Answering the Call

Heritage Presbyterian Church

May 26, 2019
6th Sunday of Easter
Scripture readings – Acts 16: 9-15

Good Morning, Heritage!

I want to thank you and Mark for inviting me to preach this morning. I’m honored to be here on the day you’re celebrating these amazing graduates. I’m equally honored to preach on Memorial Day weekend.

Last week we heard about visions. Visions in scripture, visions in our lives, and visions for church and community. Visions often come with a calling to do something. When we answer God’s call to mission in the world, wonderous and miraculous things can happen. God’s call in our lives changes us, our community, and the world.

I enlisted in the Army when I was 17. I was a German and Russian linguist at the end of the Cold War. When the Berlin Wall came down, I joined the Air Force. I picked up a little Arabic during the first Gulf War, then later developed an interest in terrorism in Bosnia and the Balkans. So the Air Force decided because I was spoke a few languages and was fluent in Army that I should work with Army teams. Consequently, I had more Army medals than Air Force when I retired. I was always volunteering to go to where the fighting was. I was on back of a military transport on September 17, 2001. Tyrants and bullies had attacked the United States and were killing innocent people Afghanistan and other places. The world rose up to stop them. My nation called me to take part in this mission and I answered.

We all have a call. Today we celebrate the graduates who are transitioning from the classrooms they have known to something new and unknown.  I congratulate you and applaud the hard work you and your families did to get you to graduation. The church is called to proclaim the Gospel, to bring good news to those who live on the margins of society, to feed the hungry, nurture the widows and orphans. We all have a call, individually and collectively.

How do we know what our call is? It’s a simple question which sometimes does not have an easy answer. God’s callings are as varied as each of us. Sometimes those calls happen in silence and stillness. In the creation story in Genesis, God spoke creation into being. Before God called creation forth; before He started this wonderful journey we call life; before existence existed; Before God’s words, there was God’s silence. God often calls us out from the silence. If you aren’t accustomed to carving out a few minutes of silence each day to listen to God, I urge you to do so for one week. I guarantee you will receive blessings in trying to quiet your mind and soul for a few moments each day.

God speaks in the silences. He also speaks quietly to us. In our text today, Paul has a dream. He sees a man from Macedonia, who asks to him to and help him. God doesn’t always speak to us in dreams, but he often speaks quietly to us. What is interesting to note is how this call is received. In verse 10, we’re told “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.” HE hears and WE went. Calls sometime come quietly and they come from different places. God called Paul, then Paul called his co-workers. The call was clear but quiet, like God texted Paul!  What happens next? We’re told they all become convinced to go to Macedonia. Now, I was a linguist so I have an affinity for language. Knowing this, I resist the urge to preach sermons in Greek or Hebrew. I hear the unspoken call from you to NOT preach Greek! I’ll confine the Greek references to two. Here’s the first one: the word translated as “convinced” here doesn’t quite convey what happened. “Convinced” sounds like they talked about going to Macedonia. The word is actually closer to “was convicted with force to the core”.  Paul and his followers heard the call and they felt in their hearts compelled to go.

The Holy Spirit moves in this pattern of call from the earliest times in creation right up until today. God called creation into being. He called the prophets to gather Israel. Jesus called the 12 Disciples and the 70 to go out and proclaim the Gospel. Jesus calls Paul ono the road to Damascus. Paul now calls his co-workers to go to Macedonia. When we’re doing it right, the church has called believers to do God’s work in the world. Last week, the preacher calls us to share in a vision to serve our community in love and unity. God literally calls us all to do His work in the world.

Calls need not be dramatic. Graduation week is epic. You’re ending one phase of your life and beginning another, whether that be college, graduate school, a career. Maybe the military! Family gathers. It’s a time to celebrate past achievements and look forward. Graduation has a built-in call inherent in the process. Sometimes the call is clear, other times it is not. Sometimes you hear the call, sometimes others guide you. Taking time to pray for guidance and listening to God (in that quiet time I spoke about earlier) is never time wasted. God will show you what His call is to you in His mission in the world. If you listen, you will hear Him. Sometimes individually and sometimes in community. I pray you hear His call for you and answer that call. In our call, there is mighty help and precious joy.

Sometimes calls are out loud. In our narrative today, Paul goes to Macedonia, preaches the Gospel, and introduces an important saint to Christ. This part of the call is overt and specific. Sometimes God speaks in silence, sometimes He texts us, and sometimes the phone rings and it’s a Facetime or phone conversation! Paul and his followers arrive to Macedonia and goes to a place of prayer outside the city wall on the sabbath.  Here’s something else about answering God’s call: It’s been my experience that it almost never happens the way we ting it will. I started out at 17 wanting to be a linguist in the military and all that that career entails. Today I’m preaching the Word to Heritage Presbyterian. God’s calls often do not take us where we think they will.

Now, according to Jewish law travel on the Sabbath is confined to your town or city, or a specific smaller area. Paul breaks those rules, going outside the gate to a place of prayer. It’s interesting Paul goes to a “place of prayer” instead of a synagogue. We know this wasn’t a synagogue because they were a group of women worshiping. In order to have a proper Jewish prayer meeting, there needs to be 12 Jewish men present. Not merely believers in God, non-Jews who worship in Jewish communities, but twelve male Jews. Paul, who tells us time and again that he goes into a city to preach first to the Jews and then to the others, this time searches out not a synagogue but a place outside the city walls where women are praying. He goes where he does not usually go and who does he find? Lydia, a non-Jewish seller of purple. Lydia is not the obvious choice in this situation for three key reasons: 1) She’s a woman, Women in the ancient world were usually not high in social status. In fact, while Lydia is a name we’ve heard of today, in this time it was a nearby Roman province. Lydia’s name was, in fact, probably only the place she came from. Like calling one of us “Houston”.  2) She wasn’t Jewish so she wasn’t what would have been considered God’s chosen people, 3) She was a seller of purple. Purple clothing could only be worn by people of high social status. It was incredibly difficult to make and outrageously expensive. Being a seller of purple, Lydia was likely much better off than many of her time and would have hobnobbed with the rich and famous.

Remember when I said I was only going to make two Greek references? Here’s the second one: Paul’s dream as we’re told it in verse 9 in the Greek was specifically to go and help a “man”. The word here is aner, and means an actual male person. When we speak of Jesus as the Son of Man, we’re mistranslating that a bit. “Man” used to be a generic name for a human being, like mankind. The word is “Anthropos”. Jesus is actually the Son of Anthropos or Humanity. Here, the Holy Spirt calls Paul to go to Macedonia to help a man and it’s women he ministers to! God’s call often comes with unexpected joyful surprises. When you answer God’s call, it usually unfolds in interesting ways we don’t expect.  We have to be ready to serve God and our neighbors in God’s way, not necessarily the way we’ve done it before or the way we think it should be done.

Lydia comes into relation with Christ and her entire household is baptized. By the way, this is a good scripture for supporting infant baptism.

The story could have ended there, but God adds something at the end: Lydia calls on Paul to come. He takes her up on the offer and Lydia not only becomes the first Christian in Eurpope, but her house is used as the base of operations for this stage of Paul’s mission to show us a final point about call. Sometimes God calls from silence, sometimes quietly like a text, somethings loudly like a phone call. But don’t be surprised when you answer the call however if you don’t see those three littles dots as God is typing out a new call. Because call isn’t a onetime event but a conversation.

Tomorrow is Memorial Day. Veterans answer the call to service for a variety of reasons. They come into the military for college, or for benefits, or for adventure.  They come for these reasons and many more, but they usually stay because they hear a call to fight for the people besides them. One verse near and dear to a Christian warrior’s heart is Isaiah 6:8: Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah eventually enthusiastically answers God’s call

 I promised I’d only throw in two Greek references, but allow me to toss in one quick Hebrew one: The Hebrew phrase for “Send me” is Hinnani Shalachni! It love that phrase! It sounds so emphatic! Hinnani Shalachni!  Prayerfully consider how you might answer God’s call in your life. Strive to be a people who answers the call with “Send me!’. You’ll be blessed and a blessing in the world.