Scripture: Acts 16:6-15
I remember when I was growing up, one of things I liked doing on family road trips was looking at the Atlas we always had in our van. I have always liked maps, and I enjoyed following the paths of state roads on the maps to see where they started and where they ended. Of course, now that I am the one driving the van we do not have an atlas. We do not need one. In the 80’s and early 90’s an Atlas was a necessity for long trips in case there was an unplanned detour. It was necessary to have a map to figure out where to go. However, the internet made the atlas obsolete, and in 2003 Rand McNealy the main map publisher declared bankruptcy. The atlas was replaced by internet based directions like mapquest. In the 90’s and early 2000’s, directions could easily be looked up and printed off from any computer. Of course, the directions were not always perfect. Even today if internet directions say to take a “slight left” or a “slight right” I will probably miss or take the wrong turn. Today, though even printing directions off of websites is obsolete because now we have GPS systems like Garmin,Tom-Tom, and now even a smart phone can serve that function. We do not have to look up the directions in advance, we just give an address and we get turn by turn directions given to us in real-time. Of course, even these technological marvels are not perfect. One time a group of tourists at the Grand Canyon were looking for a location on the other side. The GPS told them to continue straight. Fortunately, common sense won the day and the tourists’ convoy did not continue straight as that would have had them driving right over the edge. GPS systems are also responsible for a dramatic increase in visitors to the tiny village of 94 people in France called Lourde. Pilgrims and tourists are often looking for the Lourdes cathedral, but leave the “S” off and end up visiting the quaint hamlet. Even though these GPS systems give us turn by turn directions, if you have ever used one then you know just how easy it is to still miss it, and when that happens you hear the inevitable “Recalculating.” Sometimes, the error that requires a recalculation is the machine’s fault, but more often than not it is our fault. I am sure this is not true for you, but I know for me when I make a wrong turn 90% of the time it is because I have my own thoughts about how to get where I am going and I follow my inclinations. Even if the GPS is telling me something different, I will follow what I think are the right directions. Every now and then I am right, but usually it is not I went the wrong way and even though it is a machine I swear it says “recalculating” with a judgmental tone. This morning’s scripture is a time when the Holy Spirit told Paul “recalculating”, and it reminds us that sometimes that our plans on how to get where we think we are going, do not always line up with God’s plans with where we should go.
As we continue our journey through Acts we have jumped ahead a bit. At the point where this morning’s scripture happens, Paul is in his second missionary journey to spread the gospel throughout the Roman Empire. This morning’s scripture can be a bit confusing at first because it starts with a lot of odd and hard to pronounce names. These names were of different Roman provinces. Paul began this morning’s scripture in the province of Asia, which is Modern day Turkey. Paul attempted to go to the province of Bithynia, which would have been to the East. However, the bible states that the Holy Spirit would not allow it. I have long wondered how this worked. Did it just rain really hard so that travel wat not possible? Did the road get closed for someone reason or could they physically not move that direction because the Spirit would not allow it. The bible is not clear on the details here, but it does make clear that Paul had it in mind to go East but the Spirit somehow communicated that East was the wrong direction. The spirit communicated to Paul in no uncertain terms, “recalculating.”
Paul’s vision of a man in Macedonia, led him the exact opposite direction he was planning on going. Macedonia is modern day northern Greece and it is to the west of where Paul was. Being obedient to this leading, Paul found himself in the city of Phillipi, which was in desperate need of ministry. The scripture records that on the Sabbath, Paul went to find a place of prayer. He did not go to the synagogue because there were not enough Jews present. There needs to be ten Jewish families in order to establish a synagogue. This means that Phillipi was truly new territory. It was a completely pagan city, wit very few who even had a point of reference to the one true God. Yet almost immediately, Paul connects with Lydia and her entire household comes to believe in Jesus as the risen savior. From this humble beginning the church in Philippi would become one that Paul writes in his letter to them, “I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.”
The Holy Spirit guided Paul to where Paul’s message and ministry were needed the most. Paul’s plans were to go East and the Spirit recalculated to have him go West. If Paul had gone East he would have still preached Christ death and resurrection, but God knew that Paul was going to be most effective in Macedonia. Paul wanted to go East as a way to faithfully fulfill his calling and mission, but the Spirit recalculated to bring him to a place where he could do it more effectively. Much like the scripture a couple of weeks ago about Tabitha, this morning’s scripture is not an extremely well known one. Yet, I think it is one that resonates with us. Perhaps it resonates with you because you have also experienced times when the Holy Spirit worked to recalculate your life. Often we hear this work of the spirit, this truth, expressed in the pithy saying, “When God closers a door, he opens a window.” I do not think that saying is quite right though. A window is a much less effective exit, and in fact is not specifically designed to be a way to get from one place to the other. It does not sound as cute, but a much better expression would be “when God closes a door, he then opens the right door.”
I know that for me personally, this is a scripture that resonates powerfully with me, because I have experienced its message in my life on multiple occasions. Every time I have switched ministry contexts, it has been an example of the Holy Spirit recalucating and leading us someplace that we would not have ended up without the Spirit’s guidance. Several years ago, when I first accepted my call to ministrybut was still trying to figure it out I also had a sense that I needed to switch to a more involved youth ministry position than the very, very part time one I was doing. I applied to several places. One of these places contacted one of my references, who just happened to that day have a conversation with a pastor in Indianapolis looking for a youth minister. Out of the blue, I got called by this pastor who I had never met asking me to come interview. This led us to Epworth UMC in Indianapolis, and it was absolutely the right spot at the right time for us. After four years and going through the ordination process, I knew that I would have to switch positions again. Epworth was still a part time position, and I really needed to be doing ministry full time. Once again, I sought out positions and applied to them. Once again, I got a call out of the blue from the pastor of Avon UMC. She had heard from someone that I went to seminary with that I was looking for a full time youth ministry position. Again, I fully believe that is was absolutely the right spot for us to be at the right time. After a few years there and a time of discernment, I really felt led that I needed to do ministry in a context that allowed me to preach more. This led me to apply and go through an in-depth interview process at another large Methodist church where I would have been the youth minister and preached weekly at a service for people in their 20’s and early 30’s. Yet again, I got an unexpected call from my district superintendent, telling me that there was an open church. When a church needs a pastor the PPR committee fills out a profile for the kind of pastor they want, and the DS said that he was asking me to consider this because I fit the profile perfectly. When the DS called, I was waiting to hear back from the other church, but I was confident and ready to start packing to move north. However, the Holy Spirit said “recalculating” and we went south instead to Edinburgh, to here.
In this morning’s scripture Paul was ready to move to a new area to keep doing ministry, and instead of going where he planned, he went where God led him. I can testify that God still works that way today, because that has been my experience. If we seek to be faithful at following God with our lives, then the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us to exactly where God wants us to be. When the spirit says recalculating in our lives, there are two easy ways for us to make a wrong turn that we should be aware of.
Chances are you know at least one person who is hyper-organized. This is the person who has a daily planner that is full of meticulously detailed notes. This is the person who has a color coded monthly calendar. This is the person who has a weekly objective, an annual goal, and a five year plan. This is the planner. Several of you might be a planner, and there is nothing wrong with that. You like to be prepared. You like to have a plan, and you like to know what you are going to do when you arrive to where you are going. If you are a planner, then that is a reason to be cautious. When it comes to seeking to follow God’s plans, we must be sure that it is God’s plans we are following and not our own. Once plans are made it can be very easy to stick to them no matter what, and we can be so sure about sticking to the plan that we actively resist how the Holy Spirit might be recalculating our course. Making plans is good, but when we make our plans so important that we deafen the spirit we can take a wrong turn. We can miss out on the way that we can most effectively follow God’s will in our lives.
The other easy way to make the wrong turn is the exact opposite. I know this is generalizing quite a bit, and there are TONS of exceptions, but in the past couple of years have you tried to make plans with someone in their early thirties? It can sometimes be an infuriating experience, because in general that generation does not like committing to be a certain place at a certain time. Obviously there are people in other generations who are this way as well, but commitment to social engagements is very low. There have been several studies into this recent phenomenon. It has been attributed to a “fear of missing out.” The idea is that social media gives us the illusion that there is always something better coming up on the horizon, so as a result we do not commit to things so we do not miss out on what might be coming. I do not know how many times over the past eight or nine years, I have invited teens to a church event (that I know they will enjoy) and have them tell me they are “too busy” or “they might come.” Of course later after they missed the event, I will see on social media that they made a post at the same time the event is going on about how bored they are at home. We can have a spiritual fear of missing out as well. God might be recalculating us to go one way, but instead of just going we hold tight. We wait, we make sure there is not a better or different option coming. When God says “go” we say “hold on” and when God says “now” we say “patience is a virtue.” We can miss out on God’s best plan for our lives because it passes us by. We ironically miss the opportunity because we are afraid of missing the opportunity.
In this morning’s scripture Paul experienced the Holy Spirit’s guidance and leading in his life. Paul was obedient to following the Spirit and it led to the creation of the church in Philippi. Today God still has plans in this world that we are privileged to join God in, and today the Holy Spirit still leads and guides us. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is leading you. Perhaps you feel the tug on your heart and soul to go a certain way or perhaps an opportunity that you have never considered has presented itself. Perhaps the Holy Spirit is at work in your life, and saying “recalculating.” If that is not true for you today, then if you faithfully seek to follow God it will be true someday. When that day comes, may you not take a wrong turn, but may you faithfully follow where God is leading and may you join God in reaching the lost and transforming the world.