Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Sermon for May 9, 2010; Acts 16:1-15

Rev. George Miller
Acts 16:1-15
“Making Glad the City of God”
May 9, 2010

The Holy City. It is an image we find in the Book of Revelation.

In Revelation 21 John writes “I saw a holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming out of the heaven....It has the glory of God and a radiance like a very rare jewel...its gates will never be shut by day... people will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations.” (vv. 2,11, 25, 26)

This City is a place where God is the light and Jesus is the lamp, where there is gladness and no more hurt.

It is a city in which everyone is made glad.

Some believe this is an image of a time and place that is far off, while others say it is a vision that can pertain to the here and now.

That we do not have to wait to die or for the end of the world to experience God’s heavenly city, but there are ways we can experience it today.

It’s a matter of wanting to look for it, the ability to embrace just how far reaching it can be, and accepting the invitation to be glad in it.

Communion is such a time when the Kingdom of God, the Holy City, breaks into our reality and says hello.

Worship is another time when the City makes itself known.

But I have also experienced a glimpse of the City in the laughter of a child, the purr of a kitty cat or the unconditional love of a mother.

The City of God is all around us, if we only take the time to look and its citizens are not always who we think they are. But mama mia!, they sure do work to make the City glad!

To get a glimpse of who makes up God’s city, we can take a look at today’s reading which shows just how boundary breaking Christianity is.

Our scripture begins with Paul meeting Timothy, the product of a mixed marriage. Together they go from city to city, guided by the Spirit, strengthening the local churches in faith as they grow.

A vision sends them to Philippi, and they go to the outside of the city where they meet women in prayer.

One woman, Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth, has her heart opened by God. She not only listens, but is baptized and has the men stay in her home.

Lydia, a woman found on the outside of the city, becomes the first person on European soil to be converted, and it is in her home that the Philippian church begins.

Read the scripture as a travelogue and you’ll hear city after city being named, but the pay closer and you’ll hear just who it is that is making glad the City of God.

First, there is Paul. If you recall, he once went by the name of Saul and was a venomous man who arrested and possibly killed the earliest Christians.
Who is helping to make glad the City of God? A reformed thug who has become a brother and a friend.

Second, there is Timothy. His mother was a Jew, his father a gentile Greek. Because of that, Timothy did not look like everyone else.

Who is helping to make glad the City of God? A poster child for diversity.

Third and fourth are the women worshiping by the river, including Lydia, a non-native who may have been a freed slave.

Who is helping to make glad the City of God? A group of people located on the outside.

Reminds me of Galatians 3:28- “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Can I get an amen? Amen indeed.

For today, let’s focus on Lydia. We’ve already heard about Paul; Timothy will have his day. Since today is Mother’s Day, let’s focus on Lydia, one of the first Mother’s of the Church.

Like many stories in the Bible this one is very short, only 3 verses. But also like many stories in the Bible this one seems deceptively simple.

Paul and Timothy have made their way onto European soil. It is Saturday, the Sabbath, and they are looking for a place to pray. There are no synagogues inside the city, so they go outside the city gates, beyond the city limit, to the river.

A group of women have gathered there. They’re praying. Paul and Timothy sit down, join the women, and talk with them.

And Lydia, a woman from another town, a dealer in expensive fabrics, has her heart opened, and she listens to every word they say.

She is so moved she and everyone who lives and works in her house is baptized. She offers Paul and Timothy a place to stay, and she does not stop until they agree to accept her hospitality.

Who is this Lydia? The biological answer is that she is a woman. The historical answer could be that she was the mother of the Phillipian church.

A theological answer is that she was someone who was on the outside.

Outside, not just in terms of the gates of the city, but outside in terms of the gates of society and outside the power structure.

Lydia was a woman, that immediately put her and 50% of humanity on the outside.

She was an artisan. Even if she made a good income selling her purple clothe, she most likely worked with her hands. How often is that looked down upon? As one author stated “We take pleasure in things but despise those who make it.”

And as those who attended Tuesday’s bible study can tell you, the making of purple cloth was not a pretty or neat process. That would put her on the outside of the society pages.

Lydia was a foreigner. She was not from Macedonia, where the story takes place, but from the city of Thyatira. How often do non-citizens live and work on the outside of the community?

Lastly, there is no indication that Lydia was married. There is no mention of a husband and the house is called hers, so one can assume she was widowed, divorced or single.

Have you ever been single or separated or widowed and went out with friends who were coupled? Didn’t that make you feel like you were on the outside looking in?

Outside, outside, outside. In so many ways Lydia, like so many people today, was on the outside.

But what do Timothy and Paul do, in the name of Christ? They go to where she and the other outsiders are. And they welcome them in.

How? They sit down. They speak. Their actions say we are all equal, and you are one of us.

And like that the City of God is made that much more glad...

...Today is Mother’s Day. It is a chance for us to celebrate and give thanks for all the women who have made our lives glad.

Our mothers and grandmothers, aunts and wives, friends and neighbors.

But there is also a poignancy with today’s celebration, because the reality of motherhood is that, like Lydia, there is much time that is spent on the outside.

I don’t want to romanticize motherhood, or compare everyone’s mother to mine, but as I grow older I realize how much of being a mother means being on the outside.

For those who were in the kitchen cooking the Thanksgiving meal while the children watched the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade and the men watched the game in the living room.

That was like being on the outside.

For those who awoke hours before everyone else to make sure there was breakfast on the table, and those who were the last ones to go to bed, making sure the bills were paid and the house was secure.

That was like being on the outside.

For those who watch again and again as their grown children make the same mistakes, wanting to solve all their problems for them, but knowing that you can’t.

That is being on the outside.

Socially, motherhood can place one on the outside. I think of an episode from “Sex and the City.”

Miranda is a new mom and she discovers just how hard motherhood is. She has no time to go to the salon, her hair’s a mess, there is baby spit up on all her shirts, she falls asleep while on the phone.

There’s a scene where her best friends leave her behind so they can spend the afternoon shopping.

That was being on the outside.
Earlier this week I received a touching e-mail from a member who talked about how for her Mother’s Day is about loneliness.

It’s lonely because she knows her kids will claim they were to be too busy to write a letter, make a call or stop on by.

My own Mom says that motherhood is going to the mailbox everyday hoping that there is a letter from one of her kids, or some photos so she can show off her family to her friends.

That is being on the outside.

I am not trying to make today a downer, because it should not be, it does not have to be. Today is a day to celebrate the women in our lives.

They give birth to us, they nurture us, they guide us, they give direction and advise, they offer us love and provide for us comfort.

But how often are they doing it from the outside?

If you are a mother, thank you. If you have a mother and she raised you right, thank her. If you had a mother and she did not always do the best job, find a way, if you can, to forgive her.

In conclusion, today’s reading gives us a glimpse of what the City of God looks like. In some ways it is like a hard working, hard loving mother in which all children are loved.
Those children who use to be bad. Those children who are different and unique from all the others. Those children who are on the outside, working hard to make our lives beautiful.

God through Christ has already found a way to make them part of the inside. Can we find a way to do the same thing too?

All praise and honor to God who loves us like a mother, Jesus Christ who is the light for us all, and the Spirit that directs our paths.

Amen and amen.

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