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May 20, 2001

Coming and Going in Faith
by Linda Kraft

Acts 16: 9-15
John 14: 23-29

Did you notice, in this morning's readings from scripture, that there's a lot of "coming" and "going" going on? Paul and his assistant outlined for us an entire travelogue, an itinerary of the places they would go and the types of people they would encounter there. Revelation described a "Kodak moment" snapshot of the City of God, the New Jerusalem, a picture of what some would say Heaven may be like. And in our Gospel message from John, Jesus talks about his going away and the coming of the paraclete, the advocate, the Holy Spirit. Jesus' words to his disciples remind them that they will not be alone in life, even if they cannot see Jesus physically present from day to day. This constant loving care is a promise you and I rely on, too, to keep us going and to reassure us of our final destination.

Today's first lesson introduced us to Lydia, the first recorded European convert to Christianity and Paul's first Gentile convert. Lydia was a business woman, a seller of purple dyes and fabrics. So who was Lydia? And why is HER story important for our own faith journey? Let's listen as Lydia tells her story in her own words:

"You may know me as Lydia, but that is actually the name of the town from where I come. It's about 55 miles northeast of what you know as Smyrna in modern-day Turkey. If I am to share with you my story I must first tell you a little bit about my world, two thousand years before your own. I live in Philippi and come originally from Thyatira in Asia Minor, Philippi is in what you call Greece. It's a magnificent city, even by your modern standards. It was founded by Philip II of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the Great, in 368 B.C. and was named after him.

"Philippi is a port city with the ocean on one side and surrounded by mountains on three sides. In many ways Philippi serves as the gateway to Europe, for the main land route is through a mountain pass behind Philippi. Philippi is the ideal city in which to establish a business, as many travelers pass through on their way to other places to buy, sell and trade.

"I have always been a business woman, but this has not always been easy. The world of commerce is a man's world. I sell purple fabrics and dyes. I learned the art of dying as a young girl in Thyatira and brought it with me to Phillipi. Purple is a symbol of wealth, luxury and opulence; it is often worn by royalty. The purple dyes are very expensive and hard to come by. The color actually comes from a small snail called murex, that washes up on the beach. The process of making the dye is smelly and time consuming. It takes thousands of snails to produce an ounce of dye. The terrible smell of making the dye helps me keep the process a secret. Some people even think of it as magic, but then there were a lot of superstitions in my day.

"It is through my business that I have met all kinds of people with influence and power. Maybe it's from them that I developed the determination that has made my business so successful. But it was an ill-clad missionary, wandering through town and preaching his message wherever he could find a few people gathered together who would listen to his story that introduced me to Jesus and changed my life.

"I have always had an inner longing and hunger for God. Though I am a Gentile, I used to gather with a group of Jewish women for worship and to attend services together. It was at one of these women's prayer gatherings that I met Paul. He came and preached about Jesus. Though he had not been one of Jesus' disciples, he had encountered the risen Lord in a vision and it changed his life. As he talked about this Jesus, I believed what Paul told us that day, that Jesus was indeed the promised Messiah. I placed my faith in Jesus and was baptized, along with all of the servants in my household. Later Paul came and stayed with me in my home. In fact the church in Phillipi — the very one Paul established — regularly meets in my house. But that is just a brief sketch of what happened. Let me tell you a little bit about myself and my faith, so that you may understand all of this.

"I have always been a very passionate person—in many ways it is all summed up in my work, in the color purple—an extravagant color, full of richness, as it blends the fiery red of courage with the quiet wisdom of blue, to make something new. I understand the extravagance of purple, as I have a big house. But with the large house goes responsibility—for the servants who maintain it and also for how I use that house. My servants respect me and we work well together.

"In fact when I became a Christian, they all followed suit. It was only natural to share my faith with those close to me. I was so thrilled that my faith could have a positive influence on those around me. We believers need each other. It's like the campfires we often light on the beach. Sometimes a spark flies out of the fire, it lands on the ground and dies away. It cannot keep burning by itself. I guess that's why I am so glad that others in my household were baptized into the faith as well. And that togetherness helps explain why the church that meets in my house is so important to me.

"My house is also a gift that I try to use to honor a God. So it is that I have developed the gift of hospitality—of opening up my home to others. Hospitality is more than just fixing a nice meal and having an empty bedroom. God was the first one to show hospitality to me, welcoming me—a Gentile and a single woman, into the community of faith. It was then I discovered that hospitality is a gift; one to be given and received. So as I had received God's hospitality—I set out to share it with others.

"Hospitality means becoming vulnerable, allowing someone to come in and share a part of your life. It means being willing to trust. I invited Paul to come and stay in my home though we had just barely met. But I was willing to become vulnerable to him, to welcome him into my home. Then later he and Silas came and stayed with me after they had been in prison. They were bruised and battered, I was able to tend to their wounds and nurture their spirits.

"I have heard that the resurrected Jesus said we should be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and even to the ends of the world. I tell you my story today, because this is my witness—my witness is not only my words, but my life and the impact it has had on those who are close to me. My witness is how I have used the gifts God has given me. I have encountered the hospitality of God who welcomes all. I hope I have extended that hospitality to those in need and in so doing have borne witness to Christ.

"I hope my story will cause you to reflect on your own life—

"I hate to leave you with questions, but they are important questions that we each must answer. I hope that my reflections are a gateway to a deeper faith for you, just as I have been able to open the gate of faith for many in Philippi, and that my city is also a gateway to Europe. I thank you again for allowing me to share with you." (1)

Paul came into Lydia's life at a time when she was already a woman of faith. God had already prepared her heart to hear the good news of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Lydia used her personality, her business and her home as opportunities to witness to God's gracious love. She felt welcomed by God's hospitality, and she shared that hospitality with everyone she met. She was willing to take risks with her very livelihood in order to make her faith evident to others.

Today many people tend to hold their faith as private property. Their relationship with God is no one's business, thank you very much. This privacy issue carries over into the way these people interact with the world. They are distrustful of other people's motives. They are critical of other people's lives. They protect themselves and their relationships without an openness to either the grace of God or the gifts others could share.

You and I have a choice. We can keep our relationship with God private, treat it as no one else's business. Or we can keep our minds open, not only to what God has in mind for us but open to what the world offers us. Because the world does offer us good things sometimes I have:

You and I have a choice: will we open our hearts and souls to all the gifts God gives, or will we close ourselves away from all God makes possible? The way we live our lives will tell the world of our decision.

Lydia took risks. She knew the prejudice of the world against her, a single woman, a woman in a man's world. But, instead of returning like for like, she opened herself to new opportunities, to new people. She opened her home to people who were not like her. The church that met in her home was for all people who confessed Christ as Lord, no matter what their station in life, no matter what color, gender or occupation.

You and I are called by the same Lord who opened Lydia's mind and heart. We are called by a God who knows how to show true hospitality to open ourselves, our hearts, our homes and our church to all people that God might send our way. As we travel along this road of life, people will come and people will go, but our Lord has challenged us never to be afraid to love in His name. With Lydia, let us take up this challenge and open our hearts and our minds through the love of God in Christ Jesus. Amen

Let us pray for the whole people of God in Christ Jesus, for all people according to their needs.

God of vision and foresight, you know the needs of your people. In every nation, your presence is needed to guide decisions and assure peace and justice. Yet we fight against your will and refuse to love each one as our neighbor. We pray today for the people who live in fear, fearful of violence in their homes, in the streets of their cities, in the way their nations are governed. We ask for your peace to reign and that you might inspire us to open our hearts to our neighbors in love. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Acts 16:9-15)

God of mercy and blessings, we praise your name and sing for joy because you have judged us and mercifully grant us your forgiveness. Through your Son, Jesus, you took our unworthiness into your own perfection and have declared us your own nation. We stand in awe of you and give you thanks. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Ps 67)

God of mountaintops and valleys, your promise for our eternity is glorious. Living in your presence forever is our hope. Help us to offer this hope to each one we meet. Raise up for your Church faithful believers, volunteers, teachers and preachers, so that others may see our faith evident in our lives and be drawn to you. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (Rev 21:10, 22-22:5)

Loving God, speak your word to us that we may know your presence in our lives. Send your Spirit now to give hope and comfort to these loved ones: Are there others we should include in our prayers? Do not let their hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid, for you are always with them. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer. (John 14:23-29)

Into your hands, O Lord, we commend all for whom we pray, trusting in your mercy; through your son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.


(1) Sermonshop Sermons Note # 2495, Ecunet, a sermon presented May 17, 1998, based on Acts 16:11-15, 40, "Lydia—A Woman in Purple" for the sixth Sunday of Easter, Cycle C (RCL), by Janet Macgregor-Williams.

(Comments to Linda at Linda_Kraft@Ecunet.org.)

Linda Kraft, Pastor at Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Stafford Springs, CT
Secretary, Slovak Zion Synod, ELCA
Board Member: ELCA Division for Higher Education and Schools