The Damascus Road was the easy part

A Sermon on the 6th Sunday of Easter (5/5/AD2013)

Acts 16:6-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:9-12, 21-22:5; John 14:23-29

We don’t often think of it in these terms, but the Book of Revelation may be the most important book in the Bible for understanding Christian worship. It offers a set of images to describe this world’s future: a future better than we deserve, a future we certainly can’t achieve. It is a future so glorious that it’s only right that we start celebrating, giving thanks for that future now. And so one of the most frequently used words for our worship is eucharist, a transliteration of the Greek word for celebration. Further, the same book describes the worship revealed to the seer: angels and archangels and all the company of heaven singing out “Worthy is the Lamb…” So in our Eucharistic prayers when we say “with Angels and Archangels and with all the company of heaven” we’re acknowledging that our worship is joining with something bigger.

That future is a given. “After this I looked, —writes John—and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’” (Rev 7:9-10 NRSV) In the midst of a world bleeding from more divisions than most of us can keep track of, it sounds wonderful. And we have the privilege of witnessing to this future now in our actions.

Wonderful. Piece of cake. Or—in light of the first reading—maybe not. Because if we pull out a map to make sense of those first verses it’s clear that Paul’s trying to go anywhere except Macedonia. And why would that be?

Well, although the Jews had been oppressed by many nations (Egypt, Assyria, Babylonia, etc.), it was only the Macedonians, Alexander the Great and the leaders who followed him, that had seriously tried to abolish Jewish faith and practice. Less than two hundred years earlier Antiochus Epiphanes, paragon of enlightenment, had offered countless Jews a simple choice: eat pork or be tortured to death. (Read about it in the books of Maccabees!) Which nation had shown itself to be the deadliest enemy of the Jews? Macedonia. And Paul was supposed to go there?

“Those who love me—Jesus had said—will keep my word.” Paul, loving Jesus in the only way that mattered—kept his word. It took the Holy Spirit vetoing his travel plans twice and a vision in the night, but Paul kept Jesus’ word, went to Macedonia.

That was good news for Macedonia: for Lydia and her household, for others whose story we’ll hear next week. It was good news for our ancestors, for Macedonia represented the beginning of Paul’s mission to Europe, to our people. It would be nice if Acts had reported that Paul was eager to evangelize our people. Kicking and screaming would be closer to the truth—but we’ll take it.

And it turned out to be good news for Paul as well. Years later he writes a letter that readers refer to as the joyous letter. There’s so much joy in the letter, joy over what’s happening in that city, the joy that the Christians there give Paul, the ways they nurture his spirit. And that’s the letter to the Philippians.

We come together each week to celebrate the future that God is preparing for this planet. People “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” will participate. Some days we find it easy to witness to that future; other days—like Paul—we find it not so easy. Some days we deal with folk we hope are part of that future; other days… “Those who love me—Jesus had said—will keep my word.” May God grant us grace to continue loving Jesus, to continue witnessing to his vision of our planet’s future each of our days.

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