The Rector’s sermon for March 18, 2018   


A Lenten Preaching Series:  THY WILL BE DONE

6 of 9:  God’s Will and My Response



Today is sermon number six in our Lenten preaching series: Thy Will Be Done.  The theme for today is God’s Will and My Response, and the key verse is:  “The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul”  (Acts 16:14).


We will pay a visit today to someone you probably don’t know or may even have never heard of.  That description alone is the reason we’re on this journey throughout the season of Lent.  God is putting before us several unlikely characters that he chooses to empower for the work of the Kingdom.  Why is that important?  Because it shows us that we too are such characters, some of us highly unlikely, but God will use us in big or small ways to shine a light on his kingdom.  So, I’d like you to meet Lydia.


“Hi.  My name is Lydia.  I’m from Thyatira and I sell purple.  When I first met the Apostle Paul, he howled with laughter when he heard I was from Thyatira.  You won’t know why that’s funny.  You probably don’t even know where Thyatira is.  It’s in Asia  minor.  And no, that’s not where I met him.  I met Paul in Philippi, where I live now—me, the children and the servants.  When Claudio died, I… Claudio was my owner and then my husband. (It’s not as complicated as it sounds.)  Claudio was a merchant, traveling around the empire selling purple dye.  It was his idea to settle here in Philippi, even thought the dye itself comes from places like Thyatira, in the region called Lydia—that’s where Claudio bought me.  It’s also where he gave me my freedom, and I took my name Lydia from there.”


 “Claudio loved me and accepted me for who I was, even when I was a slave and had nothing….I should have learned from that…I should have learned about love, but I guess I didn’t … I became his wife; we ran the business together, then we moved here to Philippi.  I nursed him through his illness, and when he died, he left the business to me.  But that was a long time ago.  It’s unusual, you know, for a woman to run a business like this.  I learned a lot about dyes and pigments from my husband, but I was never fully accepted by the other merchants:  a woman—an ex-slave at that!-running a business and a household.  I got by.  But you know, my free name—Lydia—always reminds me of home, and of how much Claudio took care of me.”


 “It was here in Philippi that I discovered the Hebrew religion.  The gods I grew up with were every bit as foul as human beings.  You bribed them with offerings and hoped they didn’t bother you.  Best thing was to stay out of their way and hope that they stayed out of yours!  I remember how we used to frighten each other as little girls—don’t be looking too pretty or Zeus will have his eye on you.  Growing up, we were always hearing of plagues or exploding mountains when the gods were displeased with this or that.”


 “But the stories of the Hebrew God were so different!  He cared about us humans like a parent.   He took the Hebrews under his wing and stuck with them even when they were disobedient, disciplining them, delivering them from the war chariots of old Egypt—with them complaining all the way!  Zeus would have fried the whole nation to a crisp with one thunderbolt!  Instead, this “I AM” prepared a land flowing with milk and honey.  And he prepared a people to live in it.  Imagine that!  Now THAT’s someone worth calling God!”


 “Anyway, about twenty of us in Philippi worship the Hebrew God, but because most of us are women, we didn’t have the quorum needed for a synagogue.  Miriam said that in such a case, it was traditional for us to meet to worship near a river or a creek—convenient for ritual washing and other ceremonies…  Those Jews---they will wash anything you haven’t nailed down, and some things you have! We wash ourselves, our hands, any pots or vessels.  I came to associate the sound of flowing, laughing water with the Jewish God, and the promise of flowing milk and honey.”


 “Claudio once told me about a philosopher who said something about a river.  Something about time flowing…it made me shiver.  His religion, my old religion, hurries by you while you just stand there.  It doesn’t need you; it doesn’t have much to do with you.  But the God of flowing milk and honey, of living water!?  How different he is!  How warm and sweet and and alive he is!  And it felt as if…I don’t know… almost as if he were preparing me all along for this—for him!”


“But Paul didn’t expect to meet me, a Thyatiran.  I was among Hebrews and living in Philippi, but no one would mistake me for either a Jew or a Philippian—for anything but a Thyatiran!  And that’s why he laughed.  I thought is was just a coincidence, but he didn’t.  You see, he had been planning to go to Thyatira—he felt strongly he’d had an appointment to give his message to people from there.  But God sent him a vision telling him to go in another direction.  When he met me, he laughed and laughed to find out that he had been right all along.  He was meant to share his message with someone from Thyatira, just not in Thyatira.  And I’ll bet he also didn’t expect to be sent to a woman!”


 “He had a message about a Jew named Jesus, which at first didn’t mean much to me.  But before he told us his message, he listened.  He listened!  That got my attention, you know.  Not many people listened to me.  Maybe because I’m a woman, or maybe because everywhere I go, I’m different.  You’d think it would make them curious:  ‘How in the world did you get here, Lydia?’  But no one, especially the men, ever asked.  Some ignored me.  Others tried to impress me by talking about themselves.  I think some of my friends assumed I would feel less like a foreigner if we didn’t talk about my slave days.  But not talking about my past made me feel more out of place, even less at home, less accepted…  I didn’t let it bother me.  With my wealth, I had plenty of ‘friends’ or at least acquaintances.  They didn’t cost me that much.  No one got close, no one really knew me, really listened.  I had the house, the children, good food and a business to keep me occupied.”


 “But Paul…he listened, he wanted to hear.  It didn’t make him uncomfortable.  And what a strange man!  He had lots of friends who were slaves or used to be slaves, but he knew wealthy people, and city officials, too.  So he didn’t act superior about my background, and he wasn’t threatened by my success.  We talked a little about him and his visions; it was clear that he often felt as though he didn’t fit in, either.  He was very, very Jewish of course, but also a Roman citizen, and now had become a follower of Jesus—Paul promised to tell us all a lot about Jesus over lunch—but all of it often made him feel he was never really at home, and didn’t really belong, he said.”


 “’That’s exactly how I feel,’ I remember saying to him, ‘I don’t belong anywhere, really.  Here I am, a Thyatiran stuck in Philippi, a former slave now running a household; a Gentile in a the Jewish Place of prayer; a businessman who is a woman.’  ’Sometimes,’ I said to him, ‘I wish there was somewhere people didn’t care where you came from, didn’t care whether you were Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female.’  ‘Well,’ he said, ‘As it happens…’  And that’s when we all broke bread together and he told us all about Jesus and his gospel.  And what good news it was!  I’d been right about the Jewish God.  But what he had done in the past was as nothing compared to sending his Son!  No, that’s not quite right.  It’s like the same signature, the same handwriting…or the same dye…but in a much deeper hue.  The love of the Father expressed by giving his Son for us…for ME.”


 “Thank you, Jesus, for forgiving me.  I’d lost who I was.  I thought I could be accepted and loved for what I had.  But that becomes like any other deal:  get as much as you can from the other, while giving away as little as you can of your own.  That’s not acceptance; that’s not love.  That’s just more business.  Who needs that?  And it doesn’t give anyone what they really need.”


 “I know now that in Christ, God accepts me as his child, not for what I can do or make or sell, but for who I am.  He has given everything freely; there’s no more bargaining.  That frees me to respond freely with everything I am.  I’m accepted for who I am; and what I have becomes useful, too—the church meets in my home now, and I can even help feed and care for some of the others from my abundance.  Do they deserve it?  No, they don’t!  But thank God, none of us will get what we deserve.  No one deserves or earns what they get in Jesus’ kingdom—everything is a gift; everything was created to be given away, not earned, owned or hoarded.  Everything we have…is a response.  A thank you.  ‘thank you, God, for what I have, but it’s not all that I am.’”


 “The Lord God doesn’t just give us a gift; he prepares us to receive it, working and shaping us, sometimes for a lifetime.  And when we do receive the gift, he himself has given us the response.  Paul didn’t expect to speak to a Thyatiran in Philippi, and God had been preparing me for something; and here we are!  It all belongs to God; it’s all His, all of it—the gift, the search, the finding, the response.  It’s all His.  Grace upon grace upon grace.    And now I know who I am:  I’m no longer an ex-slave, a semi-Jewish woman who runs a business.  I’m Lydia, a follower of Jesus.”


Let us pray:

            Lord, you seem to work in such inefficient ways—a whole missionary journey sidetracked so one woman far from her hometown could come to know Jesus!  You prepared the way for Paul’s word; you sent your Spirit into Lydia’s heart; you alone deserve the praise for Lydia’s saving faith.  Open my heart, too, Lord; cause me to pay attention to your Word.  Then make my response, like Lydia’s, overflow into all areas of my life.  And to you alone be the glory!  Amen.


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