Macedonia is in the middle of nowhere. You could make that kind of statement if you lived in America, and you do. Macedonia is a little North of modern Greece, a little East. It is between Greece, which you most certainly have heard of, and Kosovo and Serbia, which you have also, regrettably, heard of; regrettably because that part of the world usually rises to our attention around the word atrocity, or genocide.
But Macedonia, little, easily overlooked Macedonia, called out.
Well, maybe not so easily overlooked, after all it was on the way from here to there, sort of like Jerusalem. It was a place you went through. It was closer to Asia Minor, modern day Turkey, than most of the rest of the Empire and so it made a convenient landfall for sea faring traders as well as overland trade and trade, as we all know, brings the world closer by bringing us things from far far away.
What came to Paul from Macedonia was a dream.
During the night, Paul had a vision. I wonder if the Lord has ever tried to contact me in a vision. I hope I’d remember but I have to confess that I do not typically remember my dreams. I have never woken up in the middle of the night with a great idea from a dream and had to write it down, I never wake in the morning and tell Debbie the story of my dream from the night before. I just don’t.
I wonder if God gets a busy signal when trying to send a dream my way.
But Paul sees a man of Macedonia, he can tell that he is from Macedonia because of the hat he wears, even the Persians called the Macedonians “Greeks who wear hats shaped like shields.” And the man pleaded with Paul that the people of Macedonia needed him and that he should come at once.
Not, “we are hungry,” and not “come and preach,” and not “there is war.” Just “Come to Macedonia and help us.”
Now this might just be because Paul is Paul, but Paul does not hesitate. He is on his second missionary journey, traveling around, spreading the Gospel, bringing the Word to the gentiles and any call, any call at all sounds like a call to spread the Word. He is ready, primed; anxious even to hear that call. He is driven.
Paul gets up and makes the journey, 156 sea miles from Troas to Neapolis which in those days was not just a walk in the park, no GPS on the journey.
What would it take for you to go to Macedonia? For that matter, what would it take for you to go anywhere? On a moment’s notice, what would it take for you to just get up and go?
There was a Champions League Commercial for Heineken, and the premise was, you won a ticket to see the Champions League Final in Barcelona and you could invite one person, but they had to just drop everything and go and when they made the phone call the person on the other end of the phone would hem and haw and wonder about what it would entail and how it could be managed and whether or not it was even possible and then, naturally the last phone call, the person on the other end just said yes and there was much rejoicing.
And those people were being asked if they wanted to go on an all-expenses paid trip to Barcelona and watch a fantastic Soccer match.
Paul was going for entirely different reasons and still, there was no hesitation, no hemming and hawing, Paul was, as we mentioned, driven.
Debbie and I looked at each other in the living room, by the way when we saw that ad and we both went, “heck yeah we’d go!” We’d work out the details, but we’d go.
For the sake of the Gospel, Paul dropped everything, literally on the road to Damascus Paul even dropped his sight and began following the Word. Paul was in the habit of dropping everything and following where God led him and doing as he was bidden. So profound was his conversion, so life-altering was that moment that it colored all the remaining moments in his life, to the point where he simply followed when the voice called, through vision, through another believer, through anyone at all.
It takes the kind of trust that is rare these days. This is like a thousand leadership seminars all rolled into one where they make you do the trust fall, where one person stands behind you and you fall backwards and trust them to catch you? Imagine doing that with every possession of yours, throw it across a large room and trust the person on the other end to catch it, to safeguard what is precious to you.
We do not seem to be built like that anymore.
Maybe we just have too much, too much that is not portable, you know? I mean I have a house, and a car, and a television, only one, and a household full of stuff, memories and books and tchotchkes and everything else we all carry around and believe to be important.
Hard to risk that isn’t it? Hard to conceive of something so important that you might just walk away from it all and listen to the voices that come in your dreams.
Paul may not have had the material wealth that we all think of as so important but in his world and at the time he lived, he had something more important. He had a name. He could walk into any synagogue in the ancient world and be treated like a visiting dignitary because that is what he was. He was an important person and would be fed and cared for wherever he went in the Jewish world.
Until a day on the road to Damascus where everything changed.
Until a voice came to him from he knew not where and said “follow,” and he did not hesitate.
Such was the force of the coming of the Good News to Paul. Such was the value of the word of God to this servant of God, yes even before he became and apostle he was a Pharisee and had dedicated himself to serving the Lord in the way he had been taught.
But he had been taught by other men; men who guarded their positions and their honor and their respect in the community and thought of the positions and honor and respect as important things, things not to be traded lightly, or even traded at all.
Now he assented, he relented, he surrendered to being taught by another voice, by the voice of the one whose people he had persecuted and Paul became driven to not just accept that voice, but to seek to hear it. He was driven.
People seldom talk like that anymore, they seldom speak of having a vision so profound that they will follow it to the ending of them, to their very death. Artists, a word our culture uses instead of crazy people, they sometimes will assent to suffer to do what they are called to do but for most of us it is a risk and reward system and we adhere to it pretty strenuously.
We are driven by different voices.
I sometimes wonder what would happen if God started striking people down on the road to wherever it was they were going to do whatever it was that they thought was so darned important, striking them down and robbing them of their sight to teach them about what was really important, about things of greater note than jobs and houses and cars.
I wonder if we’d conspire to invent a pill to take that voice away, some therapy to keep us focused, to keep us driven toward what the world wants from us.
Did you get that?
Did you hear the fundamental difference there?
What the world wants from us. That is what stands between us and answering the call to Macedonia most of the time, what keeps us from dropping to our knees on the Damascene road and weeping in gratitude and love for what we have received in Christ, our freedom from fear and our passion for the world God gave us to inhabit.
What the world wants from us is always, it would seem, competing with what Jesus wants, for us.
Does Jesus want things from us? Sure. Love, hope, charity, compassion, those are the things that Jesus wants from us but they are also the things that Jesus wants for us and so they are not a burden, they are a blessing.
But the world wants things from us as well, and a lot of what the world wants is fear. It may not look like it, what with all of the bikini-clad women and shiny happy people in the commercials, but most of what they sell is fear. If you are not drinking this beer, then you are probably not partying with these women; if you do not put a BMW in the driveway with a big old ribbon around it this Mother’s day, you probably cannot count on the love of your spouse; if you do not hose yourself down with this new brand of stink in a can, well your sexual prospects are dim, my friend.
You may have noticed that I only mentioned commercials aimed at men, well we are the major targets of the fear-based economy. We are afraid of so many things after all, this little sparkle of grey at my temples will make me unattractive to women, losing the hair entirely will make me unattractive to women, not looking like Hugh Jackman will make me unattractive to women, are we noticing a theme here?
Women too, have the fear cannon aimed at them, but I am not a woman and do not feel the fear they are selling you, but selling it they are.
No wonder we hesitate to answer the call to Macedonia.
Answering the call is putting other things ahead of stuff, above reputation and above house and above safety and above attractiveness and position and power.
Someone cries out for the things we have from God, and we decide, we weigh what it will cost us; we weigh how it will change us.
Your Macedonia may be Camp Micaela, it may be someone struggling with mental illness in your family or even not in your family, it may be the City Council meeting where you feel passionately about something and have to decide whether or not to fill out the little yellow card and take your three minutes to try and say something important to the matter at hand.
Macedonia is everywhere, people are crying out for us to come from every corner of the earth and there is no way we can answer them all.
But what we bring is the only cure to the fear. The word is God is what lets us boldly walk into dark places, knowing that our footsteps are guarded, that our journey is not all that there is, that even when everything we value is whisked away in the instant of our death, we are still at home and without fear because we have heard the Spirit’s call and have answered.
That word, that simple, very simple word is what is needed in Macedonia. Sure sometimes you bring a pot of chili as well. Sometimes it’s Sweet and Sour Chicken. Sometimes it is just an ear to listen to the pain of another human being trying desperately to understand why it is that beloved pets must someday die.
Macedonia is everywhere and the question is not whether or not we know what to say, most of the time you don’t have to say anything. The question is, what dives us? Is it the fear that the world sells us every day or is it the faith; the faith that drives away the fear, that sharpens our hearing to pick out the calls from Macedonia amidst the din of the crowd all around us.
It depends on where you start, how far a journey it is. If you begin from a place of safety and comfort the road may be longer but do not fear, you can still get there.
If you begin on your knees, maybe on the road to Damascus but the details do not matter that much; if you begin from a place of understanding or how much there is to gain and how much there is to lose and how far the love of God will go, how loud the voice of the Holy Spirit, the Advocate can be if only we are listening for it, then the journey is not that far, it can take place entirely in your own heart if you let it, if you let the voice of the Spirit remind you of Jesus teachings, remind you of who you are.
Macedonia is everywhere. It is especially, inside of you.