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Closing worship service of UMC in Latvia Annual District Conference, August 21, 2022

Preaching: Bishop Christian Alsted

There are many things that start with a vision. Apostle Paul also had a vision which was given to him by the Holy Spirit. A vision to bring the Good News about Jesus Christ to the whole world. It became an incentive for Paul to move forward and not to stay in one place for long. When Paul had been traveling for some time and reached the territory of current Turkey, he had another vision. He saw a man, who looked like Macedonian, who invited Paul to visit him. (Acts 16:9-10) This was a huge step for Paul because, influenced by the vision, he headed to another part of the world. He arrived in Philippi with a strategy to visit those who were open to God.

Usually, Paul would go to a synagogue (church) but there was none in the city of Philippi, therefore Paul, accompanied by Silas, went to a place where they thought people would be meeting for prayer – to a riverbank. They saw a group of women and started a conversation with them. Those days, it was very unusual for men to start conversation with women because in their culture women were considered second-grade (less important). One of these women was Lydia. She was an unusual and wealthy businesswoman. She was a merchant of expensive purple cloth that was used only by rich people due to its high price. The woman was not only open to faith, but also ready to share with the acquired faith in her home, resulting in all of her household being baptized. And she said to Paul and Silas – “if you agree that I am a true believer in the Lord, come and stay at my home.” (Acts 16:14-16) Do you understand what is happening here? A home church is started and, for the first time in history of Christianity, a woman becomes its pastor. Usually, when a household accepted Christ and became a meeting place for Christians, the owner of the house became the home church’ leader, its pastor.

Paul and Silas worked on their vision by forming relationships with people and God. They moved forward quite rapidly while searching for people who would be ready to lead such home groups. They gave people responsibility. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it failed, but they took their chances. They looked for someone ready to dedicate themselves to God and then appointed them to be in charge, trusting that God would help them. Sometimes they made mistakes, but sometimes everything went well, as in this case. However, despite the good outcome, Paul and Silas were imprisoned. But they continued to praise God and not give up even in prison. Suddenly, while they were singing, there was a massive earthquake. Long story short, they got out of the prison and the jailer who was freaked out about what would be the consequences took Paul and Silas to his house. That night, the jailer and his household became baptized, and the second church in Philippi was formed. (Acts 16:16-36)

Why did Paul and Silas do this? The question “why” is a very important question to ask to ourselves. Why are we doing what we are doing in our churches? We are preaching the Good News to people and sharing what does it mean to be a Christian, how has it impacted and changed our personal lives…

When God wanted to show His love for us, he sent Jesus Christ. God’s Word came to us and became a story that identifies us. God showed us the sprout of love and the cost of grace when Jesus Christ died at the cross. And with Christ’s resurrection, God conquered death, sin, and evil.

Then, why are we sharing the Good News? A distinguished theologian of the 20th century whose one of the most notable works was on doctrine of the Church, consisting of 14 volumes, took on a challenge from his student and summarized his work in one sentence – Jesus loves me, that I know, because the Bible tells me so. This is so simple, yet so deep and incomprehensible. And this is also the answer of why we are doing it. Because I know that Jesus loves me and I want that others know it too, because I know what meaning it has in my life. What is the driving force? It is when Jesus says: “As my Father has sent me, I am sending you!” And Jesus looked at the disciples, I have no knowledge of what precisely happened, but I suppose it was something like this – Jesus kept a moment of silence, looked in everyone’s eyes and said: “Receive the Holy Spirit!” (John 20:21-23)

What is the vision that God has put in your heart? Your WHY. Do you know that the driving force of this vision is the power of Holy Spirit? Receive God’s calling, vision. Receive God’s love and know that you are loved. Receive the Holy Spirit. Amen.