Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Love of Lydia

In Nomine Iesu
Acts 16:9-15, 40
May 9, 2010
Easter 6C

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus~

Here in the church it is the sixth Sunday of Easter. I’ve prepared a sermon based on it being the sixth Sunday of Easter. Your bulletin cover also reminds us of that fact. But the brisk business I witnessed at Winkie’s on Friday, the boatload of brunches, buffets and smorgasbords going on today, together with a flurry of floral creations—these things tell me that it’s Mothers’ Day.

I’ve often thought that it would be good to preach a sermon on the vocation of motherhood. After all, God gave each of us a mother. Many mothers are fondly remembered on this day, while other mothers are remembered not as fondly because they were either neglectful or abusive in some way. All of us have sinned against our mothers. We have failed to honor them, serve and obey them, love and cherish them. Today would be a good day to repent of those sins. Jesus Himself had a mother. And from the cross, you will recall, Jesus blessed and redeemed motherhood, as He tenderly provided for the care of His own mother. It wouldn’t be too difficult to draw a sermon out of all that.

But rather than preaching on the topic of mothers in general, our first reading today led me to learn this week about a particular mother named Lydia. It’s likely that Lydia was a mother. She did have an entire “household” which probably included children. But what we can say about Lydia with perfect accuracy is that she was a mother in the faith. And just as we all learn much from our earthly mothers, so also do we have much to learn from Lydia.

It was no accident and no fluke—no random coincidence—that Lydia was converted to Christianity. In fact, the mission trip that led to her conversion began when Paul had a vision of a man in Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” Paul concluded that this was a direct message from God Himself. Wouldn’t it be nice if all of our evangelism efforts were so clear cut and definitive—God not only telling us to go, but also where and when to go—with 3D, High Definition clarity?

The place Paul and Silas headed off to was Macedonia—a place you may know better as simply “Greece.” Greece was in the news last week for all the wrong reasons. The Greek office of tourism is no doubt experiencing some frustration right now—assuming it hasn’t yet been burned to the ground by angry mobs. But for our purposes this morning, all you really need to know is that Greece is located in Europe. And it’s safe to say that most of us here today can trace our ancestry back to somewhere in Europe. Christianity, of course, got its start in Asia. But beginning with Paul’s mission to Macedonia, the Gospel was being preached for the first time on European soil. And Lydia—our mother in the faith—just happened to be the first person to be converted and baptized in Europe—perhaps at the very spot pictured on today’s bulletin cover.

Lydia probably wasn’t the typical woman of the First Century. Luke tells us that she was a dealer in purple cloth. Purple cloth is nothing extraordinary today. (Some of you are probably wearing purple right now; and you didn’t pay more for your purple attire than, say, your yellow attire.) But in those days, purple dye was a costly color that could only be drawn from a tiny drop extracted from a tiny snail that lived in the desert. This is why purple was considered the color of royalty—because only royalty could afford it. This is also why it’s safe to assume that Lydia was a woman of means—a wealthy woman—a business woman whose home was big enough that the church at Philippi would eventually gather for worship in her living room (16:40).

But when Paul first showed up at Philippi (in Macedonia) there was no Christian church at all. There wasn’t even a Jewish synagogue. Lydia and her household were Jewish. Unfortunately, it took a quorum of ten Jewish men to establish a synagogue. Apparently that threshold couldn’t be met. That’s why Lydia and her posse, along with other women, had to gather at the river for worship. But Paul began to speak to the women gathered there—telling them the good news about Jesus—that He was crucified for our offenses and raised again for our justification. That good news had its way with Lydia. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message, and she and her entire household were baptized right then and there. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, then “come and stay at my house.”

Let no one tell you that women are second-class members of the Christian church. Close your ears to all that hogwash about sexism and patriarchal attitudes pervading Christianity. Oh, there have been individuals with a sexist agenda in the church; but learn from Lydia that in the church of Jesus Christ no one—male or female, father or mother, single or married—no one is a second class citizen. Under the Old Covenant rules of Judaism it took ten men to start a synagogue. In the church of Jesus Christ it took one determined, devout woman down by the river to open up her heart and her home so that the good news of Jesus could begin to cross a new continent and make its way to the ends of the earth, and eventually into your ears and into your heart today.

Doesn’t our own experience show this to be true—that it’s often the devout and devoted women of the church who work the hardest—who are most eager to share the faith with others—who best recognize the importance of faith in the family, and who most readily teach that faith to their children and grandchildren through songs and Bible stories? Lydia’s love for the Lord lives on today—lives on in the women of this congregation and in many of our mothers and grandmothers.

But all of us—women and men—have even more to learn from Lydia. For once Lydia came to believe in Christ as her Savior, she immediately did what she could to support the work of the church. Without hesitation she opened up her home to Paul and Silas—and later to all the new Christian converts in Philippi. For Lydia, there was an urgency—an intensity—about her faith in Christ. Her faith didn’t take a back seat to anything—to school or sports or career or anything.

Beloved in the Lord, we need that urgency and that intensity when it comes to our faith today. Our membership in the Christian church comes with more privileges—and more responsibilities—than any other vocation we have. Lydia was a woman of means who fully utilized and leveraged those means to benefit the work of the Lord. We have a congregation that is filled with people of means—talented, gifted, generous people. But where is the intensity? Where is the urgency? Too often what we hear in the church is, “It’s not my job. It’s not my job to teach Sunday school. It’s not my job to greet visitors. It’s not my job to fix this or repair that. It’s not my job to sing in the choir or usher.”

Let me ask, what would our families be like if our mothers always took that attitude? You need food to eat and clothes to wear? Sorry, not my job. You need someone to kiss that boo-boo and make it all better? Sorry, not my job. You need someone to encourage you and correct you? Sorry, not my job. But Lydia is one of many blessed mothers who was led by the Lord to say, “yes.” To invest herself in the life of the church, and in so doing, to invest herself in the lives of those around her—serving out of love for the Lord Jesus.

Beloved in the Lord, you too are being led by the Lord to say, “yes.” To boldly and fearlessly invest yourself with intensity and urgency in the church of Jesus Christ. You and Lydia have so much in common—things like one Lord, one faith, one baptism. It was the Lord who opened Lydia’s heart. That same Lord is working and knocking on the door of your heart. Are you looking and listening and answering? Will you say yes? Will you invest yourself like Lydia? Will you follow Lydia’s lead? And don’t say to yourself, “Well, nobody’s asked me to do anything.” Nobody asked Lydia either. She was smart enough to see what the needs were; and she told Paul and Silas, “You’re coming to my house.”

The thing that made all the difference for Lydia is the same difference-maker for you. You might have missed it in the fine print of today’s reading, but it’s right there in black and white: “Lydia and the members of her household were baptized.” It sounds so routine—so ordinary. But that baptism brought life and liberty to Lydia. It freed her from her sins—washed them away in the cleansing water of Christ’s forgiveness. We saw it happen just minutes ago with little Grant.

And Grant’s baptism is a reminder for all of us who are baptized. It’s a reminder that your life is ripe with God’s plans and purposes. He’s always knocking, always guiding, always inviting. No, you may not receive a vision telling you to leave tomorrow for Macedonia. But tomorrow you may cross paths with someone who is hurting, and you can listen with the compassion of Jesus. You can tell them that your church is place of hope and invite them to come along. No, you might not be asked to open your home to missionaries like Lydia did, but when the offering plate comes your way in a few minutes, you’ll have an opportunity to provide housing for missionaries, to educate pastors, and to take your place in spreading the kingdom of God to the ends of the earth—just like Lydia.

Lydia was loved by the Lord; and that love had its way with Lydia. That same love can have its way with you too. It is a love that runs even deeper than a mother’s love. It’s a love that stretches from the manger to the cross to the open tomb of Easter—all the way to the New Jerusalem with streets of gold where the light of the sun and moon is simply not needed. That’s where you’re headed by grace, through faith, for Jesus’ sake. Meanwhile today, in the water and in the Word, in the bread and in the wine—the love of Jesus is here for you. Happy Mothers’ Day. Amen.

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