aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

Oldie but goodie

I've been posting mere trivia and personal updates, it seems. I need to be putting out deeper stuff. So, here's a sermon I wrote over a year ago (it's not all that deep, really, but it's got a nice point). I do an occasional series called "Faces in the Crowd," where I tell the stories of minor characters from the Bible. This here's on Lydia, the cloth merchant of Philippi.

N.B. I haven't bothered to clean up the ms. and make correctly punctuated sentences and organized paragraphs. Likewise, my quirky abbreviations abound. But then, this is how I write for preaching -- the breaks are at logical breath points. I am writing for the ear, not the eye.

"Faces in the Crowd: Lydia"
Acts 16:11-15

After Paul and his friends received the vision to cross into Europe from Asia Minor, the first town they landed in to check out was Phillipi

everything was strange to them, I'm sure: they were all from the East, where Greek and Jew and Phoenician and other races mingled in the marketplace, arguing in all sorts of different languages, showing a world of different customs everywhere

Phillipi was a Roman colony; most of its citizens were retired soldiers whose first language was Latin; lots of people wore Roman dress, and Easterners of all sorts were kept down in numbers and had to adapt to the majority's ways

There wasn't even a synagogue in Phillipi -- prob. not because of prejudice, but because there weren't the necessary ten male Jews to form one

There WAS a place down by the river where Jews and a few Gentiles who worshiped the Lord wd gather -- and so Paul & Luke & the others went there on a Sabbath to teach about Jesus Xt

When they got there, the cong. was all women -- Paul sat down (that is, got ready to teach -- rabbis spoke from a sitting position, not standing at a pulpit) -- and explained the grace of God available for all through Jesus Xt

And there was a woman there who took it very much to heart, who became Paul's first convert in Europe -- Lydia

In this brief passage, we are only told three things about Lydia, but each one offers a hint of what kind of story lay behind the person

We are told that her name was Lydia -- but that is also the name of a province in what is now SW Turkey -- so that may not have been her personal name -- she may just have been known locally as "Lydia" because she was orig. from that area

For we are also told that she was a dealer in purple cloth from Thyatira -- the cap. of Lydia

Now, that "purple cloth" is an important thing

Purple cloth was a very high-end luxury item in the First Cent. -- and not just because it was the color of royalty (though snob value sold then, just like it does now)

But rmbr, there were no synthetic dyes back then -- the first synthetic dye wasn't invented until the 1850s -- and there were only two sources in nature of purple dye color

There was "Tyrian purple," made all over the E. Mediterranean -- incl. Thyatira -- from a local shellfish

It took 12,000 of these little crustaceans to yield 1.5 grams of dye, and there was NO use for the rest of their body parts, so outside every port along the E. coast of the Med., there were huge, stinking piles of rotting shellfish, left over from making this dye (gives a new meaning to the phrase, "stinking rich," doesn't it?)

Anyway, Tyrian purple was a deep, lustrous color, said to be bright as fresh blood with a dash of blue in it -- and it was colorfast

the only other source of purple dye was a lichen that grows in N. Europe that produces a pinkish color like what we call fuchsia or magenta – and it faded in strong sunlight

So Tyrian purple cloth was the most exp. kind of textiles sold in the ancient world

Lydia came from Thyatira (a leading textile center) to Philippi -- prob. orig. w/her husband (who, we may presume, has died by this time) to plant the family bus. there

She is a woman of wealth and intelligence, with a large household -- servants, certainly, and perhaps her children -- living as a resident foreigner among the Romans who can't get enough of her wares

She is also a foreigner, religiously speaking, among the other women at the prayer meeting

She is described here in the Bk of Acts as "a worshiper of God," so she is also obviously a Gentile, not a Jew

In our day, Judaism is shrinking in numbers, as many Jews marry outside their faith and assimilate to other religions or to the ranks of the generally non-committed

nor is Judaism seen as very int. in getting others to become Jews

but things were very diff. 2000 years ago -- First Cent. Judaism actively sought converts -- and had many takers

Those who went all the way and became Jews -- who accepted circumcision and baptism and the keeping of the Law of Moses -- were called "proselytes"

but there were many, many others who had given up belief in their ancestral religions who had come to believe in the God of Israel w/o committing themselves completely and seeking admission to the Covenant

the Centurion who asked J. to heal his servant was one -- and so was Cornelius, who wanted Peter to explain the gospel to him

they were called "God-fearers" by the Jews, and they were allowed to participate in prayer to some extent, but were still gentiles for all that -- still not really part of the people of Israel

Lydia was a "God-fearer" -- perhaps she became attracted to Judaism back in Thyatira -- there were a lot of Jews there --

but like so many pagans in those days, she saw nothing but superstition in the Temple cults of the pagan gods -- nothing there to really believe in or live for

but she didn't really belong here, either

but when Paul explained the teaching about Jesus the Xt to her, she responded to it, and decided to go all the way in accepting this new religion -- this belief in the God of Israel that said that Gentiles were loved and accepted and cd belong to him as much as the people of Israel

and so she was baptized into Xt -- w/her whole household -- that was usual back then

and she invited Paul and co. to stay in her house -- no doubt, she had plenty of room

An interesting example of hospitality -- she invited her whole family into the Church -- and then she invited the leaders of the Church into her household

Well, other things intervened, and we lose track of her story here in the hubbub of Paul's enterprise, but we learn one more thing about the church she helped to start there in Philippi

the Phil. church had a reputation afterwards, and no doubt Lydia had a lot to do w/it

In Paul's Ltr to the Phil, wr. some years later from prison in Rome, he said that only the Phil's helped him out on his travels with direct support

Oh, lots of the young churches gave to what we call "missions"

Paul org. a collection of money to relieve a famine back in Judea -- in fact, right after the stunning conclusion to his magnificent doctrine of the resurrection in 1 Cor., he imm. shifts subjects to say, "Now concerning the offering . . ."

Lots of churches participated in this kind of sharing -- bearing each other's burdens, and so fulfilling the law of Xt, as he put it -- becoming as brothers & sisters to those they had never even met -- but who belonged together with them in the Lord

But apparently only Philippi supported Paul directly in his work -- like we support missionaries in other countries today -- not to relieve a hunger of the body or to provide shelter for the body -- but to send someone out who will feed souls and bring them into an eternal shelter

And assuming that Lydia had a lot to do w/that, it sort of fleshes out our portrait of her today

She was affluent and intelligent -- as many people I see in our society today are --

She had left behind the "tabloid superstitions" that the great herd of people followed --

but she held back from committing herself to the group whose faith had something really worth believing in

I see a lot of people like that -- they believe in God -- they know that Jesus is the Way -- they even come to church (sometimes regularly!)

-- but they hang back from committing themselves -- either to Xt or to the Church -- they don't really feel like they belong, but if they hang around, they think they might get some leftover love, maybe -- it's more than they've gotten anywhere else

They are shy, perhaps -- or maybe they're afraid of being taken over and made into something they didn't bargain for

But I say, that it is a joy to commit oneself to Xt and the Church -- to stand forth and proclaim that THIS is the Savior I am counting on, and THESE are the people I am standing with

-- to offer oneself to God and these others, and receive from both God and this company the assurance that you really do belong, you are loved, you matter, and someday we will all go home to our Father together

I don't push people on that -- but I try to invite them to take that step -- and it's wonderful when people do it

and not only for them, but for the church whose company they enrich by their presence

and looking to the Phil. Ch. as a model, I suggest to you that we'd all like our church to be a place where people frequently -- and gladly -- find their soul's need fulfilled -- and companions for their soul's journey

AND, if we want to be the best sort of church that we can be, we shd keep in mind the witness of that cong. Lydia belonged to -- and not forget that what we give away matters at least as much as what we keep for ourselves

-- esp. when we talk about the joy of finding one's heart's everlasting home

As wonderful as it is to accept Xt for oneself --

and as exciting as it is to have a congregation where other people feel the love and encouragement that makes it possible to accept Xt for themselves

-- it is a source of enormous sp. power to be part of a congregation that gives of itself to spread the good news to others

To send out missionaries from among our company -- and to give to supply the needs of those missionaries who are bringing Xt to others -- that's the kind of Church every church oughta be!

But if I cd sum up Lydia's example -- and that of the Philippians with her -- it wd be with a phrase borrowed from the textile industry

Lydia gave herself to Xt with a thoroughness -- and the Philippians followed through with Paul with a like thoroughness --

that can only be summed up in the phrase -- she bought the Whole Nine Yards

And may that be said of us, and every one of us, too!

-- In the Name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
Tags: sermons

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