6th Sunday of Easter, year C, (5/1/16)
first reading: Acts 16:9-15
second reading: Revelation 21:10,22-22:5
gospel reading: John 14:23-29
A few weeks ago in our Easter journey through the book of Acts, we met Tabitha, the only woman to be called “disciple.”
Today Acts introduces us to another woman who was crucial in the life of the baby Christian Church – Lydia. Lydia has her own, very special distinction, which we’ll get to in a moment.
Just like Tabitha, Lydia worked with cloth – but that’s where the similarity ends. We don’t know if Lydia made clothing or not, but what we DO know is that she was a “dealer” – she was in sales and distribution. We don’t know if she owned the business or not, but she definitely traveled trading.
And apparently she traveled extensively because her hometown of Thyatira (in modern Turkey) was a LONG way away from Philippi in Greece. Not only that, but, even though she was FROM Tyatira, she owned a home in Philippi. So she most certainly had financial resources.
So Lydia is a well-traveled businesswoman of at least good financial standing. Interesting and a bit unusual for that time and place. There’s another unusual thing about her too. The author of the book of Acts describes Lydia as a “worshiper of God.”
With this title we’re not sure if she was even Jewish or not. It could be that she was a Gentile who was interested in Judaism – that she joined the other women who were praying outside the city gates to learn from them – to grow in the belief that there was ONE God instead of many. It’s clear though, that even if Lydia wasn’t Jewish, she was on her way to believing in THE one God.
Paul and his companions had also traveled to Philippi, not to sell anything as Lydia probably did, but to share the gospel. There, outside the city gate, they found the women gathered for the Sabbath – sat with them, and spoke to them.
There, outside the city gate, God “opened her heart,” and the traveler Lydia listened “eagerly” to the traveler Paul. And she believed. She believed and was baptized – and not just her, but her whole household.
A characteristic of a good businesswoman or man is that of persuasion, and we read that Lydia had that. She invited Paul and his companions to stay with her. I don’t know how hard she had to work to convince them, but Paul says she “urged” them, and his response was, “she prevailed upon us.”
I don’t know why that makes me smile. The context implies that Paul may NOT have wanted to stay with Lydia, but she went up against him and won. Once she and her household came to believe and were baptized, she was called to a ministry of hospitality for Paul and his companions.
Now that we’ve looked at Lydia’s story, I will share with you her special distinction in our faith history.
Lydia is the FIRST documented convert to Christianity in Europe. And as head of the household Lydia also became the head of the first house church in Europe. This church in Philippi would grow and thrive, as we can read about in Paul’s letter to the Philippians which would come later.
The book of Acts is about the baby Church – how it grew (sometimes with growing PAINS), and who the early followers supported one another and reached out to more and more different kinds of people with the gospel of Jesus. How it began to reach beyond Jews to share not only the message, but as we read last week, even table fellowship, with Gentiles.
Our church of today, and by “church” I mean you and me, could learn some good lessons and be inspired by these stories. In Lydia’s story we have two things that can help us out of our tiny shells. Paul was willing to go outside his comfort zone to share the gospel with her.
The first thing he did was listen to the vision – to go – to travel to Greece. The second thing, which in our day and age might slip past us if we don’t pay attention is… he and his companions went over and sat and talked with… a bunch of women! This was a definite cultural and religious no-no. And on top of that, Lydia was probably a non-Jewish woman. But perhaps Paul had heard of the instances when Jesus reached out and spoke with women.
Lydia was a most UNLIKELY candidate to start the church in Philippi, or to give housing to Paul and his companions.
Breaking out of our shy shells. Thinking outside the box. Stepping out of our comfort zones. It doesn’t mean we have to shout about Jesus from the steps of borough hall. It’s the little things – our small interactions with people that can make the world of difference for them.
It might be a friend, a neighbor, someone sitting next to us in the doctor’s office, or in the deli line at the grocery store. A smile, an offer to pray for them if they’re having a tough time – letting them know we are Christians by the love and care we show for them, and for each other.
Jesus has given us everything, even his very life – for you and me. Though we didn’t deserve it – DON’T deserve it – he died so that we can live now and forever. In him we find a friend, guide, power, strength, love, peace, courage, and a community in which to live out all our joys and sorrows.
The European church was started through Paul acting on the vision God gave him, and the simple action of seeing some women sitting outside, sitting down, and talking with them.
Breaking out of our shy shells. Moving in ever small steps out of our comfort zones.
Who knows? Maybe there’s a Lydia here in [our town] just waiting to hear.