With less than a week to go before we set off for Greece it is time to really do the preparation. The liturgy is all sorted, the hymns have been chosen, the readings which we will use at the various sites that we will visit have been printed off. So in many ways there is a great deal that is ready. I have yet to think about what clothes I will take. I hope the weather will be good and so that rather dictates some of what I will choose but that isn’t the highest thing on my agenda.
When, a few weeks ago, those who are taking part in the pilgrimage came to Southwark for a briefing meeting I suggested that some of the preparation that they might like to do would be to read the Acts of the Apostles 16.6 – 18.21. That is the account of the journey that Paul made and the journey that we will be making.
There are two things that I remember from Sunday School. One was making a model of a house from the time of Jesus out of a shoe box. That was very useful for thinking about the story of the friends who lower their friend through the roof of the house to lay him at the feet of Jesus. The other thing I remember was having to make maps that would show St Paul’s journeys.
Though we are going to Greece as pilgrims, to make a pilgrimage Paul wasn’t on a pilgrimage. He was responding to the call of God to go where the gospel had not yet been heard, to respond to the dream in which a man from Macedonia appears to him and says
“Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
We have a plan for the journey, we have to. Hotels need to be booked, a guide needs to be engaged, we need to know where we are stopping. The question is though whether Paul had a plan. Did he know where he was going at all or did the Spirit simply lead him, did he follow the prompting of the Spirit, one place following naturally on another, or did he too have a plan?
In all those journeys that he made however, in all the routes that I marked on my map of the Mediterranean as a child, he seemed to be driven by the wind, tossed here and there by the storms, one minute with friends, another making new friends, sometimes in the hands of enemies, sometimes having to divert to avoid more trouble, sometimes heading straight into trouble.
We are now encouraged to have plans, to have strategy in the church, strategy for growth, strategy for mission and strategy has become something of a God as well as a mantra. I suspect that for Paul the strategy and the vision were the same – to go where God wanted him to go, to travel where the Spirit led them. That feels risky and I don’t plan for the pilgrimage to be like that. But perhaps that is more like life – that the best laid plans simply can’t be guaranteed to be brought to fruition, that the road we had in mind is not the road that we end up following, that if we do have a strategy we need to leave room in it for the Spirit to drive and direct us where the Spirit will.
“Come over to Macedonia and help us’ was just the beginning for Paul and it will be where we begin when we arrive in Greece and walk where St Paul walked.
God of our pilgrimage,
be with us in our preparations,
be with us in our planning,
be with us in our packing,
but may we always leave room
for you to lead us where you will.