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ENDURING WITNESS/SHE PREVAILED
A reflection given at Holladay United Church of Christ on May 14, 2017 (Fifth Sunday of Easter/Mother’s Day)
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. 7When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; 8so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. 9During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
10When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13On 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. 14A 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. 15When 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 16:6-15
(Given as a monologue in character)
My name is Silas – the Romans call me Silvanus. I was with our brother Paul on that journey, when we first came to Macedonia, and to Philippi. We were getting frustrated, wondering why so many people had been eager to hear the good news of the gospel the first time Paul had journeyed through Asia, but that second time no one would let us stay and talk to people. It had seemed so easy at first, and we were so eager to share what God had done for us in Christ. We felt God’s powerful presence, and the Holy Spirit was opening doors for us. But this time around, it was so hard. We wondered whether God had forsaken us. We wondered whether we had been mistaken. Maybe we had missed some important direction. Maybe it had all been just a fad.
And then Paul had the vision – a man of Macedonia urging us to come to help them. We thought certainly this was the leading of the Holy Spirit, and we sailed across the Aegean to Neapolis, and then traveled inland to Philippi. Philippi was one of the most important cities in the region – founded by the Romans along an important trade route as a place for veterans of the Roman army to live. We stayed there for a few days, looking for an opportunity to proclaim the gospel.
In the past when we had visited cities it was our custom to go to a local Jewish synagogue on the Sabbath, and to share the good news there. But there was no synagogue in Philippi, and so on the Sabbath we went outside the city gates by the river, where there seemed to be a place of prayer – although most of the people there were pagan worshipers of the Roman gods. And that was where we met Lydia. She was not what we expected.
For one thing, she was a woman – a wealthy, independent woman as it turns out – she owned her own business trading in expensive purple cloth. Paul had seen a vision of a “man” of Macedonia who wanted our help. We didn’t think to share the good news of Jesus with the women there – we were just there to pray ourselves and to try to find out where we might be able to meet with some men who would be open to hearing us. But Lydia was curious about who we were and what we had to say, and she listened carefully to our message. She had heard about the God of Israel and worshiped God, but had not heard about what God had done through Jesus, and she hadn’t yet found a community of other believers with whom she could worship. She was so moved by what we had to say that she wanted to be baptized right away, and the others in her household with her.
And so Lydia became – in a sense – the “mother” of the church in Philippi, and all of Europe. And I was once again amazed at the people who responded to the gift of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and whom God welcomed into our faith community: women and men, rich and poor, Jew and gentile, slave and free. That was very unusual in the culture of the Roman empire, where you were supposed to know your place and stay with your own kind. It was scandalous!
Lydia responded to her new life with generous hospitality – one of the signs that God is truly at work in a person. She welcomed us into her home. What a joy that was, after being chased out of towns and constantly on the move.
I learned two important lessons from Lydia. One is that sometimes you have to be open to change. What worked once may not always work the same. You have to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit, and to the unexpected. The seven deadliest words in the faith community? “We never did it that way before.”
I also learned from her that one of the best ways to show hospitality to others is to listen to them – truly listen. There is nothing more affirming and healing than to be able to speak truthfully and to be heard. That was a rare gift in those days. And I know – I have observed the world in which you live, and it is rare today as well. You have all of these fancy communication gadgets – cell phones and internet. Everybody wants to express an opinion or a point of view – everyone wants to be heard. But no one wants to listen. I have observed the “talk shows” on radio and TV – everyone tries to talk over the others.
Lydia was “eager to listen” to what Paul had to say.
I think that is an important lesson for our spiritual lives as God’s people. When we pray, we want God to listen to us – and God does. But are we also hospitable to God? Do we stop to listen to what God is saying to us – in prayer, or through others? The book of Hebrews in the Bible says, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” (Heb 13:2) I know I sometimes get so busy talking and thinking and doing – I have to make myself slow down, find some silence, and listen. Paul listened to the vision he had – of a man of Macedonia – that brought us to Philippi, and to Lydia. Lydia listened to us, and she started a church. Amazing things can happen when we are hospitable – when we are eager to listen.
Grace to you, and peace, from God and from our crucified and risen Savior, Jesus Christ.
Silas (Robert J. von Trebra)