A Model for Us All

A Model for Us All

Pentecost 9 (NL4) John B. Valentine
Acts 16:6-15 August 7, 2022


So we’ve been walking through some of the key stories from the Book of Acts ... right???

On the Sunday before Pentecost ... we started our journey in Acts chapter one ... and we heard about how the earliest Christians were told to wait for the Holy Spirit ...

And then ... on Pentecost Sunday ... appropriately ... we looked at Acts chapter two ... and learned how the earliest Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit ... because that’s exactly what we celebrate on the Day of Pentecost ...

And since then ... through these the Sundays of the Season of Pentecost ... we’ve been looking at stories about where the Holy Spirit has been leading these earliest Christians ... and to whom the Holy Spirit has been leading them ... and for what purpose the Holy Spirit has been leading them.

Now ... just by way of clarification ...

This book we call ‘Acts’ ... this book that has been called ‘Acts’ for the past nineteen hundred years ... is formally entitled “The Acts of the Apostles”.

That was the name given to it by Luke ... it’s author ... or by someone who followed in Luke’s footsteps ...

But really it would be far better for us think about this little book NOT as ‘The Acts of the Apostles’ ... but rather ‘The Acts of the Holy Spirit’ ... because that’s really what it’s about ...

What the Spirit was doing in the lives of the earliest Christians ...

What the Spirit was doing in the life of the early church ...

What the Spirit was doing to ensure that the good news of Jesus might be carried to the ends of the earth.

So let’s look at this morning’s text ... from Acts chapter 16 ... and take a look at what the Spirit is doing today.

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Actually ... this morning’s lesson has two main characters ...

• Paul ... the apostle Paul ... and

• a woman named Lydia ...

and I actually find it to be one of the most fascinating stories in the whole of the Book of Acts.

Now this Paul fellow I suspect you know ... or at least know about. He’s the second most significant figure in the whole of the New Testament ... second only to Jesus.

To this point in Paul’s missionary career ... he’s limited his work to Asia Minor ... what nowadays we’d call the Middle East.

• Israel.
• Lebanon.
• Syria.
• Turkey.

Guided by the Spirit ... Paul has taken the good news story of what God had done in and through Jesus just to folks living at the eastern edge of the Mediterranean.

But here in today’s reading ... Paul has this dream ... this godly vision ... a dream of people in Greece ... people in Europe ... saying ... “Paul ..... what about us? Why can’t we share in what it is that you’re talking about?”

Now ... in a certain way ... it’s no big deal ... if you think about it in terms of distance ...

Maybe an eighty mile boat ride across the calm waters of the Aegean Sea ...

No more inconvenient than a commuter-flight from here to LA ...

But in another way ... it’s a HUGE deal ... because that little journey spans a political divide as old as Homer and Achilles and the Trojan War.

It would be like Paul being in being in San Diego and saying “I hear that there’s work to be done in Tijuana.”

• Distance-wise ... no big deal ... just twenty miles south ...

• Culture-wise ... no big deal ... after all ... there’s lots of cross-border interchange ...

• But politics-wise ... BIG deal ... the US being the most power nation on Earth and Mexico being a nation struggling to tread water in the global economy.

But ... in response to his dream ... Paul says “How can we say ‘no’” ... and immediately beats a path to the region of Macedonia ... and the town we know as Philippi.

Which is where Paul has his encounter with this woman named Lydia.

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But what exactly do we know about this Lydia woman?

Surprisingly ... in just a few words ... Luke ... the writer of Acts ... tell us a WHOLE LOT about who Lydia is.

One ... it says she’d come from the town of Thyatira ... a town not too, too far from where Paul had been before he came to Macedonia.

In other words ... “she wasn’t from around here”. She was a “foreigner” ... an “outlander” ... a “non-native” ... a “transplant”.

Let’s play the ‘show of hands’ game ...

• How many of you grew up in a different county than this one?
• How many of you were born in a different state?
• How many of you hail from a different country?
• How many of you grew up speaking a language other than English?

Is it safe to assume that ... in most cases ... the more of those questions you said “yes” to ... the more hurdles there must have been for you to clear in order to be assimilated into the culture of THIS community???

Lydia would have answered “yes” to all those questions would we have asked them of her on the day she encountered Paul in the city of Philippi.

ONE thing we know about Lydia was that she “wasn’t from these parts”.

Two ... the text tells us that Lydia was “a dealer in purple cloth”.

Lydia was a businesswoman.

In a day and age when many women were content to stay at home ... or “expected” to stay at home ... or even forced to “stay at home” ... Lydia was running a business.

And not just any business ... but the particular business of selling “purple cloth”.

Now I KNOW that in our day and age ... “purple cloth” seems to be identified with four groups of people:

1. Young girls who want Dad to paint their room the color of their favorite sweatshirt ...

2. Older women who have embraced spirit of that poem which asserts “When I am an old woman I shall wear purple, With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.” ...

3. The Elaine Nielsens of the world ... because I don’t think I’ve ever seen Elaine not wearing purple ... and

4. Minnesota Vikings fans!

But in Lydia’s day and age ... there was only ONE group of people who regularly wore purple:

“Rich people.”

You see ... back in the day ... back in Lydia’s day ... the dye used to make purple clothing was VERY expensive.

And ... because the “old money”, “high society” people liked their purple clothes ... and liked that they were the only ones who could afford that particular form of bling ... they went so far as to pass laws as to how much purple one could wear ... and that ONLY the emperor could wear on outfit made exclusively of purple cloth.

So what does all that tell us about Lydia?

• Maybe that she herself was numbered among the “privileged”?
• Maybe that she ran a high-end business that catered to a high-end crowd?
• Maybe that she had a client list that a “lifestyle of the rich and famous.”

We don’t just know ...

But we do know this ... that Lydia was a business woman in a businessman’s world and her line of work allowed her access to the highest levels of society.

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But there’s a couple of other details we maybe ought notice about this Lydia woman.

One of them is that Lydia made time for worship.

Paul meets Lydia while she’s down by the banks of the river ... participating in a local prayer and fellowship and study group.

• She could have said that she was too busy to make the weekly trek out to the river to join the others in prayer .... but she didn’t.

• She could have said that just praying at home would have been a more efficient use of her time and energy ... but she didn’t.

She seemed to have a sense that getting together with others in spiritual community was about realizing that she needed their encouragement and that they needed her to be an encouragement to them

So she doesn’t make excuses for why she can’t be in worship ... but rather figures out a way to make time so she can.

Lydia seemed to know the truth of that goofy saying about how going to worship doesn’t make you a child of God any more than sticking your hand in the freezer makes you an ice cream bar. But that if you are an ice cream bar, you better not spend too much time out of the freezer.

Then again ... another thing I find pretty intriguing about Lydia is that ... despite being a successful businesswoman who enjoyed the finer things of life ... she didn’t seem put off by the humble surroundings of her prayer group.

It might sound kind of nice to meet for worship on a beautiful Spring day like today down by the banks of the river.

• But what about those days when the heat index is in the high 90's?

• Or maybe those days when the mosquitoes are particularly bad?

But none of that seemed to phase Lydia ... or the other women who whom she’d gathered that day.

They were less concerned about matters of buildings and facilities ... and more concerned about matters of the heart.

And finally ... this.

When Paul tells Lydia the story of Jesus ... when he opens her eyes to the amazing goodness of God ... what does she DO?

Though the details are kind of sketchy ... if you read between the lines ... Lydia OBVIOUSLY went home and told others in her family about the love of Jesus and the grace of God.

For the text says that “she ... and her household ... were baptized.”

We don’t know just what that word “household” meant in Lydia’s situation.

• Maybe “she and her kids.”
• Maybe “she and her husband.”
• Maybe “she and her parents.”
• Maybe “she and her servants.”

But whatever it was ... and whoever it was ... Lydia took time to share the story of the goodness of God with them.

Martin Luther once joked that lots of peoples’ faith just “sits on their hearts like foam sits on beer.”

But not Lydia’s

She goes home ... tells others in her household about Jesus ... and all of them together are welcomed ... in the water ... to the family of God.

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You know how I told you that I thought this story of Lydia and Paul is ... to me ... fascinating??

In part ... I find it fascinating because of how much detail Luke is able to pour into just a few simple sentences ...

And ... in part ... because this Lydia is such a fascinating character ...

But ... mostly ... I find it fascinating because of what the church has done with this text over the years.

We’ve either not spoken of it ... and pretended that it didn’t exist ... because certain people in the church didn’t want to acknowledge that women could be faith-leaders ...

Or we’ve relegated it to women’s Bible study groups and circles and the like ... and said “Lydia is a great model for women” and maybe “Lydia is a great model for women who would be women of God.”

Phooey on that!

Lydia is certainly a woman ... but she isn’t just a model for women ... she’s a model to us all ... challenging us all ... kids and adults ... men and women alike ... to discover what it means to be people of faith and children of God.

“A Model for Us All” was a sermon preached by Pastor John Valentine on August 7t, 2022 — the 9th Sunday after Pentecost.  The text upon which it was/is based is Acts 16:6-15.  To access a copy of this week’s worship bulletin, click here: Worship Order 20220807