The book of Acts is often called the Acts of the Apostles, but it could easily
be called the Acts of Holy Spirit. In Acts we read so often of the way Spirit
influenced the movement of the Gospel from Jerusalem into Asia Minor and
Jesus promises that after he dies an Advocate, a Holy Spirit, will come
to teach the disciples what they are to do next. Spirit will help them remember
what Jesus taught them. The disciples learn that Spirit is active, a force, a
real presence with them in the earliest days of the Church (Capital C Church!).
Spirit is also active, a force, a real presence with us disciples today.
Today in Acts we read another story of Spirit’s activity and guidance with
Paul and his traveling companions. I find it incredible that Paul felt
prevented by Spirit to travel in specific directions. He says they were not
allowed to go to Asia or to Bithynia, so they went to Troas, on the coast. In
Troas, Paul had a vision of a man from Macedonia asking Paul to come to him
They headed west and ended up in Philippi. Typically, Paul begins by
finding out where the Jews worship. Off and on during Rome’s history, religious
groups that worshiped gods other than the main Roman gods like Jupiter and Juno
were forbidden to worship within the city walls. This could explain why Paul
heads to the river to find the synagogue instead of inside the city itself.
Once he is at the river, Paul doesn’t find men worshiping as he expected.
Instead, he finds a group of women, including a woman named Lydia. So, did
Spirit know this would happen? We know a few things about her, but I have lots
of questions I wish I could get answered.
Lydia is a foreigner to Philippi. She is from the city of Thyratira in Lydia,
a region Paul just left. Is she called Lydia because that is where she is from?
Or is it her name? She is described as a God-worshiper, meaning she is a
Gentile woman who worships the Jewish God. She has some wealth: she buys and
sells purple cloth. She may be married, she may be a widow. We do know that
Paul encountered her first at the river, outside the city of Philippi.
Could she have heard of Jesus by word of mouth? Is that why she is open
to Paul’s message? When Paul began to tell her about Jesus, she chose to be
baptized, and had her whole household baptized as well. It seems to me that
Spirit has been working in her life for a while, for her to be so receptive to
the Gospel and to Paul.
Spirit works in our lives also, even when we aren’t aware of her
presence. Sometimes, we don’t know until later that a decision we made changed
our lives. Sometimes we know we must make a decision. We know we are at a fork
in the road and must choose one path or the other.
On most issues, God doesn’t care about our choices. For example, if we
want to paint the bedroom blue or yellow, God likes both colors, so it’s our
choice. And if we don’t like broccoli, God knows we like carrots and green
On other issues, like whether we should study economics or French, God
wants us to use the gifts we have. If we have failed repeatedly at math, we
probably should not study economics. Hopefully, we will pay attention to
Spirit’s promptings to go with our strengths.
When it comes to changing jobs or job locations, we often come to a spiritual
fork in the road. Here we are more concerned about making the right choice, and
God is more concerned that we choose the path that is best for us in the long term.
It is here that Spirit may intervene and prompt us to choose one option over
another. We may even find spiritual or physical roadblocks forcing us to make
the better choice.
A transition in pastoral ministry is a fork in the road. Some people are
in a hurry for the new pastor to arrive. Some people want to make sure we get
all the items on the checklist done. Others recognize that it takes time for
Spirit to work to be sure the right pastor is called.
On Friday, the Council had a retreat to discuss the steps required in
calling a new pastor. There are some practical steps, like making sure the membership
records are up to date and the building is in good shape. And there are some spiritual
steps, like discovering together who God is calling us to be today in this
We spent some time talking about passion – Spirit is most obviously
present when we feel passionate about something. There will be two specific
opportunities for us to feel the passion of God’s Spirit.
The first will be a history event at the end of June. At this event, we
will spend time together remembering the highs and lows of the almost 60 years
of St Matthew’s presence in Ocala. What was God’s intent for this congregation
when it began? What were the highs, what were the lows? When were we the most
passionate? What do we learn from this experience?
The second event is an opportunity to listen intentionally to Spirit. What
is important to us today? What are we doing that is no longer important? What
are we passionate about today? What new opportunities arise from our passions?
It will be essential that everyone gives input for these two events. Spirit
speaks through everyone, from the 5-year-old to the 50-year-old to the
90-year-old. We adults don’t always listen to the ideas of children. And Older
Adults don’t always think they have anything to contribute. Children speak what
they are thinking, and it could be the work of Spirit. And Older Adults have years
of wisdom and experience in churches and in listening to Spirit’s guidance.
It is also important to remember that while Spirit is preparing St
Matthew’s to welcome a new pastor, the right pastor is also being prepared for
St Matthew’s. She or he will be here when the time is right.
Just as Lydia was open to the leading of Spirit and open to Paul’s
invitation to know Jesus, so we will need to be open to the leading of the
Spirit as we look to the future of St Matthew’s Lutheran Church.
I invite you to pray, to be open to the leading of Spirit, and to be
ready to share your ministry passions when the council and eventually the call
committee ask you to participate.