It is approximately 1,500 miles from Cincinnati, OH to Nova Scotia. To give you an idea of how far it is, it’s a little bit less than the drive from where I’m standing to Phoenix, Arizona. It’s a fair piece.
So if you had a week and two children that didn’t get along that well, you probably wouldn’t imagine that driving from here to Phoenix and back is a great idea. My parents, however, really wanted to see Nova Scotia, I guess, because one family vacation found us driving from Cincinnati to Nova Scotia and back. What I learned on that trip is that spending an entire vacation in a car is not a great way to spend an entire vacation.
There were some pleasant parts to that vacation, but mostly it consisted of the general idea that it was time to get back in the car. We had a destination, and we weren’t close to it, so it was time to get back in the car.
My family spent a lot of time facing the fact that it was time to get back in the car. Growing up in Cincinnati while your family was on the west coast meant that going to see Grandma entailed 3 days in the car. Each way. If you’re curious, Kansas does actually take forever to drive through. I’ve done scientific measurements that confirm this. Many mornings consisted of one focus—how quickly can we get back in the car.
What I discovered is that such a model makes for lousy vacations. If all you remember is how many hours you spent in the car, that’s not so relaxing. If all you can think about is that you don’t want to get in the car for another week, that’s not relaxing.
Just as a vacation in constant motion doesn’t allow for true rest, a life in constant motion never develops spiritual rest. We don’t practice Sabbath because we are too busy moving. The impending pressure of what must be done presses in on us to the extent that we are unable to relax, unable to let God take over and lead us into the meadow. We are the sheep, and the shepherd commands us to rest—have you ever considered how important it is that obeying the Sabbath is a commandment? It’s not just a suggestion—it’s a command. 10% of the commandments are dedicated to helping you rest.
When we live in constant motion, the danger is that everything becomes transient. We don’t slow down enough to develop deep roots. We don’t build relationships when we’re moving at warp speed, because we’re too busy thinking about what comes next to listen to the person next to us. We’re so wrapped up in what we’re doing that we become unavailable to the people around us. When we are in constant motion, we miss out on the life God has in store for us. Constant travel and motion is a bad thing. When we think about Paul’s life, we think about all the places he went, but he usually spent months, if not years, in a city, investing in the life of the church there, teaching and preaching and leading the people into a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ. He loved the people, and they loved him, and this was made possible by the deep commitment he made to the people. If he only stayed for a few days, preached a few nice sermons and then moved on, I don’t know that Paul would have impacted the people in the same way.
But what was Paul’s impact?
Paul came, in the first verse of chapter 20, to encourage the disciples. The church needed encouragement—there was much chaos in the world around them, and they were all discovering what it meant to live as Christians in a world that wasn’t particularly friendly to Christians. Many of their relationships were affected by their new faith, so they needed to hear Paul encouraging them to bind themselves together around the Lord Jesus Christ.
Beyond that, Paul talked. A lot. We’re told here in Acts 20 of a young man who came to hear Paul, doubtless eager to hear what the famed man had to say. Of course, that probably wore off after a few hours, and soon the man fell asleep, apparently in a somewhat precarious position, as he soon tumbled a few stories to his death. It is here that Paul performs a miracle, giving life back to the man he just bored to death, and then goes right on talking. What a guy!
From there, Paul goes on to meet the elders of the church of Ephesus. Paul had spent three years in Ephesus, building deep roots and deep relationships with the church there, and it is here that we see the depth of that love. Paul warns the people of the danger that will surely come, and he reminds them that his sole purpose is to proclaim the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Paul had a solitary focus, and he invested much time and energy in helping the people see Christ as the son of God. Finally, Paul charges them with a mission—to care for the weak, and to remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Friends, today is the last sermon I will give at New Hope. For 6.5 years I have done my best to labor faithfully, to point to Jesus Christ at work in our midst. I have given roughly 300 sermons, but more than that, I have had the blessing of developing deep relationships. You all have opened your hearts to me, and I am eternally grateful for that gift. I am thankful to have been here long enough to let my roots sink into this place, not to jump straight back into the car and head off to the next place. Chattanooga, New Hope, has been home to me.
In that time, I have encouraged you. I have encouraged you to know that Jesus Christ is Lord of all of life, and that nothing in this world shall separate you from his love. The love of Christ knows no bounds, and as we deal with the world around us, it takes a lot of work to figure out just how God is calling us to live. It’s not easy, but it’s critical that we encourage one another to stay faithful, to recognize that we are not alone, and that the Lord Jesus Christ is constantly with us as we seek to be faithful to our calling.
Also, I have talked a lot. I am grateful that we do not have a balcony here, so that we don’t have to worry about anyone falling asleep and falling to their peril. I love that Luke includes this story in Acts—Paul must have hoped everyone would forget about the time a guy died because he fell asleep listening to Paul. It gives all pastors courage, for we know that no sermon we give will put anyone’s life in danger if it gets too boring.
Friends, I do not know exactly what lies ahead for me. I know that I am being called to get back in the car and travel somewhere else, down the road of ministry. I believe I am being called into a life of ministry and service, and that I will continue to use my gifts to encourage and preach and teach, but I don’t know exactly what that’s going to look like. As I leave, I will share Paul’s charge, for I can’t think of a better way to go.
As disciples, we are called to care for the weak, and to remember that our blessings are not meant for us—they are meant to be shared, to be given freely to those in need. Every blessing you have, from the very life within you to the money in the bank to the voice and talents you have, is given with a single, solitary purpose—to bring glory to God. When you share those gifts, I believe we multiply how much glory is given to God, because then others join with us in praising God. May we have hearts open and available to look for the weak around us, and to admit our own weaknesses, and may we go out into the community and seek those who are broken, those who are struggling, and may we seek to share our gifts with them, that they may come to recognize Christ as work in and through us.
May we not shine for our own glory, but may the light of Christ burn brightly to beat back the darkness and invite all to come into the light of Christ’s love that is seen fully on the cross, and may we glorify and serve God, and God alone.
Let us pray