Sunday, March 17, 2013

Lydia's Story - Our Story

Lydia’s story - our story

A place of prayer
A people to pray with
A God to worship
A willingness to listen
A heart open to the Lord
A grace to receive
A faith to share
A sign of belonging
A welcome home
A sharing in the gospel
A beginning made
An end in sight
A harvest of justice
Through Jesus Christ
For the glory and praise of God

Lydia in Acts 16:13-15 and Philippians 1 3-11

It’s a place I’ve wanted to visit … and I for one will make sure I get to see this year’s extravaganza of an exhibition at the British Museum.  It’s not just an exhibition of wonderful things from Pompeii and from Heruclaneum but it will take you into the world of ordinary people living in those ancient cities.  What excites me about the prospect is that it will give you a wonderful insight into the world of the people who make up the church of the New Testament.  For this was their world.

Peter Oakes, based up on in Manchester, hit upon the idea of writing a commentary on Romans as if that letter wre being read by people at Pompeii.

Just from the first glimpses of the exhibition and a peep at the catalogue it really will be wonderful to see the way they take you into homes and gardens of ordinary people to catch a glimpse of the splendour and of the poverty of those fascinating cities.

We catch a glimpse here in Acts of someone who would be at home in Pompeii and in Heruclaneum.  She was in some ways an ordinary person, but in other ways there was something extraordinary about her.

In Philippi she was an outsider, but she had put her roots down in the city and was a householder.  That in itself is quite something in what was in some ways a man’s world.  Lydia is a householder.  And a person of some standing.

She comes originally from Thyatira over the water in what we now think of as Turkey.  An ancient city which was renowned in the ancient world for producing dyes and therefore cloth that was much sought after.  A distinctive, purple dye.

That’s what brings her to Philippi – as a dealer in purple cloth.

It’s one of those colours associated with Rome and all its splendour.  A colour to look out for in Pompeii!

By the looks of things she was one of the leading women of that area – and with others came to play their part in the churches that Paul was founding and supporting.

But that is to anticipate.

Reading:  Acts 16:13-15

The Conversion of Lydia

 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 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. 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. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper 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. 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.

Track through that passage from Acts and then put it together with a prayer Paul later prays for the people who belong in that church and you can build up a picture of some of those things that are so important in being part of the body of Christ, the church.

Reading:  Philippians 1:3-11

Paul’s Prayer for the Philippians

 I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s gracewith me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that on the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

These are the things that struck me in the story …

On arrival in Philippi, a bustling centre of trade Paul waits until the Sabbath comes and then acts on a hunch – he reckons in all likelihood there will be a place outside the city, down by the river that is a place of prayer.

And lo and behold there is.

That’s my first observation.  The value of having a place of prayer.  A place to meet regularly.  For us this is it.  How important to keep this place, to look after it, and to be here when we say we are going to be here – to give a welcome.   A place of prayer.  But this is not the only place – maybe there are other places for us that are important too.  A place for prayer.

The oldest place of continuous worship in the town here in Cheltenham is now known as the Minster, St Mary’s in the town centre – actively working at make it a place of prayer and a centre for all churches in the town – prayers at lunch time each day.  This coming Thursday from 12-30 to 1-30 an hour of prayer – focus on our town.  A place of prayer.

A people to pray with.

Lydia met there with other women – how good it is to meet with others to pray.   Prayer is something intensely personal.  No one has to come between us and God – in any place at any time God is there and we can pray.  But there is value in having people to pray with.  People to share with.  When things are going well to be a support to others.  When things are not so well – to receive support from others.

A God to worship.

They were drawn to God.  I think it’s an interesting element in this story.  Lydia is not a Jewish name – but this is a group of people meeting on the Jewish day of worship, worshipping God.  That worhip of God comes first … and then things follow.   Prayer starts with the worship of God.  Honouring God.

A willingness to listen as the Lord opened her heart – but at the same time a heart that was open to the Lord.  A willingness to listen, a heart that’s open.

What part can we play in the life of the church.  What part can we play in sharing the love of God.  How important to cultivate a listening ear.  A willingness to listen to the thoughts of others, a willingness to listen out for God.

A grace to receive – and a faith to share.

Lydia came to that point when she and all her household with her received the touch of that grace – and shared that faith Paul had spoken of and they were baptised.  They lined themselves up with the movement for transformation, the way of Christ that Paul had shared with them.  A wonderful sign of belonging.

And then a welcoming home – a wonderful hospitality.

As Paul begins his letter he rejoices in the way the people in Philippi had been sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.    This is what it takes to share in the gospel – it springs from a place of prayer and people to pray with.  It’s about having a God to worship and a willingness to learn, a heart open to the Lord.  It’s about reciving grace, sharing faith, belonging and welcoming.

This gospel takes root in the heart and makes a difference.

Following Christ is always a job in process of happening, in the act of taking shape.

It is Christ who is there at the beginning.  It is Christ will be there at the end.  And Christ who stays with us from beginning to end.

And what is the end? 

 A harvest of righteousness – bearing fruit in justice and caring.  And how to get there?

This is my prayer.  That your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you determine what is best.

Jimmy Carter was the first President in my memory to be very explicit in his Christian faith.  A little autobiography.  Nothing but the best.

What we strive after in church, is nothing less than the best.  We seek to do our best – and make our best, the best so that it really can be for the glory and praise of God.

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