Open Hearts

Acts 16:4-15
6th Sunday of Easter & Mother’s Day
Elizabeth M. Deibert

Julie’s lived a guarded life, not letting many people in. You know people like Julie, and others like Jack, who find it difficult to let people in. They got burned, so their hearts are closed, or so it seems. You know mothers, who have loved and forgiven, loved and forgiven, and then it dawns on them: this is not love – this is enabling bad behavior. Or you’ve known adult children, who are trying to repair a relationship with their mothers, only to recognize that they cannot do it. Might get deeply wounded again. Temptation in these situations of pain is to lock it up and throw away the key.

There are lots of closed hearts around. We shut down. We begin to lose heart when bad things happen. We lock up when we feel bad about a death or a broken relationship, when we feel bad about devastating oil spills, bad about fatal floods, bad about suicide bombs and gyrating stock markets, bad about mothers who had trouble loving or providing for their children. It hurts to care, and the heart sometimes shuts down, and when your heart stops, you are not living any more. The plaque of bitterness, the plaque of fear, the plaque of self-protection closes off the arteries of love, our lifeblood stops pumping.

The less you open your heart to others, the more your heart suffers. Deepak

(Real heart image)

How do we deal with spiritual and emotional heart disease? We sometimes need stents lovingly placed by others in the Christian community who can help expand our arterial pathway. We sometimes need by-pass surgery when arteries are irrevocably closed. We need the regular oblation of our hearts by Word and Sacrament. We need the regular exercise of service to others and the healthy diet of communal worship and personal devotion. Without exercise and a good diet, the heart muscle weakens and the arterties will get blocked faster.

We’re reading the story of Lydia’s heart opening to God today. We’re also reading about Paul, Timothy, and Silas, whose hearts were open to a different plan that they anticipated.

Hear the story:

Acts 16:4-15
As they went from town to town,
they delivered to them for observance
the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders
who were in Jerusalem.
5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith
and increased in numbers daily.
6 They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia,
having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
7 When they had come opposite Mysia,
they attempted to go into Bithynia,
but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them;
8 so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas.
9 During the night Paul had a vision:
there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying,
"Come over to Macedonia and help us."
10 When 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.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace,
the following day to Neapolis, 12 and 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.
13 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.
14 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.
15 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.
(New Revised Standard Version)

Young Timothy had just been circumcised as an adult before this journey because Paul thought he would be better received. Paul says, “Ok, Silas and Timothy, we’re going to Asia.” Timothy says, “Now? Really? Can’t I have a little time to recover? You know this circumcision thing....I thought you and Peter said it didn’t matter circumcised or not, we are all one in Christ. This has not been fun.” But in spite of it all, they set off for Asia Minor. But then they get the message from the Holy Spirit, “Do not go to speak the word in Asia.” No to Phyrgia, no to Galatia. What about Mysia or Bithynia? No again. Usually we think of the Spirit empowering, enabling ministry but in this case, the Spirit seems intent on sabotaging thier plan. They spend the night in Troas and Paul, with his newly opened eyes, has a vision: it’s a Macedonian man calling for his help. So the next day, they set sail from Troas, stopping in Samothrace, and then on to Neapolis and from there to Philippi.

When have you had your plans all made, and then found that your best-laid plans were not the best? This story is a good lesson in the sovereignty of God. If Paul and friends had persisted in staying in Asia, they would not have reached Philippi and the whole household of Lydia would not have heard the message of God’s love, which changed the city of Philippi and eventually all of Europe. Think about Paul, Timothy, and Silas when you seem to be running into dead end streets. When all the doors of life are closing on you. Watch for God to open a window and do something amazing. The Spirit of God may be turning you away from things you think are preferable for something much, much better in the long run. Everything that needs to happen, will happen, in God’s good timing, but we have to watch and listen for the direction of the Spirit.


Lydia is in a rare woman in the first century, being named head of her household. She may be wealthy, as some who dealt in purple cloth were, but other scholars suggest that she could equally have been poor and a former slave, who had learned a purple dying process that required animal urine and plants – an unpleasant job. Whether rich or poor, Lydia, a single woman with a household of her own, was the first European Christian and the first charter member of the new church development in Philippi. Not only was she the first charter member, but it seems the church met in her house, after she and all her household were baptized. That what is meant by her statement, “If you have judged me faithful, come and stay at my house. And her hospitality is the beginning of a new church. This is one of those passages which seem to justify the our practice of infant baptism because Lydia’s faith leads to the baptism of the whole house of people, all her family and servants, presumably. Of course, those who do not practice infant baptism would be quick to point out that children are not specifically mentioned.

And lest Paul and his companions think that they themselves by their wonderful words opened the heart of Lydia, notice that the scripture is clear that it is the Lord who does that work. We can get awfully frustrated when we set our minds on sharing good news with someone and their hearts are hardened to our message.

(Heart with door)

We’re not called to open people’s hearts. We are called to have open hearts to them and share our stories of faith. The Spirit opens hearts and often opens those we least expect. Paul’s vision was of a Macedonian man, but in the end, it was a group of women, with whom he was able to share. The women were spiritual but not religious, we might say, like a lot of people today.

Who are the Macedonians to whom God is calling you? Will you see the vision of the Macedonians or will you be busy trying to make your thwarted itineraries work? Is your heart open to all whom God might call you to reach? You will not know who they are, if you have not opened your eyes, your mind, and your heart to the presence of the Spirit. This opening is no one-time commitment but is a steady and involved practice of the faith.

William Temple, archbishop of Canterbury during WW2, once said,

Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God.
It is to quicken the conscience by the holiness of God,
to nourish the mind by the truth of God,
to purify the imagination by the beauty of God,
to open the heart to the love of God,
and to devote the will to the purpose of God.

Let me read that again with thanks to Gretchen who sent it to me.

Temple also said, “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.” As a church we must continually discipline ourselves to have open hearts not just to one another, but most significantly to those beyond our community – open to help them, open to share good news with them, open to befriend them, whether they are open to us or not. Gandhi said, “In prayer it is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart.”

Is your heart open – open to God and open to others?

People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. — Maya Angelou

Those messages of the heart are forever.

Let us pray:
Open wide our hearts, Lord, that they may be chocked full of your love, so full of your love that no one can talk to us, watch us, or be around us without wondering about the love which you have poured into our hearts. May we have a genuine spirit of hospitality toward all people.