31 Maple Street
Bristol, Connecticut USA
July 4, 2021
Rev. Kristen J. Kleiman
He was passionate; he was bold; he was motivated and on the move. Paul and his ministry partners, because you should always have partners in ministry, Paul along with Silas and young Timothy, had been commissioned to go throughout the Roman Empire and share the good news of Jesus Christ with Jews and Gentiles alike.
And they set off with purpose and determination into the new– only to discover a roadblock. We don’t hear what the roadblock is – only that the Holy Spirit forbid them to speak in Asia, which at this time was a region in modern Turkey and not a continent. Encountering this roadblock, Paul and his partners journeyed throughout Phrygia and Galatia sharing the good news; however when they tried traveling North into Bithynia, and then West into Mysia, again, roadblock.
Instead of being discouraged though, Paul, Silas and Timothy “failed fast”. The expression “fail fast” speaks to the willingness to be innovative and adaptable, willing to try new things, lots of new things, and then quickly change or let go of an idea when it doesn’t achieve its purpose, so you can move on to something else that might work better.
Many great figures in history have been willing to fail fast. Thomas Edison tried thousands of theories and experiments every time he set out to invent something. Some might say Edison failed over and over. He didn’t agree. When something didn’t work, it wasn’t a failure. It was a learning experience.
On the other hand, when J. K Rowling had her story about a boy wizard rejected by 12 different publishers, she kept trying until one said yes. Then even after her great success with Harry Potter, her next novel, published under a pen name, was rejected again. Instead of feeling like a failure, Rowling published those rejection letters on Twitter as inspiration to persevere.
When we are trying something new, a new invention, a new creation, even a new way of sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, we are going to hit roadblocks. We are going to have moments when we need to courageously persevere, and we are going to have moments when the Spirit is telling us – not here, not this, not now, fail fast, learn, and move on.
Which is exactly what Paul, Silas, and Timothy did. Their efforts bore fruit in Phrygia and Galatia, and communities of Christ were formed. And then, they went this way to no avail and that way to no avail, and tempting as it might have been, they didn’t keep trying what wasn’t working. They didn’t lament why what they had tried in Galatia didn’t work in Bithynia. They didn’t waste time hitting the roadblock over and over again. Instead, they tried something new and moved on to Troas, which is right on the Aegean Sea, fairly close to modern day Greece.
Scripture doesn’t tell us how Paul, Silas, and Timothy knew when to persevere and when to fail fast; however they most certainly spent a lot of time in prayer. A lot of time listening to God’s still speaking voice and asking God to guide them. Discernment, the process of gaining clarity about God’s direction for our lives and ministry, discernment takes a lot of listening and prayer.
And sometimes, after a lot of listening and prayer, a clear vision comes from God about what path we should take. Paul had such a vision. A man of Macedonia, a region located in modern day Greece, spoke to Paul, pleaded with Paul, to “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” (Acts 16:9). And immediately, Paul and his ministry partners looked for a boat so they could sail to Macedonia, “being convinced that God had called [them] to proclaim the good news” there. (Acts 16:10)
The Spirit must have been guiding them strongly because they went right past the island of Samothrace, landed in the coastal city of Neapolis, and went overland to Philippi. I’ve taken the journey from Neapolis, now named Kavala, to Philippi. It took an hour, over mountains, on a bus. It cannot have been an easy journey by foot, and yet, Paul and his ministry partners persevered.
And when they arrived, they discovered that the Spirit was calling them – not to proclaim the good news to a man from Macedonia, but to a woman, a woman originally from Thyatira, the region they had just come from!
The Spirit is surprising. Even when we think we have a clear vision forward and have discerned the right path, even when we pray and listen a lot, even when we have a clear vision from God, still, we don’t always know where the Spirit is leading us, how the Spirit is blessing us.
So we need to be open; we need to be adaptable. Discernment, figuring out where God is leading us, means checking in continuously with the Spirit – Is this the right path? Should we keep going even when the going is tough? Should we fail fast and try something else? Or something else entirely?
As they sought to be open to God’s still speaking, still leading voice, Paul, Silas, and Timothy were willing to fail fast, willing to persevere, and willing to grow, learn, and adapt. All so they could be faithful to God and open to all of the Spirit’s blessings – even when those blessings were unexpected, which is what happened in Philippi.
Because Lydia was not who they were expecting. Lydia, although a worshipper of God, was not a Jew. Lydia was not from Macedonia. Lydia was not a man. And Paul realized that none of those requirements mattered because Lydia had the most important qualities of all. She had an open heart. She was eager to know about God’s love made known through Jesus Christ, and she wanted to be baptized and join in sharing the good news.
And because Paul and his ministry partners were open to the Spirit’s guidance about when they should persevere, change directions, or fail fast, because Paul and his ministry partners prayed, listened, and were willing to be led by the Spirit, they were not only a blessing to Lydia and her household that day. They were also extraordinary blessed because Lydia was a businesswoman, a woman of means who provided housing for them while they were in Philippi and who also provided money to support their ministry as well as wisdom and faithfulness to nurture their Christian faith journeys.
God is calling the church into the new. God is calling us to be made new, to explore new ministries, to try new events, to lift up new leaders, to make new connections and ministry partners. God is calling us into the new and that requires prayer and listening for God’s still speaking voice. It requires being open to the unexpected and surprising blessings of the Spirit.
And we won’t always get it right the first time. We might persevere when we should fail fast. Fail fast when we should persevere. We won’t always get it right the first time. We will be faithful and try though. We will be faithful and try.