A reflection Acts 16:9-15 for Easter 6 by The Rev. Karla Jean Miller
During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Mothering God, you gave us birth, you hold us safely in the shelter of your wings, you feed and nurture us with your Spirit and Grace. Feed us this morning, hold us this morning as we seek with open hearts your love. Amen.
There was a huge discussion this week on the RevGalBlogPals website as to how to approach worship on Mother’s Day. Do you go with a traditional Mother’s Day sermon (whatever that is?) Do you celebrate all women? What about women who aren’t mothers? What about those who have estranged relationships or no relationships with their mothers. What about those congregants who have recently lost their mothers…and what about those who longed to be a mother but couldn’t, or what about mother’s who have lost their children, or lost a pregnancy, or what about men who mother? Besides the fact that Mother’s Day isn’t even a church holy day or in the liturgical calendar, so should it be acknowledged, even? It’s a tangled web of what is politically correct, what tradition is, and how to be sensitive and honest.
As a woman who is NOT a biological mother and has a little bit of baggage about that, as well as being someone who mothers in many other ways, besides feeling so grateful for her and the many mothers in her life, all I can say is that I resonate with all of the questions flying ‘round the blogs. I think our hearts just need to be open for the contradictions and open to the pain and joy that can be overwhelming of this day. I am drawn, too, the open heart of Lydia, whom I have no idea was a mother or not, but her life was a set of contradictions that did not keep her from being transformed by the love of God.
In many seminaries, you can take a course on the Patristics , or, Fathers of the Church. Where I went to seminary, there was a whole reference room filled with translations of their writings. Sadly, there are no courses in Matristics, or Mothers of the Church, probably because women didn’t do a whole lot of writing back in the day—but there are many Mothers of the Church. We just have to look a little deeper into the texts, because often times, the stories of women are passed over, overshadowed by patriarchy and editing. Take our text today. A story of one of the many mission trips of Paul. It’s easy to focus on him in this story—he is fantastically courageous and certain in his faith. Who do you know has dreams about people in other countries, calling to him or her to come and help them, only to awaken, then wake up convinced that God is calling them make that dream a reality. Not many, for sure. If I have dreams about strangers calling to me, I wake up wondering what I ate that caused such a crazy dream. Not Paul, however. He was in touch and in tune with God’s call that he was able to make u-turns and boat-trips across oceans on a dime. This particular mission trip is packed with the best parts of Paul—who not only follows God’s lead, but is willing to go to the edges and fringes to find the least likely of converts—such as women praying at the river—to share the message of justice and hope of Jesus. This trip embodies one of Paul’s greatest revelations from Galatians 4—that there is no Jew or Greek, Male or Female, Slave or Free in Christ.
But Lydia, Lydia. To our contemporary ears, her story sounds fairly regular for a bible event. But there are several surprises in this text, if we dig deeper. Do you realize that you have just heard the story of the First Christian Convert in Europe—who was a Gentile, and a woman at that. (There is irony is this, don’t you think? That the first European Christian is a woman when European Christianity has for so long denied women from being leaders in the church?) Our information about Lydia is limited—some commentators think she had a family, a husband, and servants. Others argue that she was single, possibly a former slave. Most agree that she was a successful merchant, dealing in purple cloth that only the wealthy were permitted to wear. We know she was a former pagan who's studying to convert to Judaism, which is why the narrator calls her "a worshipper of God." We know that there are very few Jews in Phillipi, which is why we find the women down at the river, at the edge of town. There aren’t enough men to make a minyan—the required number to form a synagogue.
In spite of her wealth, and her elevated place in antiquity, we know this to be true: Lydia is hungry. Lydia is longing for nourishment. She has already affirmed a God that is compassionate and just, who knows her as a chosen one. She, too, is willing to go the fringe, the edge, in spite of who she is, in order to learn more, be filled more….seeking more Good News…
The Rev. Kate Huey puts it like this:
Lydia's open heart and mind can hear the good news and she can embrace the promises of God and know that those promises are for her, too, and for her whole household, her own people. She has such passion and, no doubt, energy, and, I like to think, maybe even some skills with preaching (after all, she talks Paul and his companions into accepting her invitation – even though she's a Gentile and that would have been a major problem for some folks); she has such passion that before this chapter sixteen is over, she's already gathered a group of sisters and brothers to be church right along with her, in her own house. She's not only the first Christian convert in Europe, but she's got herself a new church start – the first new church start in Europe, and it's by a woman, and a Gentile woman at that! Who would have ever thought it? (May I just mention here that nobody ever told me this kind of thing when I was a young girl growing up in the church? Are we telling our daughters these things?)
Lydia’s open heart led her to an unexpected place and to an unexpected discovery and to an unexpected twist in her life that was transformative.
We walk around, too often, with our hearts empty and closed, instead of wide open to possibility. The contradictions in life, suffering and sadness mingled with wishful thinking and half-hearted searching can be difficult to embrace. Empty hearts are o.k., I think—but locked up hearts aren’t.
I am wondering today, if your heart is open?
If it isn’t, what is keeping it locked? Can you find a shred of what it takes to at least crack it open?
If your heart is open, and you are searching for Good News, What are you hearing? What are you being touched by? Who are the unexpected gospel carriers among us?
Is it the long-time faithfulness of our elders that show us perseverance and trust can get you through most anything?
Is the good news the joy of a kindergartener marveling at a story bible?
The irony with the gospel, the good news of love and hope and justice and peace, is that is almost always discovered in the most unexpected, fringy parts of life. That’s why we need to allow ourselves to be mothered and nudged by Grace to keep our hearts open,
So we don’t miss out on the good news in life—
You might discover the grace of good news in your beloved,
Or in an unexpected moment where you stare out the window and see the clouds billowing in the sky as you look up from your computer.
It might be in the words of scripture, or the words of a seven year espousing wisdom about a cockroach like zen koan. (This happened to me this week).
It might be in a dream.
It might be down at the river.
It might be….(fill in the blank)
One thing I can promise…
With an open heart,
The good news will come.