The Sixth Sunday of Easter; Year C (5/9/2010)

An Open, Eager, Listening Heart

Lessons: Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 (4) Revelation 21:10, 22–22:5 St. John 14:23-29 or St. John 5:1-9

Prayer of the Day Bountiful God, you gather your people into your realm, and you promise us food from your tree of life.  Nourish us with your word, that empowered by your Spirit we may love one another and the world you have made, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

16:9 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.

Acts 16:9-15 New Revised Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

“Your reputation precedes you!” I’m guessing the Apostle Paul heard that comment a number of times during his life. Certainly those words, or some similar construction, were used when word reached Damascus that Paul (then known as “Saul”) had arrived and was interested to meet with the Christians there (Acts 9). Upon his return to Jerusalem soon after that, he received the same welcome — or lack of welcome — from the disciples in that city. Paul’s reputation as the church’s most passionate and dangerous opponent preceded him, even for some time after he converted to faith in Christ and became one of the church’s first great evangelists.

His reputation precedes him in our day as well, although in a different manner. We most often think of him as a Biblical scholar; a strong theologian; a fierce defender of Christian faith; a headstrong and determined evangelist. It is easy to imagine him blowing into town, running rough-shod over anyone who got in his way, and presenting the Gospel to everyone, not really caring whether or not they had any interest in hearing it.

In this week’s lesson, we have hints that lead us to consider another side of Paul’s personality. The scene is Philippi, which was a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony — Gentile territory — far from the center of Jewish faith in Jerusalem, where the Christian movement began. Paul had seen, in a vision, the image of a man who pleaded with him to come to Macedonia and offer them his help. Immediately Paul and his companions left Troas, and set sail for Macedonia. Soon after, they reached Philippi, and stayed there for “some days.”

When the Sabbath day came, Paul didn’t go to where the political, economic and religious powers gathered. He didn’t lecture in the synagogue or debate in the forum. Instead, he went to where the “real power” gathered. He went outside the gate by the river, where he supposed there was a place of prayer. There he and his traveling companions sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. If the caricature some of us have of Paul was accurate, he would have been elsewhere, involved in something “more important.” But the real Paul finds his way to this place by the river, where women had gathered to pray and to visit on a Sabbath morning.

While there, Paul met Lydia. Lydia had an open, eager, listening heart. She is described by Luke as a “worshipper of God” – clearly not a Jew (or the text would have identified her that way), but someone who had an openness to learning about God. Lydia sat there with the others and listened as Paul told them of his experience on the road to Damascus, of how they were now understanding the words of the Hebrew prophets, and of what they have come to believe about Jesus, the Christ.

Lydia was from the city of Thyatira (as a matter of fact, there is a city in Thyatira named Lydia) – a place known for its guild of dyers. She was a dealer in purple cloth – quite possibly from a well-to-do family: only the wealthy could afford such a cloth in those days, much less an inventory to sell. Some might have looked at her and written her off – a wealthy Greek woman selling luxury goods – what interest could she have in this simple Rabbi from Nazareth and his followers?

But Paul noticed something about her – something that gave him a hint that perhaps she was open to hear what he was saying. He noticed that she seemed to be listening attentively, and it eventually became apparent that the Lord had opened her heart up to the Gospel. Eventually, because of Paul’s words, she embraced his teaching, was baptized by the apostles, and invited Paul and his partners to stay with her family while they were in Macedonia.

It would have been easy for Paul to ignore her, or to miss her altogether. He could have kept his focus on more likely candidates, or those who already had some background with Jewish faith and Hebrew scriptures. But he was attentive, and noticed her openness, and it led to baptism (for her and her whole house) and new life for Lydia.

Sometimes the most likely candidates for faith are right in front of our eyes — if only we have the faith to perceive it. Yesterday I listened to Bob Edwards interview Father Gregory Boyle, a Jesuit priest in East Los Angeles who has worked for years to help young Latinos give up the gang life, find jobs, and lead productive, healthy lives. He has recently written a book: “Tattoos on the Heart.”

Father Boyle described an encounter he once had in his office. It was Saturday, and he had just a few minutes between baptisms. He wanted to read through the day’s mail, but a woman wandered into his office. He knew her. Everyone knew her. She was a local prostitute and drug abuser. His previous encounters with her hadn’t been pleasant, so he invited her to sit down and only half-listened to her as she poured out her heart to him. Eventually something she said caught his attention, and they had a long, meaningful conversation — one that became the beginning of a new direction in her life. Father Boyle said, “I made the mistake of seeing her as only an interruption.”

Sometimes the most likely candidates for faith are right in front of our eyes — if only we have the faith to perceive it. The Apostle Paul noticed Lydia and her interest. Who might we notice today? What word of encouragement might we offer to them?


David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel

  1. What do we think of when we think of the Apostle Paul?
  2. Why was he at the river, instead of in a synagogue, on the Sabbath?
  3. How did his belief that the Spirit was leading him change the way he perceived the situations he found himself in?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What situations have I been in, when I’ve concluded that there really isn’t much chance to share faith?
  2. Who has been instrumental in encouraging my faith, and how did that happen?
  3. How would my attitude towards sharing my faith change, if I believed the Spirit was calling me to do so?