Sermon:“May the words from my lips and the meditations of our hearts always be pleasi (May 22, 2022)
It seems appropriate that we are worshiping out of doors today as we heard in our story from Acts that Paul meets Lydia and other “God worshippers” outside the gates of the city of Philippi - by the riverside.
Last week we heard of a vision that Peter received and today we hear of one that Paul had. When we use the word “vision” in and around Church we often think of strategic plans or redevelopment. That is not the case in scripture. In scripture visions are the norm, not the exception. Visions are messages from God that help to guide or discern what to do next. When we receive a vision from God we are changed. We do not often talk about our experiences of God - or visits from the Spirit or visions. But what if we did? Would our hearts be opened more fully? Would we find it easier to know what God wants us to do? Would discernment be clearer?
Paul was stalled. He was at a bit of a loss of what to do next. Paul is at an impasse regarding God’s guidance. I think we can all relate to this!
And then he receives the vision of the man from Macedonia who calls out to him for help. Begging Paul to come to them and to help them. From this vision Paul decides that he is being called to extend the mission even further. He will go to Europe. Macedonia was in the northeastern part of modern day Greece. This extension of the mission is a true milestone for the spread of the Gospel. With each new convert, each travel stop the mission was becoming more diverse in culture and geography.
The Gospel is expansive.
So Paul and his companions travel to the city of Philippi. Philippi was founded in 356 BC by Philip of Macedonia who was the father of Alexander the Great. It was an insignificant village until the Emperor Augustus decided it was an ideal place to send retired army officers who had served him well. It was a place of about 15,000 people. There was a strong Jewish presence along with the Gentiles. The Church that eventually formed there probably had 75 to 100 members.
So we turn again to Paul’s arrival in Philippi and his encounter with Lydia. Lydia is called a “God worshiper” this meant that she was a gentile who was attracted to Judaism but not yet ready to make the full commitment to Judaism. Paul and his companions had arrived in the city and were getting settled in. It was Paul’s custom when entering a new community to discover where the faithful met for prayer and worship. And from there to tell them about Jesus and to share the gospel - and to make converts. Philippi was no different.
When the Sabbath came Paul and his companions went outside the city gates to find where the faithful were gathered to pray and worship. They discovered the group by the riverside and began to talk to them. They met Lydia. Lydia was a businesswoman and a woman of influence and wealth.
We know very little about Lydia - but what we do know is fascinating. Who was this woman making her way independently in the world? A world run by men. Who was this gentile who sought the God of Judaism? It seems that worship was central to her. She dealt in purple cloth. Expensive cloth - rare cloth that only the very wealthy could afford. Because she dealt in this extravagant cloth she moved in circles of the wealthy.
Lydia hears the Gospel as the answer to her search. She finds God who was finding her. Her heart was prepared. God opened her heart and mind to hear the message that Paul brought. The vision Paul received was a man from Macedonia calling for him to come and help. But it was a woman who was the first European disciple. It was Lydia who took the Gospel message to heart. It was Lydia and her household who were baptized. It was Lydia who opened her home to Paul and his companions and made it a base for the mission. Lydia becomes a new convert who goes on to convert others. Because of her encounter with Paul Lydia becomes a servant of God.
Philippi was a successful missionary ground. Paul made strong and fond relationships. But his first relationship was with Lydia. Lydia becomes a model of feminine spirituality and leadership from the beginning of this new community. Lydia’s home quickly becomes the centre of the Philippi Church.
This story shows us again how important relationships are in worship and in faith and in the spread of the Gospel. We see in this story the power of relationships in ministry. And we see how each person adds to the capacity for ministry within the community. It was true in Philippi and it is true for us.
Paul responded to the call to “come and help us” that he experienced in the vision that led him to Philippi. How can or do we respond like Paul?
Acts chapter 16 is all about visions or dreams of where God is calling us. What do we need to respond? We need discernment and attentiveness. We need to be open to travel to new places (perhaps not geographic but new places or things our Church has not experienced before). We need to be open to gathering outside walled spaces - as we are today. We need to be open to meeting new people, to baptisms, to giving and receiving hospitality and transformative prayer. This is how we can respond to God and to the visions we may receive.