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Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Currents of God’s Spirit carry us in directions we may not have chosen and to margins where we may not have gone. Lydia welcomes the gospel’s message and its messenger by a river. Her baptism christens mutuality of ministry. Waters of life wash through all the readings today: inviting love, making persons whole, and imparting holy presence. Acts 16:9–15. In the verses preceding the focus scripture, the Spirit twice changed Paul’s planned itinerary. His intent to head east now encounters this vision to head west. This text provides another turning point in Acts. It is the first of several passages where the narrative shifts in voice from “they” to “we.” The author becomes an unnamed travel companion of Paul. Paul sails from Troas, a port city in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey) to Neapolis of Macedonia (modern-day Greece). The boundary of Europe has been crossed. Other boundaries soon fall as well. Paul and his entourage go outside the gate of Philippi on the Sabbath to a place where women gather for prayer by the river. Paul sits and speaks with them. In that era, such an act constituted a breach of religious tradition. Men did not speak with women who were strangers. The affront parallels Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman (John 4). Among the women is one named Lydia, most likely a Gentile. The passage indicates she is from Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth, a luxury item for the wealthy. This detail hints she is a woman of means who moves in privileged circles in her business. The omission of any reference to a man and to “her household” further suggests her independence. By giving her name, the author of Acts indicates Lydia played a major role in the Philippian mission. Acts weaves its story with the theme of openness to and opening by God’s Spirit. The Spirit opened Paul to a new geographical direction. Now, the Spirit opens Lydia’s heart to the gospel’s proclamation. Lydia and her household are welcomed into the Christian community through baptism. Lydia extends hospitality in return. She urges Paul and his companions to be guests at her home. The final verse of this chapter reveals that Lydia’s hospitality and leadership extends to hosting the new Christian church in Philippi. The movement of Lydia’s story, not to mention some of its language, is suggestive of the Emmaus Road episode (Luke 24:13–35), where the extending of hospitality prepares for discerning the risen Christ. Waters serve as a common backdrop in our readings. Lydia experiences and extends welcome by a river. Revelation 21:10, 22—22:5 speaks of the river of life that flows in the midst of Jerusalem. Those waters bring new life and fruitfulness. John 5:1–9 relates Jesus’ healing of an invalid by a pool. His cry for help, like that of the man in Paul’s vision, finds life-changing response. Inclusion and hospitality are also key themes in these passages. Psalm 67 celebrates God’s saving power “among all nations.” God’s praise is invited from “all peoples.” In John 14:23–29, Jesus promises that God is “making a home” among those who love. It is part of a passage that opened with the promise of a house with many dwelling places. The enduring nature of God’s welcome finds testimony in Revelation, where the gates of the city will never be shut. By the river, Paul welcomes Lydia into the church. Lydia then welcomes the church into her home. The ministry of Jesus Christ is mutual. When have you experienced God’s Spirit leading you into community with people who are different from you? What did you learn in that? In what ways does the example of Lydia encourage your own practice of hospitality – to those around you and to God’s Spirit?

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Kairos-Milwaukie UCC Blog

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary by Rev. Rick Skidmore and Rev. Jim Ogden.

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