“The Shortest Distance Between Two Points”
– Acts 27:1, 13-15, 39-41, 28:1-10
– Paul knew he had to go to Rome, but his path to get there was anything but straight. Everything went wrong… even a shipwreck, and yet, God used the opportunity to cause many to believe in Jesus. Our path will be similar.
We finally made it to the end of our summer sermon series going through the book of ACTS. That’s right, today is the last installment of sermons designed to help us to understand what lessons the early church can teach Hillcrest.
And today we make it right to the end of the book of Acts… sort of. You see, Acts ends with Paul preaching and teaching people about Jesus in Rome. Today’s sermon is centered on the story of Paul’s journey to Rome. And it was quite a journey. Paul had to travel from Jerusalem to Rome. There was no easy way to get there back then. Today, you could catch a flight direct from Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel to Rome. That would be a straight shot.
Usually, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But this is NOT true for God. Let me demonstrate.
Imagine a piece of paper is the universe in which we live. See I have drawn two dots connected by a straight line. To us, who live on this piece of paper, the shortest distance between the points is a line. But not for God. If I fold the paper, I can poke a hole and go from one point instantly to the other point. God can bend the paper, but we cannot.
So you see that because God is the master of space and time, God’s best path from here to there may not be a straight line. In fact, anyone who tries to live a life that pleases God will most likely agree that their spiritual journey has not been a straight line.
This is the lesson that we can learn from Paul’s trip to Rome as we read about it today. God did not intend it to be a straight line. God wanted Paul to minister to many people in the name of Jesus as he went on his way. And as we just read a few minutes ago, Paul and his shipwrecked boat mates ended up on Malta. And God worked miracles with Paul. As a result, Paul was able to help many people. But if the boat had not been blown off course, this never would have happened.
How many of you have a GPS in your car or on your phone? Raise your hand. Yes, I use an app called WAZE to navigate. In the options I can tell the GPS how to plan a route. I can tell it to take the shortest possible route. I can tell the GPS to stick to highways. I can tell the GPS to avoid toll roads. In short I can tell the GPS how I want to plan a trip. I can tell the GPS the way that I think it would be best to plan the route.
But no matter how good the route, it may not be the best route. The GPS can only consider the maps that it has been programmed with. And the shortest route, or the route avoiding tolls may not be the best route to take. Perhaps God has some chance encounter that God wants us to have along the way?
The lesson that we see in much of Acts, and especially in this last leg of Paul’s journey, is that God’s work through us in the world is not efficient. That’s right, as much as we prize productivity, timeliness, and efficiency in our life, we see that God’s ways are not necessarily the most efficient ways. Neither Paul, not the captain of his ship knew that God wanted them to go to Malta. But that is the way they had to go. The captain tried to take advantage of a good wind to sail for Rome, but that was actually the wrong move. Trying to go to Rome was actually inefficient because God wanted Paul in Malta first. God’s plans were different than Paul’s plans. This is often the case in our lives as well.
Through the prophet Isaiah in chapter 55:8-9. God tells us, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your way and my thoughts than your thoughts.
God’s actions are driven by God’s purpose rather than by any other single thing… And we can’t always understand what God’s purpose is. That is why we don’t always know the best way to go. This is why we don’t always know the best thing to do. No matter how hard we try to make all the right choices for God, we don’t always know God’s plan for our lives.
Because we are not God, it might seem foolish to try to discern God’s will for our lives. But this is not the right conclusion to draw from knowing that God’s plan is above us. In fact, the devil would love it for you to believe that you might as well do whatever you want because it is just not possible to know God’s will for certain. Doubt and uncertainty can keep us from moving forward on the journey that Jesus leads us on.
This is not what Paul shows us. Paul knew from the Holy Spirit that he had to go to Jerusalem and then to Rome. So he did his best to do what he thought God wanted. It just so happened that an unplanned stop in Malta was also part of the plan.
Rather, the important take away from this lesson for us is that God takes us on a journey. When we seek God’s will for our lives, God will guide us. But it is often not going to be an efficient process. If we become too task or destination oriented along the way, we risk missing out on the stops God has for us along the way. If we are too concerned about all the intermediate destinations, we go to in our life we risk losing focus on the eventual destination where God wants us to be. We know that our eventual destination is to be with God and each other forever in the new heavens and new earth that God will create for us at the end of time. And God wants us to share that reality with people we interact with at every point in our lives, every place we go BEFORE our lives are over.
Living a life that shows Jesus to others at every point in our lives is only possible when we continue to do what God has called us to do, rather than plan our life out from destination to destination the way we want to.
When Paul got to Malta, he didn’t say “oh well I guess Jesus wants me to stay here.” No, he continued to heal in Jesus name and continued on his journey to Rome.
So to bring in all back to the main point, God does not always lead us in what we think is the most efficient path. God sends us, like Paul, on a life journey with a purpose. And God wants us to obey Jesus wherever we go along the way so that we can please God with our behavior and our hearts. This is true for each one of us personally, and also for us together as a congregation.
To link back in with last week’s message, no matter what unexpected path God leads us along, we must persevere to the Cross. We must continue to do what God calls us to do. And this is really the underlying message for the entire book of Acts. That the Holy Spirit makes this life possible for the Church of Jesus Christ. The book of Acts is the story of how the Holy Spirit worked to shape the earliest days of the church.
And I have been preaching through the book of acts this summer to help us learn what we can take away from the story of the early church. So let me review a few lessons we learned about the church of Jesus Christ that we can apply to Hillcrest. If you want to write these down on the back of the bulletin, go for it. I will repeat each one twice.
- God has a plan for the entire church
- God wants the Church to be radically inclusive.
- Church people’s attitudes and behaviors should reflect Jesus.
- Jesus and the Gospel never change, but everything else in Church is always changing.
- Everyone in the Church has a job to do for God
- The Church is always in conflict, but we grow in Christ from it
- The journey may not be straight or efficient, but we must persevere to the Cross.
This last point, is especially important for Hillcrest right now. This summer has been a difficult one for us. We have had an unexpected journey. We lost our president, Gary, in a plane accident. We lost our secretary, and our Christian Education ministry drastically changed. So that is why it is important that we persevere on our Journey in Christ, just like Paul did when he was shipwrecked on Malta. Keep a look out for the next Beacon newsletter where I continue to address some of these topics.
Starting next week, I am going to begin a short sermon series on what I believe God is calling Hillcrest to be moving forward. That is, I will be unpacking exactly how I believe God wants Hillcrest to minister in Christ’s name. Not Crossroads, or First Baptist, or Saint Colman, but Hillcrest.