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May 28, 2019, 11:50 AM

Directionally Challenged - Sermon, 5/26/19


Ask anyone who has ever been in a car with me, I am “directionally challenged,” to say the least. Saying I am directionally challenged is just a nice way of saying that I would get myself lost in a paper bag. I am bad at reading maps and especially bad at geography.

 

As a directionally challenged person, it makes sense that I had to look up the location of Macedonia. The first Google result that came up was a map. Well, that was useless. I can barely find Bound Brook on a map. How in the world was I going to find Macedonia on a map?

 

Fortunately, the next Google result was a text description of Macedonia’s location. It turns out that Macedonia was part of the former Yugoslavia until Macedonia declared its independence in 1991. Macedonia is now its own country with its own capital and its own currency – the Macedonian denar.

 

As an aside, how strange it must have been to live in what is now Macedonia in the late 1980s and early 1990s! Let’s say you live in the same town your whole life. For the first years of your life, you are from Yugoslavia. Then, all of a sudden, you are from Macedonia. Very strange.

 

Anyway . . . back to the subject at hand: Macedonia. Although it became an independent country in 1991, Macedonia has been in existence in one form or another for millennia. It features prominently in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, this time as a Roman colony.

 

Fortunately, Paul, the great evangelist, is not directionally challenged. Guided by nothing more than a nighttime vision – and maybe a map – Paul heeds a call to go to Macedonia. Paul sees a man in a vision, who pleads with Paul to go to Macedonia to help the people there.

 

Luke, the person believed to have written the Acts of the Apostles, provides a bit of a travelogue. Paul and his companions go from Troas – a city in modern-day Turkey – to Samothrace – one of the Greek isles. They continue their journey through Neapolis and finally land in Philippi. Acts records that Philippi is “a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony.”

 

Paul is used to being in a Roman colony. After all, Jerusalem and most of what we now call Palestine or Israel is also a Roman colony at Paul’s time. But Macedonia is a truly unfamiliar place for Paul. It is part of Europe, it is not Jewish, and it is full of Gentiles.

 

Old habits are hard to break so Paul finds himself looking for a synagogue in Philippi, a city in Macedonia. Acts records that “on the sabbath day, (Paul and his companions) (go) outside the gate by the river, where (they) supposed there was a place of prayer.” But, instead of finding a group of men worshiping the God of Israel, they surprisingly discover a group of “women who had gathered there.”

 

I read a lot of commentaries about why the women would be gathered by the river. Were they there because there was no synagogue in Philippi? Were they there for fellowship? Were they there to do their laundry? (Yes – one of the commentaries suggested that the women were gathered at the river to do their laundry.) Of course, there is nothing in the actual text to explain why the women were gathered – and certainly nothing about their laundry.

 

Luke, the author of the Acts of the Apostles, notices one woman in particular: Lydia. Unlike many women introduced in the Bible who remain unnamed and somewhat unknown, we know quite a bit about Lydia.

 

For example, we know she is a “worshiper of God.” Being a worshiper of God is another way of saying Lydia is a Gentile – not a Jewish person – yet a Gentile seeking a relationship with the God of Israel.

 

We also know that Lydia is from the city of Thyatira. Again, being directionally challenged, I had to look up the location of Thyatira. It is a city in the far west of Turkey. Essentially, Lydia is a stranger and a foreigner in European Macedonia.

 

We also know that, although she is not a local woman, she seems to have built up some financial resources as a “dealer in purple cloth.” In fact, she has her own “household” - a word that suggests she has servants and other people who work for her. Interestingly, there is no mention in the scripture that Lydia has a husband, father, brother, or any male protector, but that’s another story for another day.

 

Instead, scripture says that God opens “her heart to listen eagerly to what (is) said by Paul.” Lydia, a foreigner; Lydia, a stranger to the God of Israel; a Lydia, a businesswoman; it is Lydia’s heart that is opened by God and she is so moved by what she hears that she and her household are baptized right away.

 

I wonder what is so convicting about the message Lydia hears? One commentator suggests that Lydia “is eager to receive the faith that (declares) there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for all are one in Christ Jesus” (Philip Heinze). As a “worshiper of God” and a foreigner and a businesswoman with her own household, Lydia might be moved that faith in Jesus erases all boundaries.

 

Lydia and her household are baptized and, immediately, Lydia’s faith compels her to continue to break through boundaries. Lydia believes in Jesus and his saving love. Lydia’s love of the Christ who erases the lines that divide us compels her to use her resources to further the Kingdom of God.

 

Lydia’s “open heart results in open doors” (Jennifer Kaalund). Lydia, seemingly without a male protector, opens her hearts to Paul and his companions – male strangers from another country – from an entirely different part of the world, in fact. And, as the author of Acts states, Lydia prevails upon them. Their common faith in Jesus Christ is what binds them and allows them to move past whatever boundaries the Macedonian society may have put up.

 

It is because of Lydia’s openness to the word of God that we sit here today. Okay – so the journey might have been a little complicated through the centuries, but the fact still exists that Lydia’s conversion opens more of the world to the Christian message. Even if we do not claim European heritage, Christianity was still probably introduced to our ancestors by European people.

 

Lydia’s openness to the message of salvation, her conversion, and the baptism of her household open the Christian message to an entirely new part of God’s creation. By offering Paul and his companions hospitality, Lydia plays a direct role in the spread of the Christian message throughout Europe.

 

As one of the commentators put it, “Lydia’s faith becomes immediately active: she is baptized along with her whole household, and she opens her home. Social and cultural barriers crumble, and this corner of the empire is beginning to be changed by God’s grace” (Brian Peterson).

 

We live in a different corner of a different empire, but our faith can surely begin to usher in God’s grace, too. By remaining open to the saving and transforming message of Christ, we can be like Lydia and play an important role in the salvation and transformation of the world. Let us be open to where God wants us to go – directionally challenged or not. Amen.


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