Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Ladies Like Lydia

This is the text and sermon for "Honoring Women of the Church" Sunday. After the service I handed out geranium plants and temporary tattoos.

Acts 16:9-15 (The Message)

 9-10That night Paul had a dream: A Macedonian stood on the far shore and called across the sea, "Come over to Macedonia and help us!" The dream gave Paul his map. We went to work at once getting things ready to cross over to Macedonia. All the pieces had come together. We knew now for sure that God had called us to preach the good news to the Europeans.
 11-12Putting out from the harbor at Troas, we made a straight run for Samothrace. The next day we tied up at New City and walked from there to Philippi, the main city in that part of Macedonia and, even more importantly, a Roman colony. We lingered there several days.
 13-14On the Sabbath, we left the city and went down along the river where we had heard there was to be a prayer meeting. We took our place with the women who had gathered there and talked with them. One woman, Lydia, was from Thyatira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a God-fearing woman. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Master gave her a trusting heart—and she believed!
 15After 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.

Have you met Lydia? In “At the Circus” Groucho Marx sang a song about Lydia, the tattooed lady. He sang the movie song again, in 1950 and stopped trading on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange for 15 minutes. Last week, when the computer went hay wire and trading was stopped again, I thought “Hey, I bet this little incident would be a lot more fun if Groucho Marx were there to sing about Lydia.”
It’s a silly song, but it starts out:

Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Tattooed Lady.
She has eyes that folks adore so,
And a torso even more so.
Lydia oh Lydia, that encyclopidia,
Oh Lydia the Queen of Tattoo.
On her back is the Battle of Waterloo.
Beside it the wreck of the Hesperus, too.
And proudly above waves the Red, White, and Blue,
You can learn a lot from Lydia.
There are some other verses, which we’ll skip. I just thought of it because of “Have you met Lydia? and You can learn a lot from Lydia.”

This morning Lydia appeared in the scripture lesson from Acts - She is Paul’s first convert in the continent of Europe - and since most of our ancestors hailed from Europe, you could say that Lydia is our spiritual grandmother. So it’s fitting, on the day we honor women of the church, the day that most of the country calls, “Mother’s Day” that we take a few minutes to think about Lydia, Lydia - - - not the tattooed lady, but the faithful lady. We can learn a lot from Lydia!

Have you met Lydia? I’ll bet you have! She is a woman we’d all like to meet: a successful business woman, who own her own textile company and deals in high end clothing, the kind that only the wealthiest women and men can afford to wear. So you know that Lydia has some social graces. She is able to move with ease among the class in which her customers live. But she seems equally at home with people not so worldly and wealthy: the Sabbath finds her outside the city of Philippi - down by the river where a group met together to worship and pray.

Lydia is a “God-fearer” a technical term for a Gentile who studied and admired the Jewish faith. But Lydia is already experimenting outside the rigid forms of the religion she admired: Rather than sitting in the synagogue, where someone else would be doing all the reading and interpreting, she was outside the synagogue, outside the city, in the fresh air, where she and some others could pray freely. Lydia, like most successful business people, knew that sometimes you have to get out side the regular venues to find the best opportunities - to sales, for growth, even for faith.

Maybe Lydia is on to something - - - I like worshipping God outside these walls. And it is certainy outside these walls that we will most likely find opportunities to engage unchurched people in conversations about what God is doing in their lives and in ours. Maybe the “church” should think about how to be the “church” when we aren’t at “church” - huh? This week, at my continuing ed event, I heard about a t-shirt slogan I think is cool: It’s got a silhouette of Elvis on the front. And on the back it says: the church has left the building.

Lydia was looking for opportunities to pray down by the riverside. Hey - you can learn alot from Lydia.

Lydia was gifted with an open heart - and the skill to listen intently. That open heart reminds me of something Jesus said to his disciples - Let not your hearts be troubled. Neither let them be afraid. Jesus knew that fear and trouble make it hard to listen. I have to share with you a letter that the church received from a Lydia: Actually, I don’t know this woman’s name. But this church, and several others in the area, heard about her family from the school nurse, who realized that the family didn’t have a source of water in the house they owned, out in the country. The nurse, and others from school, sent out an appeal to area churches, for the money to drill a well for the family. And the money - all 5,860 dollars of it, was raised and the well dug. Yesterday I got a copy of the letter she had written, which is so sweet. Listen to this first part:

Hard to be open to the good news of his love and grace poured out for us. When pride, or fear or stubborness, or self-pity, or any of a hundred different impediments cause us to close our hearts to God and to each other, I want us to remember this lady, and remember Lydia. Lydia and this woman decided that they had to open their hearts and trust in God’s goodness. Lydia was not afraid. She was open - both her ears and her heart - to hear the Gospel message. We can learn alot from Lydia!

And Lydia, good business woman that she is, knows how to “close the deal”. When she understands the gospel message, she asks to be baptized, right away. And, as head of her household - we don’t know if that means she had an extended family, or whether this refers to the employees and servants that are part of her sphere of influence. But, either way, she has them all baptized. She makes the committment, she closes the deal.
Book club read “Animals in translation” - which has a lot of interesting anecdotes about how human and animals think. I think of one case she sites - of a man who was pathologically incapable of making up his mind. About anything. Even what day to schedule a doctor’s appointment. He debated his options endlessly. Was this better than that? Would thursday be as good as WEdnesday? How could he make Friday work? Should he rearrange this other appointment to make it fit? He was crippled by all the options and incapable of choosing one. And his life, or course, was a mess. None of us are like that, but I think a lot of us know that the option of a deeper, fuller, more committed life of faith is open to us. We could be more like Jesus. The Holy Spirit could help us forgive one another, become more generous, pray with our whole hearts, become true leaders among our church brothers and sisters. We know the deal is there to be made. But we don’t grab hold of the opportunity and seal the deal, like Lydia does. Lydia, Lydia, have you been Lydia? We could learn a lot from Lydia.

After Lydia closes the deal but asking for and receiving baptism, Lydia does what good business people do - she follows up. She immediately (the Message translation says she experienced a “surge” of hospitality) asked Paul and his missionary companion to come and stay at her home. She put her faith into action. And she wouldn’t take “no” for an answer. Confident, bold, persistent in invitation . . . are these words we use when we think about our own Christian action? If not so much, - - - we could learn alot from Lydia.

I think I’ll rewrite the Lydia song:

Lydia oh Lydia, say have you met Lydia,
Lydia, the Faithful Lady.