Interesting journeys – Bithynia or Macedonia
The Reverend Dr Sam Cappleman
We’ve probably all been on those journeys where things don’t quite work out as expected.
It’s difficult to imagine Paul and Silas turning to each other in prison, having just been severely beaten and saying to each other, ‘Well this seems to be going really well’.
Paul and Barnabas had been in Antioch where they returned after the council in Jerusalem which began to define how Jews and Gentiles should like out the Christian faith rather than just adhere to the Jewish law.
They decide to go back to some of the places they have visited before and the first thing that happens is that Paul and Barnabas fall out about who should go with them. Paul ends up travelling north with Silas. Not a great start… …like being in the car and not talking to each other as you set out…
Then they plan to go to Bithynia (to the right) but can’t get there and then are called over to Macedonia (straight on). The sat nav ‘turn around when possible’ moment
Expecting to meet men im Macedonia, they meet women, including Lydia, and then, trying to go about their business they get harassed by a slave girl in an encounter which ends up with them beaten and in put in jail.
This is not the first time but the third time in Acts where the believers have been put in jail or beaten so it’s beginning to be a bit of a habit…
And yet, despite all of the troubles, God is in control. The jailer, and probably his household, come to faith and Paul and Silas go on their journey stopping off back at Lydia’s house.
In our gospel reading it’s as if Jesus is now inviting the disciples to go on a journey. And for them too, what this might entail is not clear.
The gospel reading comes from a long passage where Jesus is speaking to the disciples after the Last Supper. Judas has departed and Jesus is speaking with the disciples.
Jesus speaks of His departure and the disciples want to know where He is going. He tells them they can follow Him later...
They ask how they can know the way and how they will see and now Him in the future and he goes on to explain in words they don’t fully understand…
And then He goes into an extended prayer for them and those they will come into contact with. It’s as if they’re are not there and Jesus is just speaking with the Father.
And as He prays so we return to some of the themes that underpin John’s gospel and Jesus’ life and ministry.
John opens his gospel saying that the word became flesh and lived among us, and we saw His glory.
In the first miracle John reports, the wedding of Cana at Galilee, John says it was the first of the signs of Jesus, and one which helps us understand all the others. John also says that through it Jesus revealed His glory.
The signs through Johns Gospel continue to reveal Jesus’ identity and His future glory. When some try to put a more superficial meaning on the signs after the feeding of the great crowd, Jesus speaks to them and points out it’s not the sign itself (food and feeding lots of people) which is important per se, it’s what it reveals about Him and His Father and the glory that is revealed.
And now this glory, the essence, nature and mission of God and Jesus is given to the disciples.
They themselves will be the (new) signs of the future, they will reveal God’s glory. In part, it’s what John has been building up to through his gospel.
They themselves are to make known the name and character of God the Father and His son Jesus.
And to do so, they must be united with each other, as Jesus is united with them and He is with the Father.
From now on they need to step out on their journey of faith, unsure of where that might lead them, unsure of what it might entail, even unsure about what the journey is.
Just as each one of us needs to take that first step of faith as we acknowledge that there is more to life than just life itself, and keep on walking, however much we might stumble along the way, or even feel that most of the time we feel like we’re on our knees crawling
But step out they and we must if they are to make real the faith that is within us and be the signs by which God’s love for the world is to be made known.
And as unsure as they were about the journey, about what they should be saying and doing, unsure at this stage about the full meaning of the cross and resurrection, they did set out.
And what a somewhat disparate group of followers showed and demonstrated by the way they lived was real unity, despite all the questions and misgivings they may have had. We know the early believers had differences of opinions, but they overcame them so that the whole was greater than the individual.
The early historians and writers clearly record that one of the chief characteristics of the early believers, and one of the reasons the message of the gospel and the church spread as it did, was there was a unity of vision and purpose and lifestyle in the early believers. They became the living signs of Jesus and did indeed begin to reflect His glory. To be His agents in making Him known and making real the difference that brings to the lives that are touched.
God calls us to do the same today. To step out in faith on a journey we might not fully understand to be His agents of bringing the good news of salvation, and reflecting His glory, in the world. Sometimes we think we should be going to the right, into our Bithinyas (our way), but God calls us to go straight on to our Macedonias (His way).
Just as in life we step out on a journey and sometimes have little idea of where that might lead. Sometimes it’s where we expect, other times it’s exactly the opposite.
We don’t know what the future might hold, but as a people of faith, we do know who holds it.
If we are to be truly effective then how we live will be one of the signs that people look for. As individuals and as the church. How ironic it is that so often that the church is seen as divided by the world, and no wonder the world wants to see a divided church when Jesus Himself says that one of the characteristics we should show as a sign to the world is our unity.
The good news is that as we see and read in Revelation, although we may not know the route Jesus may take us as we step out in faith on our journey, we do know the ultimate destination.
Our destination is to be with Christ, not only reflecting His glory but being in the presence of His glory.
To be with Him in the eternal city that knows no ends, where all roads lead to the Father and where our peace is found in Christ, who is with us on the journey, going ahead of us as we travel, and waiting for us at the end.