Here and There and Everywhere

The Rev. John Lane. This sermon is based on Acts 16:9-15.

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.”

The official name of the Episcopal Church is—let me take a deep breath here—The Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of the Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. When the Church was founded, following the American Revolution, settlement west of here was sparse. There were many growth possibilities for the nation and various churches. It was all wide open. Our leaders knew we needed a “Missionary Society.”

Missionary activity began very quickly in the new nation. As the story goes, the Baptists went west on horseback. Them the Methodists followed by stagecoach. The Episcopalians waited a while for Pullman cars to be invented. As a good friend of mine—naturally a lifelong Episcopalian—puts it, “My idea of camping is having no chocolate on the pillow.” She is definitely a Pullman-style missionary.

The word missionary means “one who is sent.” This happened to Paul after he fell to the ground on his way to Damascus. He learned God had chosen him to spread the Good News. In today’s lesson from Acts, he is called in a vision to “come over to Macedonia and help us.” Visions are one way God communicates with us.

Though we try to take care of our own—and do a pretty good job as long as we are kept informed—the Gospel calls us to look and move outward whenever we can, whether we are inclined to or not. Surprise! Jesus sometimes calls us to do things we really rather not do.

Many years ago, a friend of mine was in New York City and went to visit the magnificent St Thomas Episcopal Church on Fifth Avenue. (This church is best known in Staunton because of two things: its Taylor and Boody Organ; and chorister Jonathan Bolena who is currently attending the St Thomas Choir School.)

As my friend was walking around, looking at the stained glass and the famed stone reredos behind the altar, he heard someone playing the organ quite masterfully. When he got to the front and was able to see the organist, he almost dropped his teeth. Sitting at the keyboard was the famous Albert Schweitzer.

We know Schweitzer as a missionary doctor in Africa, but before he took up medicine in his 30’s, he was one of the greatest organists in the world, specializing in reviving interest in historic instruments—hear that John Boody? What a concept! In addition, he was arguably the most important New Testament theologian of his time. His book, The Quest of the Historical Jesus (1906), is behind the work of many 20th and 21st century biblical scholars. The quest of the historical Jesus goes on.

Like Paul’s vision calling him to leave what is now Turkey to do missionary work in Macedonia, now part of Greece, Schweitzer heard and answered the call to missionary work in West Africa, now Gabon. He was called to Africa. He was sent by God. Most people today don’t know he was ever an organist or a theologian. His name is a household word because of the thousands of patients he saw and healed and had compassion upon in his third calling. Because of work in West Africa, he won the Nobel Peace Prize. He died in Gabon, age 90, in 1965.

In 1990, I asked Trinity members to complete a questionnaire about volunteer work and charitable giving. Probably 60% of our members responded. We distributed the surveys during church services, and wouldn’t let anyone leave who hadn’t filled it out. The completion rate was thus quite high. Those who escaped scrutiny were those who didn’t come at all those several Sundays.

The survey uncovered 105 ways in which Trinity members were already engaged in good works outside the parish. This was Ministry of the Baptized and deserved to be blessed. All this energy was being spent outside the parish.

What are we, as a church and as individuals, called to do? Where is God sending us? In my opinion—warning: I’m quite well informed but also terribly prejudiced—Trinity is already answering the call to mission more than any other congregation in Staunton: Noon Lunch, Haiti, Honduras, Ridenour, choir singing to shut-ins, Habitat, Hospice, Free Clinic, to name a fraction.

Most of us can’t do everything, though I could name a few who seem to try. What can you do? What might you try? What ministry might you start? If you’re too busy to get involved right now, remember to pray for those who are making Jesus known near and far. We know them by their fruits.

I’ll end with this from St Alban’s Church, El Cajon CA:
Let us feed the hungry,
House the homeless,
Stop the killing,

And provide medicine for the sick.
When we have accomplished
That, we can sit around
And argue about religion.

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.”