Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29
Bigfork Community United Methodist Church
May 26, 2019 –Sixth Sunday of Easter
Sometimes the best plan in the world is not as good as what can happen when we have our eyes and ears open for the working of the Spirit…Jesus present with us to instruct us and to guide us.
Dana Whitney, our office manager, does such a good job of picking our bulletin quotes, but this day she has drawn one that catches what we are about to look into perfectly.
Will Rogers was a phenomenon in his day. He started out as a trick roper. He could dance into, out of and through the noose as he spun his lariat. Then he started chatting as he did trick after trick.
“What shall I talk about? I ain't got anything funny to say. All I know is what I read in the papers." He also said, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” But the one that fits us perfectly today is, “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.”
We continue to look into Jesus’ farewell to the disciples. The worst thing is about to happen to him…it will also be the worst thing that will happen to the disciples…but he is not going to let it get the best of him. He is telling them that the hour is nigh and he is about to leave them.
He promises them that he will send them the Holy Spirit to be with them and guide them. It is our paraclete in some commentaries, an “advocate” that comes up “alongside you” to guide you…like a doctor when you are sick or a lawyer when you are in trouble…or want to stay out of trouble.
Then he tells them, in the New Revised Standard Version, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
In the days ahead they will be terrified as few people can ever claim to have been terrified. In his last words, he gives them peace. The worst thing that has ever happened to anyone is not going to get the best of him.
It was a mighty close thing, this Christianity that we celebrate today, and maybe it was this word of reassurance, this gift of the Holy Spirit, and the amazing composure of the Christ in his crucifixion that kept his followers together at all, let alone long enough to see their resurrected Lord and savior.
In any event, it is a scene in which the ultimate trust in God is shown by the man who is about to walk the walk. Faith is as strong and powerful as anything I know of in the world, and we see a human being in the process of transcendence in this seen and these words.
The story of the Christ…and his encounter with him…also gave Paul a faith that could move mountains. If you love me, Jesus also tells the disciples, then he and God will come to them and live in them.
This is a special kind of peace that Jesus gives, not just to the disciples who are with him on the night he is arrested, but also to Paul…and even to us…these thousands of years later and thousands of miles…almost half a world…away.
Jesus love isn’t just for Paul or Peter or John. It is for the community that the love of God can create… and does create…in the world.
God sent Jesus to create that community and it is a community of love and by love and through love. It is self-sacrificing, but by stepping into a place we would not have stepped but for the love…by sacrificing ourselves in the name of this holy love…we become a new creature…and a new creation.
So Paul is on his second mission journey in western Asia and his attempts to spread the Gospel are frustrated. At night he has a dream that a Macedonian…a Greek…man is calling for him to come over there.
Sometimes the best plan in the world is not as good as what can happen when we have our eyes and ears open for the working of the Spirit…when we let our lives float.
They seek a way to get there and find passage on a ship. They land at Neapolis and make their way to Philippi.
During the crossing they land at Samothrace, an island that rises to 5300 feet out of the sea. I want to go there.
There they would have seen a trophy that Napoleon would bring back to Paris about 1800 years later.
This trophy is the Winged Victory of Samothrace, standing at the entrance to The Louvre, it is one of the great treasures of France…or as the Greeks say, one of the great treasures of Greece…and we would like you to return it.
In any event, you are looking here at something that Paul and his company would have seen on this all-important journey.
Notice, too, that the dominant pronoun in the text we read from Acts today is “we.” The author, Luke, has now joined the party. Up until Chapter 16, he writes of “they.” Now he writes “we.”
They travel to Philippi. They go to a Jewish place of worship and find Lydia there. They sit and talk with the women…a risky thing for male strangers in a strange land to be doing…speaking to the local women.
But they are talking not of the love of this world, but rather the love of God in Christ by which the Holy Spirit has called them to that place.
Lydia is a prominent business person there and her heart is opened to the message they have brought with them. She is a devout woman who was seeking the deepest meaning in her life. This story that these men have brought across the sea with them has opened her mind to new horizons…new depths…a new wideness in God’s mercy.
She begs them to come stay at her house and…just like that…the Word has found a foothold on a new continent. It is no longer a Middle Eastern religion. It has gone global.
It has spread because a Macedonian called to Paul, a Jew…a Greek…a Roman…in a dream. It has spread because Paul was frustrated in his mission and was open to hear the call.
It has spread because they were not talking of themselves but of Christ.
“The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.”
The little band that Jesus gathered around him has now become a story of such great power that it can change the lives of those who tell it and those who hear it. Then those who hear it tell it and it changes their lives again.
It is not about any one of the Apostles. It is the story of all of them. They are not only called to listen…and hear …they are also called to go a spread the story that God’s love for Jesus …and Jesus’ love for his disciples… and his disciples love for the world …guided by the Holy Spirit… might transform the world and renew the love of God again and again in every city and farm and ranch and village…even ours… some day.
It happened because they understood, deep in their hearts, that “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.”
And it is still happening. But it has to be carried by people who know the story…have made the story their own (or the story has made them its own), and they have to risk so very much…all…that the truth might be known…and love might pour out in one more corner of one more valley…onto one more lakeshore.
Tomorrow, we will celebrate Memorial Day, and we pause to remember the men and women who gave their lives in conflict that we might have peace in our time.
My Grandma Addy always called it Decoration Day and after she moved from Shelby to the Flathead, my father and I always made a point of getting together to drive to Shelby to lay her plastic flowers on the family graves there.
You pause to take the long view when you kneel down to brush the dust out of the lettering and remember those who have gone before you. There would be a parade and a speech and the father of one of my classmates would blow Taps on the bugle for those who had died too young but for the cause that Jesus came, too…the cause of freedom.
It is a little early, but I want to recall D-Day, June 6, 1944, with you this morning. Our host father in France took my son Caleb and me to Utah Beach when we were there in 2005.
It is a place where thousands of men came ashore at once, throwing themselves against armaments inside reinforced concrete bunkers. Many of them would die. The question was whether they all would die…or would enough live to establish a beachhead.
There is a great seawall on the coast of France.
There are very few breaks in them and the invasion force would need an on-ramp to establish a sufficient beachhead. One of these was at Calais and the other was in Normandy, a couple of hours from Rouen. That is where Omaha Beach was located.
I took this picture by walking out to the water line at mid-day but I was at low tide and it was a high overcast day. Perhaps this is what it would have looked to young soldiers as the front gates dropped on the landing crafts and the hail of bullets hit them.
To make matters worse, the landing craft pilots were terrified, too, and they dropped the gates too soon, in water deeper than a man is tall. With all due respect to Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks, it was a lot worse then the opening sequence in Saving Private Ryan.
I once congratulated my father on how cool it was that he got to wear a helmet with a white bar on it. He had not been at Normandy, but he had seen action in Germany later in the war.
“That’s just so the Germans will know who to shoot first,” he said. “And there was a big white bar on the back of your helmet so if you turned to run, they would have something big to shoot at.”
Not one commissioned officer made it to the beach in the first wave of troops at Omaha Beach. Only one NCO made it and he was shot in the belly and the leg. After the first half day it was impossible to walk on Omaha Beach without stepping on a body.
Somehow, though, they made it. Rommel was away and Hitler had taken a sleeping pill. Since only he could give any orders, it was several hours after the invasion was underway that fresh orders could be given.
A company found a defilade in the terrain and gained the high ground. The Germans did not come out of their fortifications to push them back into the sea. It was a near thing, but it resulted in a decisive Allied Victory.
It was a close call, though, for freedom and democracy and self government. But the cost was high.
The cost was high for Jesus, too, and for his disciples, and the going got even rougher for Paul and Barnabas and Luke. The price was worth it.
Maybe that’s the decision people make where the odds are long and the truth and justice hang in the balance, whether you ponder it for a long time or find yourself confronted by a sudden emergency.
The message they had needed to be shared. It could lead to a better world, a better nation, a better community, better neighbors, better work and better lives.
That sounds to me like a special kind of peace…knowing that you are doing something important, for now and for a long time to come… for yourself and for all people… here and everywhere.
May we be truly grateful this day… especially to all those people we cannot thank for the wealth of information we enjoy…for the wealth of choices we have that never existed before…for the power we have to do good and to be better.
Maybe that is the greatest thanks we can pay to so many who have died for us…and for all of us in the world.
And “The worst thing that happens to you may be the best thing for you if you don't let it get the best of you.”
O Lord, what is it you want us to do …me to do…in the world this day? Amen.