6th Sunday of Easter “Forward into God’s Future”
May 22, 2022 Acts 16:9-15
Dear brothers & sisters in Christ,
‘May’ = the month of graduations. Between High School and College, my brother has 3 graduations to attend this year. The last time Bonnie & I had a HS grad was 2014. And what do all those commencement speeches talk about? The obvious thing: the future. What does the future hold for those excited, nervous grads?
But you don’t have to be a 2022 spring graduate to wonder what the future holds.
Our first Reading today is from Acts 16. Paul & Silas were wondering what the future held for them. Listen to the verses just before our Reading:
Paul and his companions traveled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
All of us can wonder: where is life taking me? We know that the sun will rise again in the morning, and the road-of-life will still be there in front of us, but what about the twists & turns? Thankfully, many days are very predictable; but then there are surprises. Even when we have God’s Word to prepare us for every up or down, things in life can still stun us, give us pause, or frighten us.
With Paul & Silas as an example, God’s people can learn to be confident that we don’t have to carry this burden of an unknown future by ourselves. Like Paul, we don’t know if the Lord will prevent us from going where we want, and send us somewhere else. But the very fact that the same Spirit of Jesus prevents one thing & allows something else is a great comfort to us that the Lord is with us, to guide & support us according to His good will. He navigates for us! This is a big part of the Christian Faith: entrusting our future into God’s hands for whatever comes next.
God’s specialty is to carry the future for you. We remember Jesus’ words of Matt.6 as he says, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow’. Jesus knows that you & I cannot carry that heavy burden of ‘the unknown’ tomorrow. But as God = He can. He carries the future for you.
He can lead you from thing-to-thing, each day, in His strength & grace. Remember when the people of Israel exited Egypt; they were expected to trust God each day to provide that manna-bread for them to eat == and they could not store it up for the next day. So it is with us as we pray: ‘give us this day our daily bread.’ Daily bread is all that He gives for the support of this body & life. Whether we read about /Abraham, /or Moses, /or queen Esther,
/or Mary & Joseph, /or Peter, James & John = each of their lives show the same lesson for us: We trust our future into God’s hands for whatever comes next.
So, in Acts 16, the Apostle Paul and Silas have their hearts set on taking a journey into Asia with the gospel of forgiveness in Christ; a good thing, right? And yet, The Holy Spirit prevents it. The word is even a little stronger than that: the HSp ‘forbids’ it. Why? Only God knows. And when they attempted to go into Bithynia, the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them. Why? Because Jesus had other plans for them. And yes, Jesus has His own good plans for you too. We each have some example of having a desire for our life, making a plan, and being prevented. God detours us to take another path. Now, our faith does not complain or cry
(for too long!) before saying: ‘Thank you, Lord. Your will be done.’
I remember being confused when my life-plan was to graduate from college with a nutrition degree, go thru an internship, & work as a hospital dietitian. It was a good plan,
a good career & decent pay. I graduated, but could not seem to get an internship, & it didn’t make sense. After about 6 months, I applied to the Seminary & was accepted. To me it looked like a detour; to God – it was His path for me. You know what I mean. +You have plans to live with good health, but there are some detours. +You had the desire of a certain relationship & marriage, but it didn’t go the way you dreamed. +And children = you planned for them to live close, but they’re far away. +You’ve had /money plans, /house plans, /job & career plans, /travel plans, /retirement plans = future plans! But things turned out differently than you planned. But … not differently than the Lord planned.
That’s what He says in Jeremiah 29:11, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” That’s what Jesus means when He says, ‘don’t worry about tomorrow.’ You are a child of God =by grace & faith= thru His Baptism promise to you.
You can trust that God cares for you more than you can measure. /God is all-knowing, ‘omniscient’, that means He cannot forget you; /He is omnipotent, all powerful, & that means that He can move things around you to make them happen; /God is love, that means He would never ignore you; /He is eternal, which means ‘time’, (past-present-future,) does not hinder Him in any way. The Holy Scripture shows us that He is faithful to His promises, He is faithful to His people, and He is always seeking those who have wandered off on a wrong path.
Now, for some reason, Paul was prevented from going into Asia at that time, and was
-instead- send over to Macedonia with the saving gospel message. And those people heard & believed in Jesus as the Lord & Savior. And also by God’s own gracious work, you & I have also heard that saving gospel message, and we have come to believe in the Lord Jesus too.
That’s how much God has loved you: that He literally & historically sent The Son of God to exchange His life for yours. By going to the cross, the price of sin =which is death= has been paid for, for us. His resurrection on the third day is the proof that everyone connected to Jesus is receiving a new life as a child of God with a future. Even when life throws a curve ball, or takes that downward spiral, or has stalled & is going nowhere. Your heavenly Father knows where it should go, and His Spirit will help us each day.
In a Lutheran Hour devotion, I read about J.R. Martinez. Upon graduating from high school in 2002, J.R. joined the army. After his basic training, he was deployed to Iraq in March of 2003. Two months later, a terrible thing happened. The Humvee he was riding in hit a roadside bomb. The explosion trapped him inside the burning vehicle. He suffered severe burns to 34-percent of his body. J.R. was evacuated to a military hospital in Germany, then brought back to the United States for 33 surgeries over about 3 years. Because of the burns on J.R.’s head & face he didn’t look like the same person, and he wondered what kind of future he could ever have. Was his life ruined?
During his hospitalization, J.R. discovered that he could help other burn victims. He sat with them & encouraged them the first time that they looked in the mirror. For many, the mirror causes a pain worse than the burns. But J.R. was there to let them know that life was not over; there could be a new purpose. By his faith, he dedicated himself to helping wounded warriors. He said, “I discovered that it is what is inside a person that matters most, and I wouldn’t change anything!” “I do believe everything happens for a reason, and I’m extremely grateful for that day because it led me into this life!”
J.R began a life he hadn’t planned on, but God’s care & blessing brought him to things he couldn’t imagine before. When the daytime drama “All My Children” was looking for a military veteran for the show, J.R. auditioned and he got the job. Then “Dancing with the Stars” called him. And, J.R. and his partner, not only were chosen for the show, they ended up winning season 13. In 2012, J.R. was the grand marshal of the Rose Bowl parade, and even took a ride on our Lutheran Hour Float. In this life, you may go to places you would never expect, but our Creator, the God of the Bible, who by Christ Jesus has opened heaven itself for you, He cares about your life, and is leading you with His purpose into the future.
I’m sure there were times the Apostles were frustrated & impatient with the things
God allowed or prevented in their lives; they had to learn the same lessons we have to learn. So, after being forbidden one plan, and then another plan not being allowed, God made clear to Paul what was next: “A vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.” (Acts 16:9-10).
When you & I are confused or worried about our lives, we also must listen for God’s guidance. For Paul, God used a vision; & that sounds quite intriguing & ‘spiritual.’ But for our time, God has developed a better way for us to hear Him & follow His will for our lives. It is God’s own perfect written Bible. When we apply those truths to our lives, we will see the good things we are to choose, and the right ways to live. As the Psalm said long ago: ‘your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.’(Ps.119)
God-the-Holy-Spirit makes the Bible a Living Word. The Scriptures are designed to bring us God’s clear voice of salvation, comfort, and guidance. Jesus’ teaching cuts thru the confusing noise of our wrong-headed world. After Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus to be the pastor there, he wrote some encouragement in his second letter, saying that God is “able to make you wise unto salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. For all Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the person of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2Tim 3:15-17).
We all wonder where life is going, & no one can see; but His Bible is His way of guiding us on His path each day. Not knowing everything is not really a problem for the Christian; because the tools of hope & wisdom & righteousness & trust are far better for us than advanced knowledge. And besides, the biggest promise & best gift of God is not given for the days of this earthly life; it’s reserved in a far better place = in God’s own kingdom.
That’s His goal for us, no matter how many detours He takes us on right now. Those that are trying to make their futures to be everything they desire are trying to carry a burden that’s too heavy; it leads to frustration, and -eventually- despair. It’s impossible for any human to bear the future without help.
Some of the soldiers that J.R. Martinez reached out to could not imagine a good future. Life had been unfair & left them wounded, physically & emotionally. They needed the voice of One who could help them put the past behind them and be able to look ahead to a future that had promise & purpose. Most of us have not had to suffer because of a roadside bomb; but all of us have had plans in life blow up in our faces. We have made wrong & sinful choices and have suffered loses for them. Others have caused us hurt & left a scar.
Thanks be to God that in Christ Jesus, the past or the present does not dictate the future; To bring us into a new future, Jesus arrived to address all past sin; and His cross shows the change He has brought to us; changing death to life, changing turmoil to peace.
So, how did things turn out for Paul & Silas after having been forbidden to go over to Asia, and after the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them to preach in Bithynia, & after God pointed Paul toward Macedonia? They had no idea how the future would unfold, but they had every reason to trust the wisdom & purpose of God. And so we read:
“… setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia, a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. And on the Sabbath Day we went outside to the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, …
… who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. After she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ (Acts 16:11-15).
Paul didn’t expect to be in Philippi. He didn’t plan to meet Lydia & her family. He was not able to see ahead of time that he would stay with her family, and plant one of the most vibrant churches in the New Testament times. But God knew, and led him on that journey. Thru the ups & downs, God carried Paul’s future faithfully. So, why would WE think that the all-knowing, all-powerful God would not do the same faithful guiding for us = His children? He will; He does.
So says Romans 8: ‘He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all; how will He not also give us all things.’ He will give us the things we need today, and the things we need tomorrow, until we reach the goal that God has graciously reserved for us in His own home.
In these days in May, at the graduation ceremonies, the commencement speeches will talk about ‘the future.’ The gospel message is this: The future belongs to those who are in Christ Jesus; the future is a gift being given to you because He has Baptized you as His own. Because He is trustworthy, you & I will receive our daily bread from Him with confidence and thanksgiving. He will continue to guide our future every step of the way.