[Ed. note: This post is adapted from Rev. Jane's sermon from May 22, 2022]
On 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. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper 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. When 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.
– Acts 16:9-15
Learning is a Two-Way Street
As this school year comes to a close in the coming week, I am thinking about teachers and the ways that they can impact our lives. My daughter, Emma had this wonderful teacher this year, she was the kind of teacher that changes your life. She made Emma come to love reading, growing in confidence, and ability, and she made it seem fun.
Each time we talk to Ms. Wendy, she shares with us how much she loves teaching our daughter which always warms a parent’s heart.
But I also think of that as a mark of a great teacher, one who knows that the students are still teaching them, as much as they are teaching the students. This kind of continual unfolding, that happens as we learn and grow in life.
When I was first ordained, I asked a clergy person I knew, if she would be my mentor. I really admired the way she was not only the priest of her congregation but was a priest for the whole neighborhood.
People looked to her as a leader and she knew people by name throughout the community. She was also always learning and trying new things even 20+ years into her ministry. When I asked her, I was feeling a bit hesitant, not sure if it was weird, if she would be willing to be my mentor. She answered, saying, “Sure I would love to be your mentor, but only if you will mentor me too.”
It was not at all the response I was expecting. I wanted someone who would teach me the ropes, and show me how to be a good priest, tell me what to do. But she actually taught me something more important about ministry: Learning is always a two way street. It involves both giving and receiving. A kind of mutual blessing.
Friends can do this for us as well. Every once in a while, we are gifted with a friend who you kind of pinch yourself that you get to call that person a friend. They continually bless you, make you laugh, see the best in you and make every situation better by their presence.
Who are these people in your lives, the mentors, teachers, friends, who you feel blessed to know? The people that inspire you and call forth some part of you, help you to see and know yourself in a new way.
Maybe the people that change you are people from the past. Sometimes we hear a story about people who are no longer alive and it awakens something inside of us. Curiosity, a source of inspiration, or a sense of courage, that if they can take such a risk, perhaps we could too.
These people whether living or dead, are a kind of light, sent to guide us on our way. To help us see possibilities and potential in ourselves and in the world we live in.
Changed for the Better
The Book of Acts is full of amazing stories of the early church, stories that help us understand how to be the church today too. The story of Lydia tells us of an encounter between two people who are transformed by knowing each other.
Like many parts of Scripture, it can feel like certain details are left out. We have to imagine ourselves into the story a bit and read between the lines to understand some of the details.
We hear that Paul has a vision during the night that a man from Macedonia (a country near Greece) is pleading with him to come and help them. After Paul had this vision he immediately departs for Macedonia, convinced that God has called him to preach the good news to them.
So they set sail and finally end up in Phillipi (where Paul later sends letters to the Phillipians), the capital of Macedonia. After several days in the city, it is the sabbath.
Now Paul is a good Jew, on the sabbath he should go to the synagogue with the other Jewish men and read the scriptures and pray and then gather with friends or family for the sabbath meal.
But this is not what Paul does, Paul goes down to the river where he heard there is a place of prayer and he sits down next to some women who are gathered there. He begins to talk to them.
“A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God (this means that she was not Jewish but worshiped the Jewish God, in other words a convert) was listening to us; …she was a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her entire 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."
She prevailed upon them. Lydia, a merchant, a Gentile, a woman, a stranger, prevailed upon Paul, a Jewish man, a holy man, to come to her house to stay. She opens the doors of her home and Paul accepts, Paul and his companions go to stay at her home.
That is the end of the story…but what do you suppose happened at her home that sabbath evening?
Myself and many others imagine that as Paul and his fellow travelers celebrated the Sabbath meal with Lydia and her household in the midst of that Sabbath meal, Paul probably said some words not dissimilar to what we say each Sunday, something about Jesus gathering his friends together and saying whenever you celebrate this meal, when you break bread, and drink wine remember that I am with you.
Paul and Lydia and the others would have celebrated the Eucharist together. And the beginnings of the Church in Philippi were begun in Lydia’s dining room. In other words, this woman Lydia, of whom only a few lines are mentioned in the whole of Scripture, was probably the founder of the church to which Paul later wrote his letter to the Philippians.
The Gifts of Community
One of the first Christian churches was begun when two different people, two people who should not have ever even spoken to each other in their culture and time, two people reaching across the boundaries that separate us to share the presence of God among us.
In the gospel, Jesus sees a man at the edge of a pool of water known for its healing properties. The man has been ill for 38 years, maybe his whole life. And although he longs to enter the pool and be healed, he can’t seem to make it. He can’t get off his mat.
But Jesus sees him there, stuck, and after a brief encounter, he tells the man to stand up and walk. The man is healed.
Jesus reaches across the boundaries, comes alongside at the right moment, and demonstrates God’s healing presence. He transforms this man’s life and the man isn’t even sure he knows Jesus’ name.
I wonder about the people we meet on the way. The teacher who encourages us or the friend we meet for coffee or even the random person sitting next to you on an airplane, how could they change the trajectory of your life?
This is the gift of community. To be part of something that blesses you, that provokes gratitude, and wonder and joy, but also invites you to share what you have as a gift back. This flowing of gifts back and forth.
Paul sharing the story of Jesus with Lydia and Lydia offering her home and her community as a place where that story could live. This is how community transforms us. Back and forth, in texts, or phone calls, in shared meals, and shared experiences, we begin to see each other as vessels of the Holy Spirit, which keeps blessing us again and again.
All around us are opportunities to notice God being revealed in the world. God’s Spirit is flowing, connecting us, teaching us, transforming us.
We are all part of the Body of Christ, connected to each other in and through Jesus, we are called to pay attention, to look for signs of the Spirit, and to share what we know of God with one another in words and deeds. May we be on the lookout for the Spirit teachers in our lives, and find our lives transformed by the mystery of God revealed all around us. Amen.