God’s Work In Our Lives

This morning’s sermon – enjoy!

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Acts 16:9-15
John 17:20-21, 25-26

God’s Work In Our Lives

Look at these shells.

They are beautiful, aren’t they?

I picked them on a Thursday morning on Captiva Island in Florida in January of 2011. I had flown into Florida the day before to interview for a job at a church on Sanibel Island.

My phone rang while I was picking up shells; I looked down – it was Bruce. He was in New York City, which was in the process of digging out after (what the media was dramatically referring to as) “Snow-mageddon 2011” hit the northeast. The following conversation ensued:

Sarah: Hey – what’s the snow situation up there?
Bruce: Sarah – there is SO much snow! They are reporting over 20 inches in Central Park. The entire city is actually shut down, it’s crazy! I have never seen anything like this before.
Sarah: Wow!
Bruce: So what are you doing?
Sarah: Well … I’m walking on the beach picking up seashells. It’s a beautiful morning – I think it is supposed to hit 80 degrees today!

::silence::

Sarah: Are you still there?

I never confirmed this, but I have a feeling that in that moment Bruce probably debated hanging up on me.

My flight home was delayed that afternoon, giving me a lot of time alone to think. I thought while I walked the beach, while I took pictures of the ocean and while I stared at the palm trees out the windows of the airport.

I thought about the church, the people I had just met and the position that I was interviewing for.

I thought about how frustrating the search and call process was – and how badly I wanted to find a job; to be settled into a pastoral position at a church so I could really begin my vocational ministry.

When I finally made it home to Connecticut I continued to think about all of these things. I thought throughout the weekend and until Tuesday evening when I received a phone call from the chair of the search committee at that church in Sanibel.

They offered me the job.

I should have been ecstatic. Not only had I been offered a job and not only had I been offered an opportunity to be in ministry with good and kindhearted people that I really enjoyed meeting and spending time with, but – y’all – I had been offered a job in Sanibel Island! No one in their right mind turns down a job in Sanibel Island.

But something else happened that weekend. In the midst of thinking about this church in Florida, I also had a conversation over Skype with a search committee at a church in Rehoboth, Massachusetts.

And there was something about that conversation that I couldn’t quite shake.

So the next day – while it sleeted outside – I made a phone call and turned down the job in Sanibel Island.

I visited Rehoboth for the first time the following weekend. And that I feeling that I couldn’t shake after our conversation? It got stronger. And it actually started to make some sense to me.

When the call came from the chair of that search committee offering me that job, I did not hesitate – or talk to Bruce about it, actually – to accept.

You know, you never know when God is doing something great in your life and how it will affect the people you meet along your journey.

Less than two months later, as I was packing for our move to Rehoboth, I came across the shells that I had brought home with me from Sanibel. Truth be told, I was not exactly sure what to do with them. I was not really sure what they represented to me at that point.

The answer to that question becomes clearer and clearer to me the longer I engage in ministry within this community.

I put the shells in my office here at the church. Because besides taunting me throughout the cold and snow-filled New England winters, I think they represent a small piece of a larger story about God’s great work in our lives.

Let’s look at the first two verses of this morning’s passage from the book of Acts again:

During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. {Acts 16:9-10}

It is imperative for me to point out that Paul did not originally intend to go to Macedonia. At this point in his ministry, Paul was traveling with two men, Timothy and Silas; they planned to journey next to the Roman province of Bithynia in the northern province of Asia Minor. But a man came to them in a vision and asked them to move in a different direction.

And they followed this voice and ended up in Macedonia, a place that we know today as Greece.

And this is how Christianity was brought to Europe.

You never know when God is doing something great in your life and how it will affect the people you meet along your journey.

We are in the midst of the Easter season at the church. In the Christian year – the one that starts at the beginning of Advent, at the very end of November or beginning of December – Easter is not simply a one day celebration; it is a season that lasts for several weeks.
Clergy continue to wear their white Easter stoles and themes of resurrection permeate throughout the music and liturgy. During this season preachers often take the opportunity to focus on texts from early on in the book of Acts, ones that show how the church really began to take form, grow and expand.

This Easter season reminds us the Christian Church did not just experience the resurrection once on that first Easter morning. The Church has experienced – and continues to experience – the resurrection every single day. We are Resurrection People; we live in a post-resurrection world, one where we know how the story of Jesus on the cross ends. And as Resurrection People we not only celebrate that story, but we also celebrates God’s continuing presence in in our lives today.

This story from Acts – a story about three men traveling to a new place to share the Gospel, meeting a woman Lydia and baptizing her and her family, expanding this new church to include the Gentiles – shows us tangibly how the Christian Church began to spread throughout the world. But it also reminds us that God is as much as part of our stories as we are. God pushes us in unexpected ways to unexpected places to share our stories and invite others into our faith and into our communities.

Paul planned to travel to the northern province of Asia Minor to share the Gospel; but God nudged him in another direction. And something pretty spectacular happened.

I turned down that first job offer because I felt as though God was nudging me in another direction. And I believe that something truly spectacular is happening here in this community.

But isn’t that what the Christian faith is all about? Heeding God’s call for us in our lives and watching in amazement as spectacular things happen?

Christ’s resurrection was a monumental moment that changed history and acted as a catalyst for a new religious tradition.

But the resurrection did not end there. It has continued within the lives of Christians over the past 2,000 years and it continues within our lives today. God works in the most mysterious of ways and places, moving us in new and different directions, yet continues to unite us as the Body of Christ along the way.

The gospel passage that we heard earlier affirms this to us as we are reminded of Jesus’ prayer to God, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,” – every single one of us – “that they may all be one.”

I read something this week that I thought was worth sharing. Kathryn Matthews Huey, author of a preaching resource called “Sermon Seeds” reflected on this passage from Acts and said the following:

The journey of Paul and Silas into new and unexpected place, in ministry with new and most unexpected people (women! Gentiles!), is the story not only of the early church but of the church throughout the ages. As we embark on God’s mission in our day and in our own setting as well as around the world, we are more, together, than simply the sum of our parts: we are the Body of Christ, at work, in the world that God loves. {Sermon Seeds Year C: Inclusive Reflections for Preaching from the United Church of Christ, by Kathryn Matthews Huey, page 133}

I passed East Providence High School yesterday and the marquee under the sign read, “Your story matters.” So true. Your story does matter. The way God is working in your life matters – it matters here in this church and it matters within the Christian story.

We will close our worship service this morning by singing the Easter hymn, “Christ Is Alive!” This reminds us to celebrate the resurrection every single day and listen to God’s still speaking voice nudging us along our journeys.

You never know when God is doing something great in your life and how it will affect the people you meet along your journey.

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

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