4th Sunday after the Epiphany
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Acts 16:6-10 Sermon
January 31, 2010
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
57 "Bright And Glorious Is The Sky"
542 "Son Of God, Eternal Saviour"
342 "In Christ There Is No East Or West"
150 "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God"
SOMEBODY HELP ME!
TEXT: "6 Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. 7 When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. 8 So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. 9 During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, Come over to Macedonia and help us. 10 After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them."
As we go through life, there are many events that happen to us which teach us a lesson. I'm sure that each one of us could relate some story of a happening by which we learned an important lesson--and most likely it will be a lesson we'll never forget.
One such happening I remember goes back to the time I was in high school. This is something that actually happened to my dad; however I learned a lesson from it, and it's a lesson that I'll never forget.
I had come home from school one afternoon, and I was sitting in our living room watching television. As it was approaching suppertime, my dad came in the front door. He had been away from home for several days. At that time, he was on the board of trustees for Midland College in Fremont. The meetings would last for several days, so the college paid for motel rooms for the trustees.
This evening when dad came home, he looked especially worse for the wear, and he wasn't in a very good mood either. He muttered something about the length of the meetings, and the fact that he hadn't gotten much sleep the night before, because of the noise from a party in the next room at the motel. So he ate his food, took a shower, and went straight to bed.
A couple days later, our front doorbell rang. Two men in suits identified themselves as agents with the FBI. They wanted to see my dad; they had some questions they wanted to ask him.
So after they came in and were sitting at our dining room table, they asked him where he had been a couple days ago. My dad told them about his meetings in Fremont, and told them at which motel he stayed. Then they asked him if he remembered the car in front of the room next to his; and he told them that it was a green Mercury with Missouri license tags. They asked him if he remembered seeing anybody or noticing anything strange. And he told them that he had been kept awake all night long by thumping and knocking noises on the wall from the next room, which he thought was noise from a party. Then one of the FBI men said, "Well, at least we know she was still alive."
So what in the world had happened? A 14 year-old girl had been kidnapped in Missouri several days before; and the FBI had tracked the kidnappers down to that motel in Fremont, on the very night my dad was there, in the very next room. From the evidence they discovered, the FBI concluded that she had been bound and gagged, and placed in the bathtub that night; and she had spent the whole night knocking on the wall with her head trying to get someone to help her.
And what did my dad do? He grumbled about the noise, tried to shut it out, pulled the covers over his head, and snuggled deeper into bed.
Now it would be nice to say that this story has a happy ending, but it doesn't. Several weeks later, on a cold winter's day, they found this 14 year-old girl's naked and dead body in a farmer's field in Wisconsin.
I have no idea what this did to my dad internally, but I know he was greatly disturbed. I've heard him literally choke out the story only once, and I've told it only once myself. Because of how upset he was, I resolved to never tell the story again while he was alive. I didn't want to take the chance that he might read the sermon and dig up some very unpleasant memories from the past.
My dad learned a lesson, and it was at the expense of the life of a 14 year-old girl. Someone was crying out for help, and my dad ignored it, and regarded it merely as an unwelcome disturbance in his night's sleep.
I'd like you to keep this story in mind as we look at our text for today. This text isn't really one of those that jumps out and grabs you; but as we consider it today, I think that we'll be able to see just how important it is in the scope of Christianity.
Paul is on his second missionary journey. Paul and his companions had travelled through many areas, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ, and had finally arrived in Troas. Here we find Paul asleep. During the night, Paul has a vision. It's a man from Macedonia. "Come to Macedonia and help us," he says.
And what does Paul do? He immediately gets ready and leaves for Macedonia. Paul knows that God had called him to preach the Gospel to them, and so that's what he sets out to do. Paul and his companion Silas go to Philippi, which was a leading city in the Greek district of Macedonia.
Paul and Silas didn't have an easy time of it there either. Regarding this, Paul writes in 2 Corinthians chapter 7 verse 5, "5 For when we came into Macedonia, this body of ours had no rest, but we were harassed at every turn- conflicts on the outside, fears within."
They set about preaching the Gospel, but it got them beaten and thrown into jail. Even though they may have had second thoughts about going to Macedonia, yet Paul and Silas sat in jail, praying and singing hymns.
Even though Paul and Silas endured this hardship in Macedonia, there is so much that made it worthwhile. The conversion of Lydia and the baptism of her household, and the conversion of the Philippian jailer and his family are two of the dramatic incidents recorded for us in Acts 16.When we speak about the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, we frequently refer to these two events in Macedonia.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 7 verses 6-7, Paul writes with great joy after recounting his hardships: "6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort you had given him. He told us about your longing for me, your deep sorrow, your ardent concern for me, so that my joy was greater than ever." So another blessing from the Macedonian congregation was Titus, who became a great missionary in Crete.
And what about the Macedonian congregation in general? We know from the way Paul writes about them that they were an extremely faithful group. Paul uses them as an example of selfless giving in his letter to the Romans, and in his second letter to the Corinthians. In 2 Corinthians 8, Paul gives us an indication of what their Lord and his work meant to the Macedonians.
Evidently they had come under severe financial distress, and yet they begged--or as the Bible verse says, they "urgently pleaded" for the privilege of sharing what they had for the work of the Lord. They did this on their own, without any coercion, and without expectation. They wanted to share what they had, because they loved their Lord and his Gospel so much. Indeed, the Macedonian congregation was a source of much joy for Paul, and ultimately the Lord himself. Paul even made it a point to visit the Macedonian congregation on his third missionary journey.
We've talked about how much of a blessing this Macedonian congregation was. But as you think of these blessings, I want you to think for a minute how it all got started. Somebody disturbed Paul's night's sleep. Somebody said, "help us...please help us."
Granted it would have been so much easier for Paul to have rolled over, pulled the covers over his head, and simply ignored it. Yes that would have been the easy thing to do.
But look at that beautiful congregation and the people that would have been lost. Lydia...the Philippian jailer...and probably even Titus would have been forever lost and condemned. They WOULD have, had Paul taken the easy way out, regarding this vision as merely an unwelcome interruption in his night's sleep, and simply ignored that plea for help, rolled over, and had gone back to sleep. But we can be thankful that is not what Paul did.
As an assembly of Christians gathered together, we have some very important things to consider in relationship to our text for today. There are some important directives that stare us in the face all of the time. Think about those words of Jesus we know as the "great commission" recorded for us in Matthew chapter 28 verses 19-20: "19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you...."
Those are familiar words, right? But just how seriously do we take them?
Here we sit, a congregation of Lutheran Christians. We believe the Word that God has given us in the Bible. We believe that as Christians, we're to put that Word into practice. We profess the absolute inerrant truth of the Bible, and we keep it in our midst in its truth and purity. That's the very foundation of our faith and our church.
But the problem comes to light when we become so intent on keeping that Word, that we forget to share it. People will develop the attitude that the Gospel of Christ is for us and our children; and if anybody else wants anything to do with it, they can come and find us.
That's the characteristic of an inward-looking church. People become so intent on what the person in the next seat is doing, just waiting for them to slip up someplace, that everything else is neglected. An inward-looking church refuses to see and be a part of that which lies on the other side of the church doors. Those types of churches are the ones that sort of fizzle out and eventually die.
I heard a story once about such a church--and I understand it's a true story. This church was an inner-city church. When the neighborhood changed, the church continued to look inward, and refused to minister to the neighborhood in which it was located. As the members of the church moved away, some continued to come to the old neighborhood to church, but most of them joined other churches. The church grew smaller and smaller, and finally they were forced to close their doors for good.
The church sat empty for a long time, boarded up and abandoned. Then one night, lightning struck the steeple, and it started on fire. When the fire department came, the building was almost totally ablaze. The firemen entered the building looking for people. As they were leaving, a couple firemen picked up a plaster statue of Jesus and carried it out with them. They set it on the sidewalk, and continued to fight the fire.
The building was a total loss. The next day, people were driving by the building very slowly because of the sight they were seeing. For here stood this statue of Jesus, and behind it was the burned out shell of that church. One reporter opined that it took a fire to bring Jesus out from behind closed doors onto the sidewalk where he belonged.
How do we see ourselves fitting into all this? I think we're all agreed that we want to spread the Gospel, but are we prepared to do just that? We may be small, but we're comfortable just the way we are. We know who's sitting in church with us. Oh yes, we have our doors open in Sunday morning, and our service time is posted on the sign out in the front. Anybody can come in that wants to. But are we ready and willing to take Jesus out on the sidewalk--out into the world so everybody will know him as their Lord and Saviour, and have new life in his Name?
All we have to do is look at the message, the Gospel message, the message that Christ Jesus loves us so much that he laid down his life for us, the message that our sins are forgiven, the message that through faith in Christ alone we will be saved. This is the message that Paul was called to preach to the Macedonians. This Gospel was the foundation of all Paul's missions. This is the message we find throughout Scripture. Even little children know the words "Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so."
This beautiful message of forgiveness and salvation is indeed ours. We look to that precious message of forgiveness and we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that we have been forgiven for all of our sins through our Saviour Jesus Christ. We have been forgiven for all of those times that we have failed to share the love of God in Christ Jesus with others.
And this is our hope. It is the hope we will have on our dying day, and it is the hope we have here and now. This is the hope that God wants us to share with others in every way we can. By keeping this hope alive in our midst, we can then radiate that hope to others.
We know that God has called us by name and has redeemed us. We know that God has prepared a mansion in paradise for us, and as believers we will partake of that. But we must also remember that God has redeemed the world as well. God desires that the whole world would be saved from eternal death. And he asks us to be his ambassadors--ambassadors of the Gospel, and ambassadors of his love.
That 14 year-old girl kidnapped in Missouri, who was tied up in a bathtub in a motel room in Fremont cried for help in the only way she could. She spent the night knocking on the wall with her head, hoping that someone would hear her and respond to her plea for help.
My dad was probably her only hope of survival. Just a few feet away from his bed was a telephone. One phone call might have saved her. But instead, he regarded her plea for help as a mere disturbance in his night's sleep.
As Christians, we have the Gospel in our midst that not only saves us, but will save the whole world. We have a great deal of comfort in that Gospel. But there's a whole world outside of these walls. We may be the only hope that somebody has. We may make the difference for someone between eternal life and eternal death.
And how do we regard those pleas for help? Dare we venture out of our comfortable environment and answer those pleas for help, or will we simply snuggle in deeper trying to drown out those pleas and say, "Don't disturb us; can't you see we're trying to sleep?"
In our text for today, we see that this isn't what Paul did. He set about bringing the Gospel of Jesus Christ to those who needed it--sort of "bringing Jesus to the sidewalk;" because that's what Jesus himself did.
There are many opportunities to share the love of Christ with the world around us. There are cries for help in many different ways, and for many different reasons. To hear those cries, sometimes we have to listen carefully. Listen! Do you hear someone saying, "help me...somebody help me...somebody please help me....help me...please."
(the last phrase is read slowly while inconspicuously knocking on the pulpit)