God Opens The Moment
“God Opens the Moment”
May 22, 2022 - Cobleskill United Methodist Church - Pastor Anna Blinn Cole
Sixth Sunday of Easter
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.
It is wonderful to be back in the pulpit here with you all after several weeks away and after our wonderful musical Sunday last week.
Do you remember the last time I was preaching here? It was Easter! That seems like so long ago, right?! These days the Easter candy is long gone from the aisles in the stores and from the baskets in our kids rooms and the lilies have probably dropped their last blossom, but guess what? In church we’re still talking about Easter. And not because we’re old and stogey and hold too tightly onto the past. No, not because of that at all, actually. The actual reason we get to talk about Easter for 6 entire Sundays is because Easter is and was and will always be a paradigm shift for anyone who takes it seriously. And that, my friends, simply cannot be contained in one Sunday.
So I said it on the first Sunday of Easter and I’ll say it again on the last Sunday of Easter. Jesus was dead, hope was lost, those who believed in his message were at their rock bottom. And it was still dark when in the midst of the worst thing that had ever happened, a spark of hope called out of the shadows. Love had not been killed on the cross. In fact, it couldn’t. It wouldn’t die. God wouldn’t let it. This was Good News, the best news ever. But the news didn’t break on a sunny day in a world where everything was figured out and right and good and going well. The Good News that the Love of God couldn’t not be killed on a cross broke in during the darkness while it was still night. When everyone that cared was at their rock bottom. You see, the Resurrection of Jesus is a paradigm shift that turns an absolutely impossible situation into something that has a glimmer of hope. And you can’t understand the gravity of such a shift unless you have felt the pain and hopelessness that comes in the dark.
When I got back from some time away, I looked up what the scripture lesson was for today and I found it was the story of a missionary named Paul and a woman named Lydia. In the larger narrative, we have progressed several years after the events of the first Easter, but the paradigm shift is still immanently felt. Paul has a burning desire to share the Good News about Jesus and his resurrection and the victory of love over death and fear with people who haven’t heard yet. But what happens in the verses immediately before where we picked up today is that Paul tries to map out his own itinerary for sharing the Good News. He thinks Asia is a good place but apparently God had different plans. The Bible actually says, “the Spirit of Jesus stops him.” I have all sorts of questions about what this must have looked like and felt like for Paul. But then immediately after being forbidden to go one direction, Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia, completely in the opposite direction from where he had wanted to go. It was a man in Macedonia that needed him. Discerning that this was a sign from God about where to go, he and the others with him left to go to Macedonia, traveling a long ways and across the Mediterranean to go where his vision was leading him.
Has this ever happened to you? Not a trip to Macedonia when you really wanted to go to Asia, but a nudge or a vision or a sign from God that maybe it was time to go in a different direction that you had originally planned.
Native Americans have a tradition of dream catchers to capture this process of figuring things out. You’ve probably seen a dream catcher. It’s a circle with a web inside and maybe some feathers and beads. The idea is that you hang it where you dream and the net in the center of the circle is meant to catch all the dreams and vision and sort them out letting only the good ones through.
The process of discerning the path forward is part of life. And a life with God often means there will be visions and plans that make it through the web that we never saw coming.
That’s what happened with Paul. He got to Macedonia and he waited until God opened the moment. The path before him was a path that led outside the city gates and down the bank of the river in the early morning. There in the quiet of dawn was not a man in need as he had thought he’d be helping, but a group of women. One of them was named Lydia and while we don’t know much about Lydia, we do know that she was simply extraordinary for her time. She owned her business and she was a leader in her household. And she was a woman of faith in a faith dominated by men. Paul had finally found the audience God had intended. God opened the moment. She might not have been who Paul expected, but she represented everything extraordinary about the kingdom God was building. God was doing a new thing. God was shifting the paradigm. This was no longer a world in which some people mattered more than other people. This was no longer a world with insiders and outsiders. The Good News that God wanted the world to know reached outside the walls of the cities in the most far-flung communities. The Good News that God wanted the world to know reached toward the people who brought diversity and creativity into the new community being built in Jesus’ name. The Good News of Jesus’ resurrection was about a paradigm shift. Love overcomes all. Our worst moments do not define us. The darkest nights of our lives are always met with a dawn. Community is built from the ground up, from the outside in and on a foundation of diversity and sacred hospitality. This was the moment God was opening. And Paul could have only said yes and Lydia could have only said yes if they had been open to the moment God was creating.
God is not finished with us yet. The Good News of Easter is too big to keep to ourselves inside these walls. The hope that God gives in the midst of dark nights is a message that our world still needs to hear, especially the people who have been kept at arms-length because their diversity was never seen as a gift within the church. God is opening a moment in which we can be led onto a different path. A path that takes us outside of the status quo and leads us to the ones who wait outside the walls.
Let God open the moment. Let God lead us where we need to go.
Let us pray.