God’s Misdirection

07 May

Acts 16:9-15

I’ve discovered some difficult things about God over the years.

~God rarely does what I want.

~God doesn’t do things the way I think God should.

~God doesn’t ever seem to do anything directly; always some roundabout way.

~God doesn’t hold efficiency in very high regard.

I only hope God knows what God is doing. Because a lot of the time I really don’t know. Once again, that’s not exactly how I’d like God to be, but it’s not like I have a choice in who God is or how God works.

One source of consolation I have in my confusion about God is that the early church seemed to experience God the same way. Right before this reading in Acts, Paul, Barnabas, Silas, and a new disciple Timothy are on a roll. They are going around sharing the new decisions made by the church leaders in Jersusalem. Everyone’s excited that anyone is now welcome in the church–Jewish or not. Everywhere they go, the churches are receiving this news, they are growing, the Spirit of God is working, all’s well.

So they keep going. Trying to go to the next church on their journey to share the news and bring encouragement. For some reason it isn’t working. They can’t get there. So they try the next church; can’t get there either. Obstacles, road blocks, hindrances, whatever. They aren’t able to get to the nearby churches to encourage them.

(As each site is mentioned, use the whole nave as a regional map: pointing out Jerusalem, Troas, The Aegean Sea, Samothrace, the Region of Macedonia, the cities of Neapolis, Philippi, and finally Thyatira). The only road left is the one southwest to port city of Troas. They weren’t sure what to do. But Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia calling for help. You’d think getting a vision from God would make things clear. But is anything really that clear from God? There are some questions. First, is this really a vision from God? Who is the man? Where in Macedonia are they to go? What is the “help” he’s asking for? After the group talked about it, and together they decided this was God’s direction for them. And off they went, sailing from Troas, stopping on the island of Samothrace, landing at Neapolis, and finally ending up in Philippi, where they hung around for several days–still not knowing what to do. Uncertainty? Confusion? Could be God at work.

Having no other direction, they figured they may as well go see if there were any church people around, so they went down to the river–apparently where religious people go when there’s no synagogue. And there they find Lydia who listened, whose heart was opened, who was baptized, and who hosted them in her home.

That’s all well and good. Except Lydia is from Thyatira, which was in the general direction they were trying to go in the first place.

Apparently, that’s how God works. God wants you to talk to someone east of here, so God sends you west. God’s geography makes great sense, doesn’t it?

How often does God do this kind of thing? Give away your stuff to become rich. Become like a child to become wise. Die to yourself in order to rise to new life. Sit at the lowest place at the table to get to the highest. Be last in order to be first.

At least God seems to be consistent in this kind of mis-direction. And, I have to admit, on those occasions when I catch a glimpse at what God is actually doing, I’m struck by the imagination of the God who is present with us. In order to talk to Lydia, who is from a city east of Paul, God sends him west.

Just when you think you have God figured out, you realize God was going a different direction the whole time. In the midst of confusion, God provides riddles. In the depths of despair, God brings surprises. Just when you’re sure things can’t get worse, God meets you when they do. When you’ve hit a dead end and can’t figure which way to go, God points in the opposite direction. When you’ve given your all and have no fight left, God says that’s OK, your fighting wasn’t very helpful anyway. When you need to talk to someone in the east, God sends you west. For several days.

So where do you feel most helpless? Where are you hitting a dead end? Where do you only see darkness? Where do you feel like you’re hitting your head against a brick wall?

I’ve discovered some difficult things about God. But I’ve also discovered some truly wonderful things about God over the years.

~God rarely does what I want.

~God doesn’t do things the way I think God should.

~God doesn’t ever seem to do anything directly; always some roundabout way.

~God doesn’t hold efficiency in very high regard. Love and mercy and compassion and relationships take priority.

God’s misdirection. This is good news for us, and for the world. Amen.

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Posted by on May 7, 2013 in Sermon


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