It may seem like a distant memory now, but some of you may still be able to visualize the film we watched at our film night in early March. It was called “All Saints” and retold the real story of how the All Saints Church in Smyrna, Tennessee, avoided closure. The Episcopalian rector at the church knew that God told him to plant vegetables in the church grounds with the help of refugees from Myanmar so that the church could get the much-needed cash to keep open. The rector continues with this vision even in the face of obstacles. Through hard work and miracles God’s plan seems to succeed. But in the end it all falls apart through some totally unforeseeable events. The church does not get the cash. Nevertheless, it avoids closure because it has built up community spirit, so that the church authorities are willing to invest in the church as a mission district. Nevertheless, the rector was transferred. Does that mean that God gives us visions that then do not come about as we hoped? At times does God inspire us to do something which then turns into something totally different? It seems so.
In Chapter 15 of the Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul sets out his plans: he will quickly go to Jerusalem, and then journey to the new mission field that God has placed on his heart: Spain. On the way to Spain, Paul wants to visit the Christians in Rome. In fact, it seems as if Paul had written the letter to the Romans as a sort of introduction, so that he would be welcomed by the Christians there and could use Rome as stepping point for his further missionary endeavours.
But the plans of Paul did not come about. Instead, Paul was taken a prisoner in Jerusalem and then transferred to Caesarea. There he spent more than two years in captivity. Finally Paul did get to Rome, but as a prisoner. We know that Paul spent a further two years in Rome under house arrest (Acts 28:30–31). It seems he was executed there. He never made it to Spain. And yet God gave him the certainty that he was supposed to go there. The New Testament scholar Tom Wright has suggested that God gave Paul this vision to go to Spain, so that Paul would be inspired to write the Letter to the Romans. At times God may lead us into the unknown in ways we cannot grasp.