Sunday May 11th, 2010. Mothers Day

Acts 16:11-16
“And the Lord opened Lydia’s heart”

Well, we have done it. All us blokes who have a wife who is the mother of our children have done the annual pilgrimage to the shops to find THAT Mothers Day gift. Of course it is not easy….

What NOT to Buy Your Wife or get the kids to buy Mum on Mothers’ Day?: Many a man has felt extreme frigid temperatures for a long period based on a poor present decision. As a veteran of these wars, I’m still not sure what to buy my wife, but I’ll pass on what not to buy her:
1. Don’t buy clothing. That involves sizes. The chances are one in seven thousand that you will get her size right, and your wife will be offended the other 6999 times. “Do I look like a size 16?” she’ll say in disgust. Too small a size doesn’t cut it either: “I haven’t worn a size 8 in 20 years!”
2. Avoid all things useful. The new silver polish advertised to save hundreds of hours is not going to win you any brownie points.
3. Don’t buy anything that involves weight loss or self-improvement. She’ll perceive a six-month membership to a diet centre as a suggestion that’s she’s overweight.
3. Don’t buy jewellery. The jewellery your wife wants, you can’t afford. And the jewellery you can afford, she doesn’t want.
4. Finally, don’t spend too much. “How do you think we’re going to afford that?” she’ll ask. But don’t spend too little. She won’t say anything, but she’ll think, “Is that all I’m worth?”
Herb Forst in Cross River, NY, Patent Trader, in Reader’s Digest, p. 69

Today we happen to hear about a wonderful woman of God. She was not a mother though. She was single. Her name is Lydia. She is a role model of being a woman; a Christian woman, and being a disciple of Jesus.

Luke tells us that he and Paul and the others meet Lydia because of an incredible vision of a European man calling them to reach the shores of Macedonia (Europe) for the first time. They respond to the Call and make the trip up the coast and arrive in Philippi.

This is a military retirement town. There are lots of distinguished war veterans living in this lovely city, and so, the city has some prominence in the Roman Empire.

Paul and the others would always go to the local Jewish community first and proclaim the gospel there before moving on the town square or hall or houses of Gentile people.

In Philippi there does not seem to be any synagogue or Jewish community to speak of. On the Saturday (Sabbath) they go looking for one but eventually hear that a few “God Fearers” meet down by the river. There they do an amazing thing. They actually sit down and talk and share a Word with women. Paul and the others have come so very far in their view of the world!

They meet Lydia. She strikes us a quite a strong women. She would have to be. First of all she is an immigrant. She comes from Thyatira (Western Turkey) and yet she is living in another country (Macedonia). Second: she is not married. For some that would be difficult to deal with in her culture (maybe still in ours too!). Third, she is a business entrepreneur. She deals with the upper crust of this city. This would be a male domain with a strong glass ceiling.

Lydia makes that much sought after cloth that all the retired military elite like to wear to functions and parties. She is a maker of the royal colour clothing – purple.

But that is not the thing that really shows her inner strength. She is a ‘God fearer’. In a city where every sweetener to worship other gods is on offer, and where one can make up one’s own religious observance of a various gods on sale, she honours the one true God. And she does not do this alone in secret but publicly with a small group of like-minded women.

She seeks the community of faith. She goes down to the river where they meet and she speaks the psalms, prays the prayers, reads the Torah and trusts in God’s presence. It would be so much easier to just give it up and do her own thing.

What was it that excited her and made her heart so overjoyed that day down by the river when Paul and Luke and the others began to speak of this Jesus of Nazareth? Luke does not tell us. Paul would have begun where she was at.

Maybe Paul spoke of business. Maybe he spoke of being treated as 2nd class in society (he knew what that was like). Maybe he spoke of purple robes – he would have had a good story to tell about holding purple robes at an event outside the city of Jerusalem (the stoning of Stephen). Who knows?

Whatever Paul spoke of, it was not only him speaking. As usual, the Holy Spirit was present in his word and using a human vessel to open the human heart to the love of Jesus for people. And Luke wants us to get that. He says “…and the Lord opened her heart’. Paul didn’t, she didn’t, …it was the one and only Lord – the Spirit of Jesus himself opening the human mind, soul, body and heart to the amazing love, mercy, kindness, grace and will of the risen Jesus.

Maybe Lydia was overwhelmed by the new understanding that she was a daughter of God, part of his community? Maybe she had often wondered about the Jewish laws and rituals and if they really did secure God’s favour. Now she knew that they didn’t. Jesus did!

Maybe she was blown away by the fact the God had come and got her. As she heard the story of the vision that led to Paul and the others being here in the first place, and then seeing this Jewish man sitting and teaching people whom he “normally” shouldn’t just confirmed that Jesus really wanted her in his kingdom and working for his kingdom in this place – and that was just inspiring!

……she responded.

She was baptised. Her whole family was baptised – siblings, friends, slaves, kids…. Baptism was the outward seal of what had already been going on the inside for Lydia. She could pin point the day that she became a member of Jesus’ church.
She could trust him for this belonging for her life and she could be sure that he would never renege on the commitments he made to her that day – “Lydia, you are my daughter with whom I am well pleased”!

Then Lydia, the daughter of the Most High responded. She responded with generosity. She wanted to be into what Jesus was doing among people. Having been given a great gift, she wanted to give something in return.

So strong was her desire to be in the mission of Jesus with Paul and the others she now opened her home and her life to their work in the city. This was the beginning of the Philippian church and of an enduring friendship and mission support that Paul must have really enjoyed because the letter to the Philippians that he would later write is often called his ‘Letter of Joy’.

Other people would be touched by the love of Jesus here; a jailor and a young girl…. And then a house church would begin and then lots of house churches….And this Christian community would be very generous and faithful contributors to the mission of God.

You have to wonder about Lydia’s involvement in this ongoing generosity. She was a strong woman who had a soft heart for Jesus, his people and their mission. She was wealthy. Maybe it is largely because of her that lots of things happened? After all, as we know, ‘mission takes money”.

The last thing I would observe about Lydia is that she was stubborn. “She prevailed” upon them, says Luke. She would not let them go and she would not take no for an answer to her desire to be involved in something special and of huge blessing for her town.

She was confident that God wanted to use her and her community to bring his overwhelming love and grace to bear on needy people’s lives and relationships, and eventually she persuaded everybody else to believe it.

We could do not too much better than to be mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, partners and colleagues in the same vein as Lydia. She shows us a few things

• It’s the Spirit of the Lord who changes us and changes the world- and so we all depend on him to live this life
• It is God’s intention that we be enlisted in his mission movement and that this requires our open hearts and open homes and lifestyles.
• It is the pure unbounded love of Jesus that lies at the heart of church and marriage and partnership, work and friendship and life.
• God uses makers of cloth, business people, foreign people, rich people, poor people, outcast people, “in” people in his world wide mission to bring them all into his city of light where the river of life runs and gives unimaginable fulfilment, joy, peace – ongoing….

We praise the Lord for another of his “mothers” of the church and we pray that he will open our hearts to hear him and give to him and be generous with our hearts and homes for his work. Amen.