women as so significant as men. Equality had not permeated my consciousness. But on that day - well, it was women who were there.
We all sat down. Now, those who were gathered were not followers of Jesus. Not then. Some were those we knew of as ‘worshippers of God’ - gentiles who had come to know that the God known by the Jewish people was the God for all. And some were there, seeking answers for their yearning for answers to satisfy the spirit.
Are there not always people like that - even 2000 years later? Those who have some faith that there is God, and others seeking answers because they know a yearning in their hearts? Somehow we were fortunate that day - we found a way to speak, we found words to speak.
2000 years later - still a challenge to find the words, to find the ways to express faith.
So, indeed, we spoke to them, we talked with them, we shared the good news with these people who were there in that place of prayer, these people who were seeking connection with God. And they listened.
In particular, there was one woman from Thyatira - from the Asian part of Turkey. A gentile – a worshipper of God, but not a Jew. A businesswoman. And quite successful. So many barriers stood between us - wandering sharers of the Good News, having with us just what we could carry. And a rich one. Barriers - a gentile, and we Jews; Barriers - a woman, and ourselves - men. Barriers - us from Israel, she from Turkey.
Barriers, just barriers.
And yet, as we spoke the barriers seemed to crumble.... no, not actually crumble, the barriers just dissipated as though they had never, ever even existed.
The only things that remained were our shared humanity.
And our shared faith.
- - -
But that is not the end of the story.
For out time by the river came to an end with the baptism of many - and Lydia herself, along with her household, were baptized there at the river. And then she invited us to stay at her home, she insisted that we come to stay.
God keeps opening eyes.
This woman, a foreigner to us, a gentile, a businesswoman in a world where business is normally done by men....
We would not have dreamt of going to the home of such a person.
But we discovered that our common humanity trumped all the differences.
We discovered that our common faith – which had been with us for quite a while, which had been within her for but hours – we discovered that our common faith made all the rest irrelevant.
It did not matter. The rest did not matter.
God opened our eyes to come to new territory, with the arrival in Philippi.
God opened our eyes to come to new territory - the territory of truly understanding that faith and common humanity break down barriers.... no, once again I say, barriers are dissipated, as though they never existed in the first place.
And so it was - as we went from place to place, each day was history,
each day was a new and incredible adventure -
partly in where we went, partly in who we met.
And, most importantly,
it seemed that each day meant more learning about our faith.
Learning about God.
Learning about ourselves.
Learning about true Christian relationship with those around us.
Where there are no barriers.
Just people of faith growing together.