Acts 16:1-15 6th Sunday of Easter
Elizabeth M. Deibert 1 May 2016
Our Mission is to make God known. To make God known. We want God to be known, not just Peace Church. Our Mission is to make God known how? By growing as disciples of Jesus Christ. To be a disciple of Jesus Christ is to grow in faith and in following Christ. We cannot be just fans but we are called to the challenge of following. Our Mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace. A community of peace is not just our little enclave of peace in our church community but making a difference for peace in our community – seeking to build shalom in our community and in that to find our shalom, not the other way around. Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others. As Grant and I discussed on Thursday as we drove home from presbytery, Teddy Roosevelt wisely said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care” This is definitely true when it comes to faith-sharing. Faith-sharing starts with a relationship of caring. Our mission is to make God known by growing as disciples of Jesus Christ, building a community of peace, and caring for the needs of others.
Last week we heard hearing Peter’s revelation that even the Gentiles were acceptable to God – that he should go to them, eat with them, share with them, not reject them because they were different from himself, even though all his life he had been morally guided to avoid them. We shared with one another the great news that God loves us all – and there’s nothing we can do about that. How do we get that message out to the world? How do we go with it. Today we read about Paul, Silas, and Timothy traveling to share the good news of God’s love in Jesus Christ with all kinds of people. It was clear that they could not grow the church without going to the people. The same has become true again in our day. Being a faithful church means a perpetual cycle of growing and going.
Paul went on also to Derbe and to Lystra, where there was a disciple named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer; but his father was a Greek. 2 He was well spoken of by the believers in Lystra and Iconium. 3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him; and he took him and had him circumcised because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek.
4 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. (NRSV)
So the first thing we see in this text is that much as Peter and Paul and the early church was determined to declare that circumcision was not required, what does Paul do but insist that Timothy be circumcised. Ouch. Poor guy. Not required, not required, not required. But well, if you do this – “Please get circumcised, Timothy” – Jewish people will listen to you better because they know your Dad was Greek. So what do we learn from this?
That we sometimes make adjustments in our lifestyle, based on who we are with, to communicate the Gospel to them. We do things that make it easier for them to accept us. We avoid putting stumbling blocks in their way. Relationship over doctrinal consistency.
As they went from town to town, they share the Gospel and the teachings of the apostles in Jerusalem – so while they made adjustments for their particular context, it was not a Gospel message that was untethered. The church reformed and always being reformed, according to the Word of God, connected to the rest of the church, valuing the Apostolic tradition. As we say at Peace, we are seeking to be both rooted in tradition and relevant to contemporary society. We blend musical style to stay connected to our forbearers in the faith and connected to modern life. We want grandparents and grandchildren to know some of the same music and prayers of the faith. There is power when we recite a prayer from St Patrick of the 4th century, or when we sing a hymn that has its origins in Germany or Cameroon or Brazil.
Moving to verses 6-10, we see that Paul and the early believers were listening to the Holy Spirit. Can you imagine walking for days, and then learning that you would not be allowed to do what you walked there to do? But instead of being angry and frustrated, they simply interpreted it as the Holy Spirit leading them away from those places and people. Can you see direction-changing experiences in your life, road-blocks as God’s providential care at work in you? Richard and I had a road-block, direction-changing experience that wounded us back in 2003. We thought he was going to start teaching at a seminary, and suddenly the relationship soured. We had spent the last four years preparing for that, and then in a flash, it was over. We were crushed. We felt stuck, but God had a plan. We ended up staying where we were for two more years, and then the little group of people who were trying to start a Presbyterian Church in Lakewood Ranch called. So often we have a plan, which we think is right, and the Holy Spirit intervenes, and sometimes we fight it. But it is great when we can accept these U-turns, these dead-end roads, as the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives, bringing us where we did not know we needed to be.
Paul and Silas would not have chosen to go to Macedonia, but that was God’s good plan for them to reach Lydia and her friends. I am fairly certain that they would not normally see it as a great success that they found a group of women praying, to whom they could speak, because finding a group of men would have seemed in their day, the more productive moment. But little did they know, Lydia, a rare breed in 1st century, a successive business woman, dealing in valuable purple cloth, was listening and was captured by Holy Spirit. We learn here not to make assumptions about people, but always assume that God has a purpose for the spiritual conversations you are privileged to have with anyone.
Lydia’s whole household was then baptized, because the early church understood salvation in more communal terms than we do. If the head of household converted, then all in the household followed. This is why we baptize infants and children and feel no compulsion to wait until they can make their own decision, because you see, no individual can make a purely individual decision. We influence each other, and of course, we believe the grace of God not only precedes all human commitment to God, but that faith itself is a gift, certainly a gift that can be received with gratitude and cultivation, but first and foremost, it is a gift from God’s Spirit, so we do not condemn those without faith. We reach out. Also, going to stay at the home headed by a woman like Lydia may have appeared strange to some people in their day, but she prevailed upon them with her generous spirit of hospitality.
So about the growing church, we see several characteristics – first of all, we see a willingness to go. Second, we see willingness to sacrifice purity of belief or doctrine for the sake of relationships. Third, we see flexibility to change course, trusting in the Holy Spirit.
Fourth, we see a determination to keep the churches connected to one another via the teachings of apostles. Think of the importance of early scriptural manuscripts and creeds holding the church together. Fifth, we see an eagerness to share with all people, everywhere, no matter their status in society. They went to them. They did not wait for the women to come to them. They went out and found them. We in today’s church must learn that growing the church requires going out to other people, not waiting for them to find us. We can find authentic ways of sharing the Gospel with whomever will listen.
And lastly, we see acceptance of warm hospitality from those different from us, outside our comfort zone. She prevailed upon them to stay with her. Again, they were willing to enter her life and that of her household. They did not just say, “Hey, you women by the river, Lydia and the rest, we are going to have a church service, worshiping Jesus Christ over at 12705 State Road 64 East in Philippi. Why don’t you come? No, they went to where these people were and engaged them there. There’s a lot being written today about what it means to become a missional church, a growing, going church like we see in the Book of Acts. We cannot just build a sanctuary and expect people to come. We have to be a growing, going church with people making a difference in their own neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. When our week-day faith, hope, and love is so compelling that people wonder what makes us so kind and caring, then we will be a growing, going church.
St. Teresa told us God makes us equal to the task of sharing the Gospel of Christ when she wrote, “May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.” She also said, “Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.” Take his body, your body out. Go, get curious and compassionate toward other people. Love them well, love them so well that they begin to wonder why you are so kind. And when they do wonder, tell them with grace and gentleness of the wondrous love of Jesus Christ and how it changes your life, day by day.