Acts 16:9-15—“Come Over and Help Us”
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.” 10When 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.
11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On the Sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Who was the “man of Macedonia?” Perhaps he was an angel, or a vision. Paul is in Asia Minor, today called Turkey. Paul is doing mission work, teaching people about this new faith and about Jesus Christ, Lord of Heaven and Earth.
The man from Macedonia calls Paul and his traveling companions to come over to the other side of the Aegean Sea—to Macedonia, part of Greece.
The person telling the story (that’s why there are the ‘we’ sections) is Luke, the author of the Gospel of Luke and Acts of the Apostles.
Paul and Luke and some others follow Paul’s normal M.O.—to find people who worshipped God and then tell them about Jesus. Paul would share the good news (the gospel) at a public place where groups of people gathered.
So, this is exactly what they did—down by the river, Paul’s band finds a place of prayer, spoke to the women. One in particular, Lydia, is converted.
Now, this all started with the nudging of God’s Spirit “Come over to preach the good news (Gospel) to the Greeks.”
I want to take a moment and ask how do we apply this angelic vision of “Come over and help us” to our ministry today.
Of course, we would all agree that God is calling us to preach the Good News in Murrysville, Export and beyond.
Yet, I want to unpack this a little bit because I believe there is a reality we need to be aware of in the year 2010 in terms of preaching the good news.
The day I arrived Murrysville there was an article in the USA Today which said there are 30%–highest percentage ever—of people born after 1980 that have no religious affiliation in the US. 1/3 of the people under 30 have no religion and a great many of those have never been inside a church, except for perhaps a wedding or funeral.
That is a bruising fact for a preacher. So, then I did some research.
In the last 20 years, the number of people who call themselves Christian has dropped by 11%. Includes every denomination—Megachurches, UCC, Baptist, Methodist, Catholic.
Another bruising fact.
Perhaps the most bruising fact of all for you and for me—in 1990, the year I graduated high school, the percentage of people in the US saying they have no religion was 8%. That has nearly doubled in the 20 years since then to 15%–32 million people. (As a comparison, the population of Pennsylvania is around 12 million).
Yes, Lord, we need help.
“Come over and Help us”
How do we Christians get from the angelic call for help to the end of the story that ends with the baptism of Lydia, conversion?
Now, I want to talk to you a little bit about this opportunity. And Why I think Christianity is in the situation it is today.
I don’t think that the 32 of the American population have turned their back on God (willfully). Sure some of them have but I would guess, not the majority; they have drifted away, disinterested.
If you would like further embellishment over this timeline, I highly recommend to you the works of Gil Rendle from the Alban Institute. A speech of his provides the basic outline of what follows:
First, those of you who are of the Greatest Generation—Rendle points out that there was a pretty good convergence between the values of the Gospel and the values of the wider society in America. Delayed gratification was an American value. If you wanted to buy a washing machine or a kitchen table, you saved up for it and paid cash. And in the Great Depression, it was not a great leap to “the last shall be first, and the first shall be last” from the Sermon on the Mount. That verse made sense to people. The individual self took a back seat to family; sacrifice over success. There was, more or less, a 1-to-1 correlation between the American Dream and the values of the Gospel. Congregations flourished.
Enter the 1950’s—Credit Cards started in the 50’s. The typical ‘Middle Class Lifestyle’ started in the 1950’s. Instead of deferred gratification, it becomes possible to buy on credit. There’s no longer a reason to defer enjoyment, possessions, and so on. So, the U.S. took a small step away from Biblical values. For example, the Gospel words about being rewarded in heaven if you suffer here—get stranger and stranger sounding to American ears. Who wants to suffer?
I am not sure, but I would imagine that the term ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ may have been popularized in the 50’s. Every housewife should have a dishwasher. Every household should have a car and so on. And without knowing it, another tiny step further away from the gospel.
The 60’s and 70’s continues that step. There was a lot of talk about finding yourself. The individual became front and center, not the community; Not the family; but me, getting what I needed now. Another step away from the community values of the gospel. Small step but a step, none the less.
In the 1980’s—90’s—2000’s, the pace of change accelerated. What was a time of cultural sameness in the 1930’s and 40’s has become with computers/internet/satellite/mass transit, a culture of immediacy; of diversity; of information overload; and of difference.
For many people in the culture beyond these walls, the church and the gospel are confusing. Look at the terms we use in church–The gospel, Pentecost, redemption, Old Testament, New Testament, covenant—those are all words that make sense to you and me because we’ve heard them all our lives, makes no sense to the 30% people my age and younger who have never been inside a church.
The same way you feel lost when you pick up a cell phone or tv remote or laptop. That feeling of being lost is the same for the youngest American generations. I, for one, am lost in the world of IM, text-messaging, call back numbers, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth. I know how to dial and I know how to answer. How you and I feel about technology is how much of America responds to the Good News of Jesus Christ in the year 2010.
Christians have to find a way to translate the values of the gospel into modern terms. That’s the challenge that Gil Rendle articulates so well and we must take up.
Christians in America in 2010 have two options. One, we could get all depressed and mopey. The Church (not just this church but Church with capital ‘C’) will never be what it was in 1953. And ‘ain’t that a shame’?
Or, two, we can dig a little deeper, acknowledge we face challenges—noticing all the while that they similar to the challenges Paul faced in Philippi—preaching the gospel in a culture that finds the gospel foreign. We can say that this is a unique time in the life of Christianity. Yet, we can also say, it’s a time where God’s Spirit is leading us, just as the Spirit led Paul so many thousand of years ago.
“Come over, and help us”