After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days.
In 2008 the Dickens Fellowship (a kind of fan club for Charles Dickens, but without the groupies) held its International Conference in Durham and I was the main organiser. Curiously, I found that a lot of my time was taken up in reassuring people; once a nervous traveller myself, I had assumed others had no such fears, but now I found that even the most seasoned travellers could turn out to be distinctly jittery ahead of the journey. Perhaps you too are a secret pre-journey worrier!
And St. Paul? Surely with all the journeying he’d done, and under harsh conditions at that, we imagine that at this stage in his life he would be quite blasé as he set out, but my experience with Dickensians suggests that may not be the case. Certainly all that had preceded his leaving Ephesus had been pretty dramatic and very emotional, and he seems to have been thinking ahead to a dangerous time to come.
The six verses that comprise today’s reading, though apparently insignificant, mark a major change in Paul’s story, for far from being a flight from a difficult situation in Ephesus, it is a turning point. Paul’s face was now turned towards Jerusalem, the reason for the journey being the delivery of the collection taken up by the churches he had founded to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem (he speaks of this in Romans 15: 25-28) and Luke lists the men who accompanied him, but there is a sense of danger hanging over this whole small passage, and that feeling will only intensify as we read on.
It was not a direct journey; going via Macedonia to encourage the churches there, Paul moved on to Greece (specifically Corinth) for three months; it seems likely that he wrote to the Romans during this time. Here the rumour of a plot against him led to a change in plan, and he retraced his steps through Macedonia, the party meeting up again in Troas at Passover, a festival that now also had a Christian significance.
We, in this land, are spared such sense of peril; we may be mocked for our faith and feel side-lined, but we are mercifully free of the threat to life that others experience in so many parts of the world. This being so, we who are thankfully free to worship, and speak and act are also free to pray earnestly for those who do face danger because of their faith, wherever they may be.
If Paul was afraid as he set out – and sometimes he must have been – moving from church to church he would have found people who appreciated all he had done for them, and who would hold him always in their prayers. Those prayers would have mattered. Our prayers matter still.
Loving God, in your love, watch over all who travel today, we pray. Those who travel joyfully, and those who travel fearfully. Those who travel among friends, and those who travel among strangers. Bless, we pray, all those who travel when they have no home; no place to rest. We ask it in the name of Jesus who welcomed friend and stranger. Amen
The Rev’d Ruth Crofton is a retired minister living near Durham.