Sermon 6 Easter, Yr C
May 11, 2007 Leave a comment
6 Easter Yr C, 13/05/2007
Rev. Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Pastor of Grace Lutheran Church, &
Chaplain of The Good Samaritan Society’s
South Ridge Village, Medicine Hat, Alberta
“Lydia and the women of Philippi”
Years ago, when there were only a few women in ordained ministry; when my wife was being called to serve the Bashaw Lutheran Parish; the bishop at the time asked the call committee how they would feel if their next pastor was a woman. There was silence for a while, then one of the call committee members spoke up, saying: “It would be alright, if her husband could play the organ.” Well, I don’t play the organ; nonetheless Julianna did receive the call to that parish and was blessed in her pastoral ministry there. Her parishioners, for the most part, came to love and accept her as their pastor.
Today in our passage from Acts, it is interesting that Luke tells us it was the women, not the men, who were the first people at Philippi to hear the gospel preached and be baptized into the Christian faith. Although Paul has a vision in the night while he is at Troas; and in that vision he sees a man pleading with him to: “Come over to Macedonia and help us;” it is rather ironic that when Paul and his co-workers arrive at Philippi they meet women who listen to Paul’s preaching, and one of them at least, Lydia, along with her whole household, were baptized into the Christian faith.
Even though at this time in history society was very patriarchal, Luke in his Gospel and in Acts admits that there were some women who played a significant leadership role in the ministry of the early Christian Church. Let us take a closer look then at this Lydia, who was she anyways? Well, according to Luke’s description of her in our text, she was: “a worshipper of God,” or as Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message, “a God-fearing woman.” In the book of Acts, Luke mentions other people, often they are Gentiles, who worship and fear God, and some of them seem to have contact with or even worship in Jewish synagogues, believing in the One True God of heaven and earth. At any rate, Lydia was obviously a woman of deep faith in God.
Luke goes on to describe Lydia as coming: “from the city of Thyatira.” Now Thyatira was a centre of commerce and known for its many trade guilds. It was located in the country of Lydia, in western Anatolia, present-day Turkey. Lydia was bounded on the west by the Aegean Sea and profoundly influenced the Ionian Greeks in the 7th – 6th centuries BC through such economic developments as the use of metallic coinage. It was conquered by the Persians under Cyrus II in 546 BC. It later passed to Syria and Pergamum, and under the Romans it became part of the province of Asia.1 It is rather interesting that Lydia then is actually named after her country—this could perhaps suggest that she was an influential citizen of her nation.
Luke continues to describe Lydia as: “a dealer in purple cloth.” Obviously if she was from Thyatira, and now in Philippi, she was a travelling business woman, who was independent and had the financial wealth to carry out her work in this way. According to Rev. Dr. William Barclay: Lydia came from the very top end of the social scale; she was a purple merchant. The purple dye had to be gathered drop by drop from a certain shell-fish and was so costly that to dye a pound of wool with it would take (quite a large sum money).2 Moreover, as Luke mentions later in this text, Lydia has a “household,” and has a “home.” If she owned property here in Philippi as well as back in Thyatira, then she must have been a businesswoman with considerable wealth. This is an important point I think for two reasons: firstly, it gives us a clue that there were some women, even in a patriarchal society, who were able to pursue an occupation outside of the traditional roles as housewife and mother, and become relatively successful and influential in their society. Secondly, according to Luke, it was the will of the Lord who called Lydia into the Christian Church. Luke tells us: “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” In other words, the preaching of the Good News is for everyone; in this case, it touched the life of a rich businesswoman, Lydia. Then, Luke goes on to say that after Lydia heard the Word of God preached by Paul: “she and her household were baptized.”
The reference to “her household” is important here. Firstly, again it tells us that Lydia was the head of the house, and a woman of means. She may have had family members in her household as well as slaves or servants, we cannot be certain, however this is quite likely. Yet, to have a household implies several people, not merely herself, and thus the need for resources to support such a household. Secondly, a household, in most cases, is intergenerational; therefore this passage may very well describe the baptism of children, perhaps even infants. Yes, it is by inference, but nonetheless it is quite possible that Lydia’s household consisted of children, maybe even infants. It seems too from the text, that all, not merely some of the household were baptized, since the way Luke words the phrase gives us the sense of being inclusive of everyone in the household.
This sequence in the story also is quite important and instructive to the Church for today. We have here first of all God’s call to preach the good news in Macedonia. Then we have Paul and his co-workers obeying that call by travelling to Philippi and seeking out a place and an audience to hear and receive the preached Word. Then we have God working through that preached Word by touching the heart of Lydia who obviously believed in the message of the Gospel. Then in response to the preached Word, Lydia and her household were baptized. This sequence in the story is also very similar to what we continue to do in the Christian Church today. We continue to trust that God calls people into the ordained ministry. God sends those ordained pastors to certain places to preach the good news. God’s Holy Spirit continues to be at work through the preached Word, and touches peoples’ hearts. God still leads people to seek the sacrament of Holy Baptism and become members of the Christian Church.
This story also teaches us that often we, like Paul and his co-workers need to continue with the mission of the Church by going out into the world and sharing the Good News with them in various places and situations. We, like Paul and his co-workers, are called to be missionaries for Christ, whether around the world or right here in our own community of Medicine Hat. We, like Paul and his co-workers, need to trust in God to work through our obedient thoughts, words and actions—that others will indeed be reached with the Good News and it will have an impact in their lives.
A commuter on a suburban railroad was known to every regular rider on the 5:15 local. He was a well-dressed, quiet young man. As the train pulled out of the station, he would go to the front of the car in which he was riding and walk down the aisle, speaking to each seatload of passengers as he went. “Excuse me, but if any of your family or friends are blind or threatened with blindness, tell them to consult Dr. Carl. He restored my sight.” It was courteous, confident, and courageous testimony, repeated faithfully. The man had good news, and he shared it. This is evangelism!3 We never know how much God can accomplish to reach others through our obedient, faithful thoughts, words and actions when we share them. The Gospel is Good News, The Best Good News of all for everyone, therefore worth sharing with them.
You may not be able to preach like Paul, who was likely one of the best if not “the” best, most articulate preacher in the early Church; however you can follow the example of Lydia, who, after she and her household were baptized, she offered hospitality to Paul and his co-workers. I like the way Eugene Peterson puts it in The Message: “After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.” We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.”
Hospitality is a very important ministry. It can make all the difference in the world, especially to strangers.
Methodist International House in London has for years now been a Christian home—even if temporary—for students from overseas who arrive in England and have nowhere to live. This is how the idea began.
Until the political unrest sent her home, Hilda Porter, a big-hearted Barnsley woman with an indomitable spirit, had been a missionary in a bandit-infested area of China. Then the war started and the Blitz hit London.
Hilda worked with the homeless and she sheltered with them each night. They soon saw that “Auntie Hilda” knew what it meant to sleep rough.
During this time, she found overseas students living in poor conditions, homesick and lonely. She mobilised the Methodist Church into starting an international home for them. She tramped around for days to find suitable accommodation, and started International House as she was to name it, in Inverness Crescent. With help she cleaned it from top to bottom, so that the rooms could be occupied immediately.
Hilda has long since passed on, but she is still remembered lovingly by people from many countries. She believed that all of us are God’s children and she lived her life to prove that this is true.4 On this Mother’s Day, we too celebrate and remember all mothers who have given of their lives for the betterment of their children, the church and the world. Their contributions are priceless, may God continue to bless all mothers.
We too can learn from and be inspired by the hospitality of Lydia to Paul and his co-workers, who were strangers to Lydia and her household. Out of that hospitality grew a new Christian congregation at Philippi. We never know how the Lord can use our hospitality to make all the difference in the world and in the church. Amen.
1 Cited from <www.answers.com>.
2 Wm. Barclay, The Acts of the Apostles (Burlington, ON: G.R. Welch Co. Ltd., 1976), p. 123.
3 Albert P. Stauderman, Let Me Illustrate (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1983), p. 171.
4 F. Gay, The Friendship Book, 1992, meditation for June 17.