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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Sunday's Sermon: The Conversion of Lydia

AUG 25, 2013  SERMON by Pastor Keith
The Conversion of Lydia – Acts 16:11-15

Does God care about Lydia?
Lydia, perhaps a widow, the head of her own household, a seller of purple cloth, a merchant of a luxury good worn by the rich and powerful, a God-fearer, one seeking God more deeply, exploring the Jewish faith, but not yet a convert, approaching, but not yet. A woman whose heart the Lord opens, fills with eagerness, to hear the words that Paul longs to speak, to share.
Does God care about Lydia?

Paul was on a journey.  He had sought to go to Asia, but become frustrated because that is not where the Holy Spirit wanted him to go. He sought to go to Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit once again closed off that route. And then he had a dream of a man of Macedonia inviting him to come to that place. And he spoke about this dream with his companions and together they spent time in discernment seeking the will of the Lord and then finally they decided to follow the call in the dream. They headed for Macedonia and the Gospel entered Europe for the first time. They ended up in Philippi, a Roman city of that region, and there on the Sabbath, by the river, supposing it a place of prayer, they did not find the man of Macedonia that had called to them through Paul’s dream. They found Lydia.

Does God care about Lydia?
Of course God does.

And God cared about Linda, but none of you have likely ever met her or her daughter Courtney. She didn’t sell purple cloth, but worked at a dry cleaners, taking the stains out of clothes of all sorts of different colors, including purple, I am certain. And if we assume that Lydia was a single mom, which given the text, doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch, Linda and Lydia had that in common, too; names changed of course in this day and age. And Linda brought Courtney to our Sunday school, dropping her off at the church door, but not entering herself, and then dutifully picking her up an hour later. She did this faithfully each Sunday. I was an intern and served as pastor of that same church. And I noticed this pattern, the dropping off, but never entering.

One day I brought my dry cleaning in and used it as an opportunity to ask a question that had been bothering me; that had me both curious and apprehensive: “Linda, you bring your daughter every single Sunday to Sunday school, but you never enter the church; you never come in to worship. Why?”  

I mean there had to be a reason. A story. Right?

And this is what she said: “Because as a woman with a child and no husband, every time I came to worship I felt people staring at me. I heard their whispers.
So I stopped coming, but I wanted my daughter to know Jesus.”

I wanted my daughter to know Jesus, she said.

Does God care about Linda and her daughter?
Of course God does.

What would it have taken, do you suppose, for Linda to have found welcome in that congregation? To meet Jesus in and through the people who gathered there? In and through the people who handed out the bulletins and sat next to her in the pews, who approached her during the sharing of the peace and who bid her come up for communion, who handed her the bread and wine, and who gathered after worship and walked down the steps to coffee hour. What would it have taken for Linda to have met Jesus there in and through the people who she encountered?

Here’s the truth. Paul encounters in a dream a man of Macedonia calling to him, pleading to him, pleading to him to come there. To help them. And in Macedonia, in the city of Philippi, on the Jewish Sabbath day, Paul encounters a group of women gathered by the river.  And he speaks to them. We do not have the words that were spoken, but the Lord opened her heart and in those words, through the Holy Spirit, the Lord worked faith. I’m glad that we do not have the words that Paul spoke because the Lord can and does and will use our words, true? The words themselves that Paul spoke were not magical. Not some holy incantation that Paul recited and presto: Faith takes root. Paul recognized that in the encounter unfolding before him that there was once again an opportunity to make Christ known. Which is just what he did.

My conversations with Linda on that day and in other encounters in the months that followed did not lead to her overcoming the pain that she experienced as one on the receiving end of judgment. Maybe I was just sowing seeds that someone would later water, who knows? We tell ourselves all kinds of things to ease our own discomfort, lessen that sadness that we feel from someone else’s pain. And sometimes the things that we tell ourselves prove to be true. But listen: Our whole life long the Spirit will be present in the circumstances and encounters we have with others. Are we prepared, you and I, to make Christ known? To allow the words that flow from grateful and generous hearts filled with the hope in which we live, filled with the love in which God has claimed us, with such words that just tumble out of our mouths, that they would be gracious clay through which the Holy Spirit might mold and shape faith in another? Do we dare care about others, even strangers, as much as Jesus does?
Do we dare care that much, you and I?

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