Are You Going Where You Are Needed?

ACTS 16: 9-15
JOHN 14: 23-29

May 22, 2022

Yesterday afternoon, as I read the story of a coincidental meeting of two individuals who boarded the same plane … strangers as they went down the jetway only to become forever friends before they departed after the flight …. they had discovered that they needed each other in those moments. In their story, I was reminded of the lesson from Scriptures about chance meetings with people we don’t know … about opportunities lost … and perhaps a thought to contemplate as we journey forward from May 22nd in the year 2022. A vital question of faith and also an essential one as we consider the future of St. Paul’s in West Deptford, New Jersey. I want us to consider whether we are making decisions that answer the question ‘Are you going where you are needed?’ hopefully with our collective answers corresponding to our Sunday church connection and to our faith walk as Christians.

In Scripture, we read the clear directive that I was thinking of … “[1]KEEP LOVING EACH OTHER … LIKE FAMILY! DO NOT NEGLECT to OPEN YOUR HOMES to STRANGERS because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.” A little later in that same chapter, from the book of Hebrews, the reassurance of God is shared, “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.”

You just heard Jesus’ comments moments ago … “My peace I give you … do not be troubled nor afraid.”

Fear is our challenge isn’t it? Perhaps not in the sense that we think we will be physically harmed but fear of embarrassment … embarrassment in front of our friends, families, colleagues, and neighbors if we become activists for God and Christ. If we actually focus our lives on the teaching here <<SHOW BIBLE>> rather than elsewhere.

We might claim to not have time within our weeks for the God of Creation but it’s pretty clear we have plenty of time for a lot of other mundane activities … some humans actually make sure that they never miss watching and listening to millionaire talking heads on television whose focus runs directly counter to the God who teaches every person to love ALL of their neighbors and to care for the poor.

I think we fear going where God needs us to go … calls us to go … wants us to go even if it is across our streets. Too much time … too hard … I don’t have a witness ….

Yet, many in this church have a witness … we heard Pat, we heard Dave, we will hear Terry later today and others are already lining up to share their stories. So, are you a witness for God each day through your words and actions knowing that later today, tonight, tomorrow and even this coming Saturday you will be living a life connected with God’s mission? Or is that really asking too much … are you aligned elsewhere perhaps with one of those talking heads who make millions rather than the God of creation.

Stepping up for Jesus Christ one might say is ‘so hard Pastor Dave.” I have actually had people tell me that I am a pastor but they aren’t. As if that’s their easiest way of getting out of living a life of faith. That the job of talking about Jesus is mine not theirs. However, I have discovered through my 31 years of life that somehow Scripture doesn’t limit nor restrict ‘[2]Living for Jesus, a life that is true. Striving to please Him in all that I do” It’s not limited only to men and women called pastors.

Hmmm … yeah, that great hymn did come to mind as I thought about whether or not you and I are going where we are needed. It is a good connection to today’s question … are you striving to please Jesus in all that you do … living a life for God and Christ … do you know where you are going later today, tomorrow and for the rest of your life’s journey and are you going where you are needed? Needed for God’s purposes … using unique abilities and your faith connected works and actions not for your convenience but for God.

I know lots of church-going folks talk about love … loving neighbors because I know how each it is to say ‘I love ALL of my neighbors I really really do … as long as they don’t get me mad or frustrated or heaven forbid not live just like I do’. And, yes the two great commandments are to “LOVE GOD with all of our heart, soul, and mind and love our neighbors likewise.” But, Jesus declared in front of His disciples as the cross was approaching those words you heard today … “Whoever loves me will keep my word … whoever does not love me does not keep my words.” Jesus clarifies that His Words which you and I can find in the four Gospels and in the first chapter of Acts are “the words of the Father” who sent Him; you might know about Him … God; the BIG GUY in the SKY; the CREATOR of ALL THINGS … ALL POWERFUL … the ONE you want to be with when you are done here on earth. And, if you are starting to think about where you are going like uh breakfast at The Piston … in never mind ….

Actually the place to start as you think about where you are going are the last words of Jesus in Scripture … we can let Him teach us with His last words, which are captured in more than one place in the Bible but in Acts we hear Jesus say, “[3]YOU will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, in Swedesboro and Philly too, at the Jersey shore and to the end of the earth.” After Jesus said these things He was lifted up and a cloud took Him out of their sight.”

The expectation of God; one of the vivid realities of those who have actually read the words of Jesus Christ … those who have listened as the teachings of Jesus are shared understanding that faith is not about sitting back; faith is about action and taking on challenges being witnesses for God’s Kingdom not adherents to the interests of those on TV … whose sole purpose is division for the sake of power and ratings and self enrichment.

But, the reality is that we have so many voices don’t we …oh my goodness there are so many voices … that tell us don’t do it; definitely do not welcome the stranger nor tell anyone about God … don’t help the poor they deserve what they have …do justice oh just hush instead … leave your Jesus-connection to a mere hour a week and then fit into the world with comfort and safety for the remaining 167 hours; that’s the way to get through life and be sure you teach your kids that lesson so they don’t slip up and help any or those strangers or show love to the people we don’t think fit in with us.

Of course I could mention that in Paul’s letter to the early church in Rome he wrote, “[4]Welcome all others in the same way that Jesus Christ welcomed you, for God’s glory … for the sake of God’s truth!” Job who was challenged in so many ways never forgot that God might need him merely to help or change the life of his fellow human being and he says, “[5]But, no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was ALWAYS open.”

We heard today about Paul’s vision … friends do you ever dream or sense that perhaps God is calling out to you? To go on a mission trip? To volunteer at Vacation Bible School? To find businesses to support your church? To invite old uncle Joe to church?

Paul sensed that he was to help this man in Macedonia … a stranger to Paul but he just knew this man needed him … he needed Paul specifically not Pastor Dave not John, George or Ringo … Paul. Maybe LOVE was all he needed.

And, even though in Paul’s dream it was a man in Macedonia who was calling out for help somehow Paul was needed for someone else.

Isn’t it amazing friends that when we decide to follow God’s call … when we volunteer to help the homeless or feed the hungry through Family Promise or teach Sunday School or help with the crafts at Vacation Bible School or go to Red Bird or to bring someone to church that side benefits happen? That the unexpected blessings of God pour out … something you never planned on because all you were doing was following God’s call to go in one certain direction … you thought you had figured it out but you trusted God … you were not afraid … you didn’t worry about criticism from family or work colleagues … you prayer, you read Scripture and then you just went ahead and did it … well God works in mysterious ways friends when we give God our GPS and that happened with Paul!

On the Sabbath … they were looking for a place to pray … and there were a group of women whom Paul and his crew did not know. TOTAL STRANGERS … down by the river …. They had “[6]gone down to the river to pray; studying about that good ol’way and who shall wear the starry crown. Good Lord show me the way.”

Oops … one of those women was named Lydia … she dealt in purple cloth and we read she was a God-worshipper … she listened and embraced Paul’s message. She and her entire household were baptized!

If Paul had not paid attention to the dream of the man In Macedonia then perhaps Lydia and her family would never have discovered Jesus. Strangers along a riverbank … an accidental meeting because Paul and his friends were just trying to find a place to pray and they started a conversation … that led to Jesus being alive in Lydia!

And, what about you … where is God calling? This church needs you so that St. Paul’s in West Deptford continues to grow and you can help make sure that the hungry are being fed and Jesus Christ’s love shared in 2035 just as is happening today … This church needs you to take on missions in the world … to bring delight in the Lord to children whose parents perhaps have packed Jesus and God away but through VBS and Sunday School we can share the light with those kids from our community … Kentucky might be calling next year after your friends said don’t go this year. Maybe it’s a brand new mission. We need someone to coordinate our fun-filled night with the Phillies rather than everyone thinking LET MARY ANN do it … or let the STROCKS do it … or the FISH FAMILY or the BRANYANS … or the RUTTERS I don’t mean to leave those out others who take on every challenge of St. Paul’s but if you know your name is never mentioned in the conversation as taking on the work of our church that we love … are you afraid or embarrassed to help? We all have skills and abilities and we all know how to talk to friends and family about the news and politics and sports and food so why not church and Jesus?

And, the amazing ending of Paul’s following God’s call was that Lydia welcomed this stranger named Paul and his friends into her home to eat and spend the night. She knew where she was going and how she was needed. Do you? AMEN

[1] Hebrews 13:1
[2] ‘Living for Jesus’ composer Thomas O. Chisholm
[3] Acts 1: 8 & 9
[4] Romans 15:7
[5] Job 31:32
[6] Down to the River to Pray composed by Alison Krauss

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