“From Ephesus to Jerusalem”
16 September 2012
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Church
Acts 20:17-38, 21:1-20a[i]
All aboard for Sunday school!
Our ship is setting sail this September;
Be certain you are on board!
We came aboard a ship on the Sea of Galilee,
Where wind and waves were crashing,
Our Lord Jesus was sleeping,
And his disciples were having a panic attack.
Waking him in fear of being lost at sea,
Jesus stills the wind and waves,
Demonstrating his power and authority,
At the same time
Drawing attention to the necessity of faith.
Since this occasion of Divine, miraculous intervention
A boat has been used as a helpful symbol for the Christian Church.
Today, the boat of Christianity
Sails a different sea, with a different group of people,
Yet to similar ends.
We join the Apostle Paul and his followers
As he begins a journey similar to Jesus ascending to Jerusalem
- to our Lord’s Passion, death, and resurrection.
Paul, also, is starting his final apostolic journey;
One that begins in Ephesus,
Leads to his arrest in Jerusalem
And eventually to his imprisonment and death in Rome.
Paul’s pilgrim progress is made by boat.
While last Sunday the focus was on the boat and the journey
Today I’d like to draw attention to Paul’s ports of call
- to the stops along the way in his journey.
Instead of a one day journey to the other side,
As was the case with Jesus,
Paul’s travels to multiple ports across a far larger Mediterranean Sea:
That the Way might be proclaimed,
Miracles might be performed,
And communities of new disciples might be encouraged and fed.
Each port has a message;
Paul begins in Ephesus.
In Acts, chapter 19, verse 21 reads:
“Paul resolved in the Spirit to go through Macedonia and Achaia, and then to go on to Jerusalem.”
Paul was resolved in the Holy Spirit to move on.
Paul had worked in Ephesus for two years,
Casting out demons,
And establishing his authority -
All with stunning success.
Paul even faced off with silversmiths who created statuettes of Artemis in the Temple of Artemis,
Because Paul’s “the Way” or “the Gospel” (as we know it) threatened their trade.
Furthermore, Paul had divided the local Jewish community;
Half were converted into Christ followers,
While the other half remained Jews.
Paul had won over many Gentiles
Swelling the local members and friends of Christ.
In Ephesus, Paul was at the top of his game
Yet the Holy Spirit told him to move on
And so he did.
One doesn’t often hear of someone moving on at the height of their effectiveness
In the prime of their career.
Yet, here the Apostle Paul sets an example for all of us to pay attention to:
When the Spirit calls,
The faithful response is,
Yes, Lord! I will go where you send me!
If the Spirit wants me to move on, then I will move on.
The message is the same:
Proclaiming the risen Christ,
The message is the same:
Regardless of the setting.
It is one thing to listen to the call of the Spirit,
We all have those calls,
It is quite another to have the faith and the fortitude to
Actually follow through and do the will of the Lord.
Paul listened and got on the boat,
And so can you, too.
Each port has a message;
Paul travels to Philippi.
Paul plans to celebrate Pentecost in Jerusalem,
But first he detours to celebrate Passover in Philippi.
Like Jesus making his way to Jerusalem,
Paul makes a short crossing of the Aegean Sea
From modern day Turkey to modern day Greece
To the city of Philippi,
Because, we read, he was avoiding threats on his life.
Like Jesus, Paul would not be prematurely arrested or killed.
The Holy Spirit called him to go to Jerusalem
And so he would.
His short side trip to Philippi was only a temporary detour.
He would not be there long;
He only had 7 weeks to get to Jerusalem.
Philippi, at only 10,000 citizens was, a mere fraction of the size of Ephesus.
All citizens were immigrants from Rome.
There was no Jewish presence, neither were there Greeks; only Roman Gentiles.
A former Jew who persecuted Christians,
After being converted and made an Apostle of Christ
Comes to a Gentile village and celebrates Passover?
Paul recognizes an opportunity when he sees one!
In short order, just a few days,
Paul establishes a house of worship
And integrates his practice of ancestral faith with belief in Jesus Christ.
From big city to small town,
From Greek to Roman to Jews,
From Asia to Europe,
Paul is seeking opportunities to spread the Gospel,
To share the way
All-the-while he is in transit to his final destination.
It is to this newly established community of Christ followers that Paul will soon write while on death row in Rome.
One doesn’t usually experience
Changes in plans,
Being thrust into new and diverse settings,
Facing uncertain transitions
With an attitude of excitement and opportunity.
Change is a disruption in our routine and it often makes us grumpy!
Yet, Paul embraces this change
And immediately sees
- not the negative –
Rather, Paul sees the positive
- the opportunities –
To share the Good News of Christ crucified and risen from the dead.
The message does the conviction,
But it is the messenger who sets the attitude
That will determine if it is enthusiastically accepted
Or rejected due to resistance and negativity.
Be positive like Paul.
Embrace transitions and challenges in life as opportunities,
And get in the boat
For this great Christian voyage.
Each port has a message;
Paul visits Alexandra Troas.
Heading back East to modern day Turkey,
But not quite back to Ephesus,
Paul travels by boat to Troas (as it was known by this time),
A sprawling city of about 100,000 people.
Paul has reemerged into a multicultural metropolis.
His time is short, only seven days.
With Apostles sent ahead and with the local Christian community
The Apostle Paul joins them for an intense period of teaching, prayer, and fellowship dinners!
(Yes, some things never change)
Because time is short,
Paul teaches late into the night.
One sleepy student accidently falls out of a window and is killed.
Paul rushes to his side and immediately resuscitates him
Then resumes teaching!
Now that is one dedicated teacher!
The message of Troas
Is that proclaiming Christ and working miracles go hand in hand.
I’m sorry if you don’t believe we live in an age of miracles;
But we do.
Because Christ is proclaimed from this pulpit,
And when we share Christ in the streets and homes by our words and our actions,
Then we shouldn’t be surprised when the miraculous takes place.
We should expect the works of God
To go hand-in-hand with His proclaimed Word.
We should expect cure.
We should expect healing.
We should expect accidents that never happen, if that is according to God’s will.
We fail to see God’s everyday miracles when they don’t meet our expectations,
And we are WOWed by surprise when awareness of the miraculous is sudden.
Expect the miraculous,
And get into the boat;
All because Paul put a boy to sleep and he fell out of a window!
Each port has a message;
Paul sails to Miletus.
Sailing East, just beyond Ephesus,
The Apostle makes landfall at one of the greatest cities of the former Greek Empire: Miletus.
He was probably at the mercy of the captain whose destination was Miletus.
Here, he sends for the elders of Ephesus to join him …
One last time.
They were longtime friends and fellow Christians.
They had worked hard together in the mission field over the past 3 years
And their success spoke for itself.
They are only a short distance away, so they quickly assemble.
Paul’s speech to them is reminiscent of Jesus speaking to his disciples in the Upper Room
Preparing his disciples for his eventual absence.
Some have called it a farewell charge, a speech of succession, a commission, even a last will and testament.
What Paul does is to teach his colleagues to continue his work in his absence.
He isn’t coming back.
He is headed to Jerusalem and his arrest.
Paul commissions them to
Be faithful leaders,
Who do not measure the cost or weigh the suffering.
Paul tells them to place the needs of the congregation above their own welfare
Above their personal gain
And to guard the Church against every threat.
“Savage wolves” will come from within and from the outside attempting to destroy the Church.
“Therefore, be alert!”
Lastly, help out the weak, Paul commands.
“For it is more blessed to give than to receive.”
The message of Miletus
Is that, like Paul, we must be in the business
Of preparing, training, and commissioning our Church leaders of tomorrow.
The day will come when the Welker name will be forgotten,
When Goddard will be dust,
And when the rest of us will be no more.
Paul was very intentional about making certain the Message would outlive him.
How about you, and me?
Are we confident that we’ve done all that we could do
To teach and prepare tomorrow’s Church?
We must pray for every baptized child,
Fill our Sunday school with children,
Guide them into their youth,
Support them in their college and emerging adulthood.
We must never give up and never give in
When it comes to preparing the soil for tomorrow’s Church to grow.
We have to be ready to hand over the keys
When our time is done.
Each port has a message;
Paul arrives at Caesarea to begin his final walk to Jerusalem.
Paul finally makes the much longer and final voyage east to Palestine
Passing Cyprus and stopping in Tyre,
Landing at the principal Roman port city of Caesarea.
Here, he stays a short time with Philip, preparing himself for his final walk to Zion.
Something unusual happens:
An omen of danger is sent to Paul
In the form of Agabus from Judea.
He asks for Paul’s belt.
He takes it, and uses it to begin to tie himself up as if he were a prisoner bound by the law.
“Thus says the Holy Spirit,” Agabus proclaims
‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’”
Sounds very Old Testament, doesn’t it?
Very prophetic: Isaiah and Jeremiah running around in sack cloth
Proclaiming doom on the nation.
It would be very easy for Paul to be creeped out by this omen
Telling him, and showing him, how he will be arrested.
Yet, Paul, confident of the Holy Spirit and of his charge, responds:
I am ready to be bound.
I am ready to die.
I am ready to go to Jerusalem for the name of the Lord,
That the Lord’s work might be done.
Wow. Just plain wow.
Paul will suffer, like Jesus, for what he says about Jesus.
Yet, his steadfastness
- Paul’s solidarity with Christ –
Is a sign
Is an example for all of us to obtain.
Wesley would call this sanctification,
When the difference between Christ and yourself cannot be seen.
Perfection comes when we become the Christ,
Living his ways,
And proclaiming his Word.
The message of Caesarea
Is to remain faithful to God’s call for your life.
Do not be afraid of what lies in the future.
Rest confident that God adorns the feet of the Saints who carry out His will.
The cost of discipleship isn’t always persecution and prison,
Though in the case of Paul
The cost of discipleship
Is a resolute steadfastness to obey the will of the Lord.
This ship of Zion is setting sail.
We’re making our way through the ports of life.
May we listen for the will of the Holy Spirit in Ephesus.
May we embrace opportunities to advance Christ and his name in Philippi.
May we proclaim Christ and expect his miracles in Troas.
May we prepare the future leaders of Christ’s Church in Miletus.
And may we each remain steadfast and faithful to this call.
[i] Acts 20:17-38, 21:1-20: From Miletus he sent a message to Ephesus, asking the elders of the church to meet him. When they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the entire time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears, enduring the trials that came to me through the plots of the Jews.I did not shrink from doing anything helpful, proclaiming the message to you and teaching you publicly and from house to house, as I testified to both Jews and Greeks about repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus. And now, as a captive to the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and persecutions are waiting for me. But I do not count my life of any value to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the good news of God’s grace. “And now I know that none of you, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom, will ever see my face again. Therefore I declare to you this day that I am not responsible for the blood of any of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God. Keep watch over yourselves and over all the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. I know that after I have gone, savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Some even from your own group will come distorting the truth in order to entice the disciples to follow them. Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to warn everyone with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the message of his grace, a message that is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all who are sanctified. I coveted no one’s silver or gold or clothing. You know for yourselves that I worked with my own hands to support myself and my companions. In all this I have given you an example that by such work we must support the weak, remembering the words of the Lord Jesus, for he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”
When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again. Then they brought him to the ship.
When we had parted from them and set sail, we came by a straight course to Cos, and the next day to Rhodes, and from there to Patara. When we found a ship bound for Phoenicia, we went on board and set sail. We came in sight of Cyprus; and leaving it on our left, we sailed to Syria and landed at Tyre, because the ship was to unload its cargo there. We looked up the disciples and stayed there for seven days. Through the Spirit they told Paul not to go on to Jerusalem. When our days there were ended, we left and proceeded on our journey; and all of them, with wives and children, escorted us outside the city. There we knelt down on the beach and prayed and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home. When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais; and we greeted the believers and stayed with them for one day.
The next day we left and came to Caesarea; and we went into the house of Philip the evangelist, one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters who had the gift of prophecy. While we were staying there for several days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us and took Paul’s belt, bound his own feet and hands with it, and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’” When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus. ”Since he would not be persuaded, we remained silent except to say, “The Lord’s will be done.”
After these days we got ready and started to go up to Jerusalem. Some of the disciples from Caesarea also came along and brought us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we were to stay. When we arrived in Jerusalem, the brothers welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to visit James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. When they heard it, they praised God.