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At a Snail's Pace - By Pastor Thomas Engel

Getting to the end of May and the start of June, we are seeing young people graduating from school, and with their new degrees, they will be moving to the next steps of life.

At the seminary, before graduation in May, there is “Call Day” at the end of April. This is the day that the seminarians who are about to graduate find out where they will be serving as pastors.

There is a little bit of a process to find the “right” fit both for the church and the pastor.

The churches send back forms of detailed questions that they’ve answered about a pastor who would be “right” for them.

The seminary interviews the pastor to see what kind of congregation will be “right” for him.

Although the seminary says it’s a process, it’s rumored that the seminary likes to use reverse psychology when assigning a seminarian to his first church.

So, to stay a step ahead of the game, if you want to go to North Dakota, you say want to go to Florida. Or, if you want to go to Florida, you say want to go to North Dakota.

The other thought about how they match a seminarian with his first call is that the seminary has a large map of the United States, and they blindfold someone who throws darts with the names of each seminarian on a dart at the map. Wherever your dart lands, they find a church that is looking for a pastor that is closest to the dart on the map. That’s where you go.

Whatever the process is, if it’s a careful scrutinized match that uses the forms of the congregations and interviews of the seminarians or the throw of the darts, we say on “Call Day” that the seminarian was called by the Holy Spirit to go to that one church, wherever it is.

As we go through the church year with the readings, and when we are ending one season, we get a hint of what the next season is.

We are finishing the season of Easter and going to Pentecost.

Of course, in Easter, we talk of Jesus’ victory over sin, Satan, and eternal death by his death on the cross and his resurrection from the tomb.

Then, in the season of Pentecost, we first see the coming of the Holy Spirit to a large group of people and converting them, and throughout the season, we see the Holy Spirit working through people to spread the Gospel.

This overlap of themes helps to show us that we can’t have one theme without the other.

The seasons of the church year tell the story of our salvation. We have Advent that prepares for the birth of Christ. Christmas tells of how God became flesh. Epiphany shows the works of Jesus.

In Lent, we see Jesus going to the cross to take the punishment for our sins, and in Easter, we see Jesus rising from the dead to give us all forgiveness of sins and eternal life.

It’s important for us to see the flow of one season into another, for we can’t have one without the other.

Now, with faith in Jesus’ birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, we have our work to do.

And, we can’t do this work without the Holy Spirit.

In a sense, every Sunday is a “Call Day” for us to go from here back into the world to live and spread the Gospel.

In the last couple weeks of the first readings, we have seen Paul become a Christian, and we’ve seen him go out serving the Lord by preaching the Gospel.

Today, it’s a sort of “Call Day” for Paul as he sees in a vision that he is to go to Macedonia, which is in modern day Europe.

What we don’t see in this reading is one of the most important parts of the point of this story.

We don’t see here that Paul had no plans to go to Macedonia. His plans were to continue in Asia Minor.

But, God rerouted Paul to go to Macedonia.

For us, I think one of the most important take-aways is this line after Paul sees the vision that is telling him to go to Macedonia, “for it seemed certain to us that God had sent us to give the good news to them.”

The words that pop out to me are “seemed certain.”

Paul had no plans to go to Macedonia, but now he has seen this vision to go there. With this new information, Paul is thinking quite strongly that he is to be making a change in his plans.

So, he goes to Macedonia, and he just happens to meet a Jewish woman named Lydia.

We really don’t know much about Lydia, but from what we do know we can make some logical guesses about her life.

We know Lydia is a Jew because she was observing the Sabbath. From her dedication, Lydia must have been a good student of the Hebrew Bible. Because she knows the Hebrew Bible and its prophesies, she knows about the coming Messiah.

When Paul says that the prophecy has been fulfilled in Jesus, Lydia wants to be baptized, and she was probably the first baptized person in that area.

Since she was a business owner of some kind that made dye, she was likely known throughout the community and probably had some influence.

We know she was an assertive person, for she insists that Paul come into her house for a meal.

We can think that Lydia used her assertiveness when it came to spreading the Gospel, for there is a long history from then until now that shows how the Gospel did spread across Europe.

It had to begin somewhere, and, from this account in Book of Acts, the basic history of the early church, we can be sure it began with Paul and Lydia.

Back in seminary, I can remember a professor talking about this meeting between Paul and Lydia, and he said that there is an image of Lydia with a shell pouring out water for baptism.

In the picture, there is a snail. It’s thought that the snail symbolizes how the work of the Gospel is seen spreading throughout the world.

But, it’s happening at a snail’s pace.

In a couple weeks, it will be Pentecost, and we will see the Holy Spirit will literally blow into a place and many people will come to faith.

But, not every Sunday is like Pentecost.

Although the Holy Spirit is here just as much as that first Pentecost, we are not seeing the results that we would like to be seeing.

Most polls and surveys show that church attendance is down all over.

We might be asking the question, “If the Holy Spirit is here as much today as on that first Pentecost, why aren’t there more people coming to faith?”

It would seem that God wants people to come to Him. Right?

I think we would all agree that it seems that God wants people to come to Him.

But, we see sadly too obviously that our church attendance is low.

It seems like we could sure use a Pentecost. We need the Holy Spirit to literally blow throughout our homes and neighborhoods and wake things up.

Going back to the verse of Paul where he says “seemed certain.”

The word “seem” is a little bit of a tricky word.

Let’s hear what these questions sound like with the word “seem.”

How does it “seem” like the church is doing? What does it “seem” like it should be doing?

Or, we use the word “seem” for questions about our lives.

How does it “seem” like you are doing?

What does it “seem” like you should be doing?

I’m a little caught up on the word “seem” because Paul uses it to decide what it seems that he should be doing.

Here it is again; Paul says, “for it seemed certain to us that God had sent us to give the good news to them.”

I find Paul’s words “seemed certain” as an awkward combination of words, for if you are certain about something, that’s it. But, if you are saying to me about something that you “seem certain,” I’m not sure that you are feeling so sure about it.

Paul knows something here that I know I needed to be reminded from time to time.

In a way, we can be totally certain about things about God.

We can be certain God loves His creation and every person.

We can be certain God wants everyone to be saved.

We can be certain God will always be having ways for people to be saved like having churches, pastors, members, and missionaries.

All these ways include: Worship, where there is Word and Sacrament. Bibles, in many languages to know salvation is for everyone. Schools like ours, where Jesus’ love is taught and shared.

We know God has a plan for His world. We know God is good, so He has a good plan for all of His people.

But, as we know certain things about God, we also have to know that how He goes about things can be a mystery to us at times.

When it comes down to some things, we can only seem to be certain about them.

In our daily lives, we have so many decisions to make. We have a choice, make a decision, go with it, and hope it works for the best.

Paul probably had in his mind several thoughts about his next step in his missionary journey.

But, when he got the vision, it seemed that it made him certain that he should go in the direction of Europe.

It took centuries to bring the Gospel to Europe with it’s woeful history of Crusades and such. But, it worked as God got it to work through people who were infallible as sinners but who also went with God’s blessings.

Looking at the history of the world, we know what happened, but we are not always sure about why it had to happen as it did.

Sin can mess up things, even to the point of chaos, but sin can never stop God’s plans from working.

To Lydia, it may have seemed that the spreading of God’s Word was going at a snail’s pace. But, we can see church steeples that are on almost on every city block and in every country landscape throughout Europe.

We need to admit that there are many empty pews in many churches this morning.

It seems certain that we are called today to spread the Gospel in some ways.

The work can be discouraging as we don’t always see the results in increased numbers.

But, faith says the Holy Spirit is here as it has always been here, God’s plan is working as He sees it working, and we can be certain that God is using us as He needs for His purposes.

God’s will is always done.

How God’s will gets done is for the most part a mystery, but we are sure God wants all people to be saved.

Snails are slow, but they do move, and they will get where they are going, even at a such a slow pace.

Maybe the snail is saying to us, “What’s the hurry?”

God has always worked through His people, His church, and by Word and Sacrament, but on His timeline.

And all is done by the power of the Holy Spirit.

It seems that the last thing I would use to describe the Holy Spirit is a snail.

But, God can work His good plan out any way that He likes. If it happens as quick as a bolt of lightening, or if it seems as slow as a snail, it’s all good.

For us, we only need faith that all God does is working out certainly to His good plan.

So, we are each called to do something. We do what seems certain to us, and we know that God will work that something our as He did with Paul and Lydia.

Spreading the Gospel throughout Europe may have been at a snails pace, but it did happen.

As our work here, too, will happen. Maybe, it seems at a snail’s pace at times, but God’s plan by the Holy Spirit always works.

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