Our church theme this year is “Life Stories.” As a way to engage the theme, I invited you to identify characters from the Bible about whom you’d like me to preach. You did a good job! I had heard of everyone you named; I did grow up Baptist, after all, and know my Bible fairly well. I confess, though, that I will have to do a little research on people like Jabez and Korah.
The goal of this year’s theme is to learn about the lives of faithful people, to see how others—within the circumstances of their lives—live out their faith in God. Looking at how others live out their faith is an excellent invitation to reflect on how we live out our own. How do you—within the circumstances of your life—live out your faith in God?
The official “Summer Sermon Series” will begin the last week of this month…but since Lydia was on the list and the biblical passage about Lydia comes up today, we’re going to get a preview of the series this morning.
So, Paul’s doing his thing in Lystra when he has this dream. In this dream, a man from Macedonia—think current day Balkan peninsula—beckons: ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ Paul and his companions immediately head west to Macedonia, the city of Philippi, in particular.
To this point, it has been Paul’s custom when entering a town to begin his preaching at Sabbath services at the local synagogue. Assuming the readiest converts to be faithful Jews, that seems the best place to begin.
Apparently in Philippi, there is no organized faithful community in town, there isn’t even a fully functioning synagogue….which likely is why Paul heads for the river come Sabbath morning. It was common at the time for those not officially associated with a faith community to gather for impromptu prayer services somewhere outside the city gates. So Paul heads there to find some folks to whom to preach, the image of the person in his dream still vivid in his mind. His search is successful; he stumbles upon a group praying, a group led by a woman.
Monologue I remember that day very well. There had been rains the week before, which had brought out fragrant blossoms and new shoots. The sky was a deep blue, with a slight breeze that slowly pushed a few white clouds across it. As we gathered by the river for our time of prayer, there were many smiles on the faces of those around me. As my mother used to say, “A day of beauty calls forth the beauty of all who behold it.” It was certainly true on that day.
Just as we began our worship, three men approached us and asked if they could join us. This was unusual, for there were no men in our midst. We welcomed these strangers in, and although they were not familiar with our hymns, they joined in our prayers with the kind of devotion that one would only see in individuals who pray regularly. Towards the end of our worship, I invited them to speak of their own understanding of God. The elder of the three, named Paul, told us the story of Jesus of Nazareth and how he had come to follow him. I was deeply moved by what he told us. I asked him many questions, and his answers made me feel like a pathway had opened up that I needed to travel on.
You see, I am a woman who runs a business dealing in fine purple cloth. Whenever I need to make a decision on the spot, I am able to do so. In that moment, I made a decision that would shape my future. I asked Paul to baptize me right then and there, along with the members of my household. Paul baptized each one of us in a river that had been a constant companion to all the prayers we had shared together.
Afterwards, I insisted that Paul and his companions come stay at my home, so that we might learn more from them about the way of Christ. It was truly a day of beauty – and of new beginnings for us all! (Seasons of the Spirit)
A couple of weeks ago, we heard about a group of widows mourning the death of a woman who had cared for them, Tabitha. We talked about how powerless most women in the first century Roman Empire were.
Lydia is the antithesis of those grieving widows. She owns her own business—she sells purple fabrics, which means her clientele is the elite. She owns and runs her own home. Lydia, likely, is a wealthy woman.
But there is more to Lydia than her wealth….because we meet Lydia at the river on a Sabbath morning praying with a group of friends. Finding Lydia there doing that tells us that she also was a spiritual seeker. She occupied a rare place of privilege in her city. But it wasn’t enough; she wanted something more. She wanted a connection with God. She wanted a connection with a community. She wanted to give back…
…which is likely why she invites these strangers to join their prayer meeting. They come, they share, Lydia believes—and thus becomes the first convert to Christianity in Europe.
And immediately, Lydia uses whatever resources she has to further the work of the kin-dom. First, she shares the good news with her entire household. Second, they’re all baptized. Then third, she invites Paul and his companions to stay with her and continue sharing in learning and fellowship. ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home,’ Lydia says. You’ve got to love Luke’s response to the invitation: “And she prevailed upon us.”
So, what might we learn from this first European convert to Christianity? The first lesson, I think, is that worldly success isn’t the same as spiritual success. Lydia had achieved much more than most women—or men, for that matter– ever could have dreamed of in her cultural context. She no doubt had worked hard for every drachma she ever earned. Her success speaks volumes about Lydia’s character and commitment to hard work and creative entrepreneurship.
But her presence at the river that Sabbath morning also demonstrates that Lydia hungered for something more—she longed for a connection to God and to a group of faith people. Lydia was looking for a way to use her many resources to build up God’s kin-dom. The way of Jesus was the way for her.
Do you know anyone like Lydia? Someone who, despite worldly success, longs for something more? Someone who hungers for a connection to God and to a faithful group of people? Someone who looks for ways to use his or her resources to build up God’s kin-dom?
Do you know anyone like Lydia? You sure do, because we are honoring them today with Pilgrimage’s Dr. of Friendship Award: Beth and Jimmy Loyless. Before we invite them to come up, I want to read you just one of the nominations received for Jimmy and Beth.
“These two do so much for the church in so many different capacities. They are always there to volunteer and help with any church function or fill in when needed. Beth has been co-chair for missions and has played a key role in helping us understand how Pilgrimage can help in our community. She has been a big help with getting us connected with Family Promise and informing us about what PUCC would need to do to participate. She also serves as a deacon and not to just her families; she always reaches out to other families to make sure all is well. She and Jimmy are key in MUST Ministries from the collection of the food and actually getting it to them. I am amazed at how much Beth is always bringing into the church on Sundays from clothing or food donations. Even when she is about to have surgery for a bad back or hip, she delivers. I always hear Beth involved in the Women’s book club or getting together with others for a dinner.
“Jimmy always seems to be generating all the fun and events and is the one who could have been a delivery man. He is always one of the keys in Men’s fellowship, making sure all enjoy. At meals at the church, he and Beth help and bring food and comraderie that is second to none. Not only does Jimmy do a ton for PUCC, he also serves as the treasurer of the Southeast Conference of the UCC, which broadens the outreach of his character and what he does for the faith and the greater good of all Christians. Jimmy also has taken on the leadership role for the Habitat for Humanity and the rebuilding in Adairsville.
“These two are always the first to help when someone can’t usher, read scripture, make an announcement or anything else that needs to get done and keep the parishioners fully informed and up to date. I don’t think I have met two people that do so much work and yet always are eager to do more. They are what I believe Pilgrimage is about and what we want representing us in the community and to our members. We are fortunate to have two people that care and are willing to do so much. They are truly two of the greatest people I know.
“The only negative aspect is the Auburn devotion and updates, but that is minor.”
(Present Jimmy and Beth with the Dr. of Friendship Award.)
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2013
9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ 10When 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.
The Conversion of Lydia
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and 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. 13On 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. 14A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper 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. 15When 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.