Rev. George Miller
May 8, 2016
In the Book of Revelation, ch. 21, the author says “I saw a holy city, the new Jerusalem...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.”
The Holy City: it is a place where God is the light, Jesus is the lamp, there is gladness and joy.
It is a city in which everyone is beautiful, loved and blessed.
Some say this is an image of a time and place that is far away, 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 if we open our hearts, we open our minds, there are ways we can experience it today.
It’s a matter of wanting to look for it, the ability to embrace it, and accepting the invitation to be a part of it.
Communion can be a time when the Holy City, breaks into our reality and says hello. The Shepherd’s Pantry is another time when the City makes itself known.
We can experience a glimpse of the City in the laughter of a child, a healthy home, and the unconditional love of a mother.
The City of God is all around us, if we only take the time to look, realizing its citizens are many and do not always look or act like us.
To get a glimpse of who makes up God’s city, and to see just how boundary breaking Christianity is, we can turn to today’s reading.
Our scripture features Paul who is traveling with Timothy, the son of a mixed marriage. Together they are going from city to city, guided by the Holy Spirit. A vision sends them to Europe.
While there they meet a group of women who are outside the gates of the city, praying. One woman, Lydia, listens with great intensity. Her heart is opened by God and she is baptized.
More than that- this Lydia, a woman found outside of the city, becomes the 1st person in Europe to be converted, and her home becomes the Philippian church.
At first listen, this scripture sounds like a travelogue, with city after city being named. Pay closer attention and you’ll hear all the people who are making glad this particular city of God.
First, there is Paul. Once he was an enemy of the Church, who arrested and brutalized the earliest believers before having his own come to Jesus moment.
In other words, a former thug is helping to make glad the City of God.
Second, there is Timothy. His mother was a Jew, his father a gentile Greek. Because of that, he did not look like everyone else.
In other words a poster child for diversity is helping to make glad the City of God.
Third and fourth are the women worshiping by the river, including Lydia, a non-native who some scholars may believe have been a freed slave.
Who is helping to make glad the City of God? A group of people located on the outside of society.
This is reminiscent 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.”
In the past few weeks we’ve heard about all the various people who made up the early church. We’ve heard of Peter, Tabitha, and Cornelius.
Since today is Mother’s Day, let’s focus on Lydia, one of the first Church Mothers.
As today’s reading begins, Paul and Timothy have made their way onto European soil. They’re looking for a place to pray. For some reason, 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.
She is so moved by what she hears. She has everyone in her household baptized. She offers the men a place to stay.
Who is this Lydia? We know she was the mother of the Philippian church. But she was also someone who was on the outside.
Outside, not just in terms of the city gates, but outside in terms of the gates of society.
Lydia was a woman, which immediately placed her and the women she was with on the outside.
She was an artisan; someone who most likely worked with her hands. If you know anything about how purple cloth was made back then, you’d know it was not a pretty or neat process.
Artisans and people with hands stained with purple dye would probably be on the outside of the society pages.
Lydia was not from Macedonia, where the story takes place. She was a foreigner. How often have foreigners been made to feel like they are on the outside, or should stay on the outside?
There may not have been a wall, but there sure was a gate.
Lastly, just like Tabitha, there’s no indication that Lydia was married. There’s no mention of a husband. So is Lydia single, widowed, divorced, or a Sister of Sappho?
For all us single people, let’s be honest- we know how it is. Married couples, you’re on the inside. Ya’ll go to events together; socialize with other couples.
But what happens when someone is single or finds themselves widowed or divorced?
Sure- you may go out with coupled friends. But it’s hard not to feel like a 3rd-Wheel, or to feel as if you were on the outside looking in.
Outside, outside- in so many ways Lydia, was on the outside.
But what do Timothy and Paul do? They go to where she and the other outsiders are. They sit; they speak.
They welcome her into the Family, 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’s 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.
Those Moms who were in the kitchen cooking the Thanksgiving meal while everyone else is watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade.
That’s like being on the outside.
Those Mothers and caregivers 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 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 places one on the outside. Having to turn down invites, not having the cash to spend on a night out, canceling because a child is sick.
And for those mothers who don’t live near their kids? My Mom once described motherhood as going to the mailbox everyday hoping that there’s 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’m not trying to make today a downer, but to acknowledge an all-true side of motherhood, adulthood, and of the human condition- that there is time which is spent on the outside.
But Christ? Well Christ just brings everyone in. Christ reminds us that we are each a rare jewel. Christ empowers us to celebrate just how special we are.
Today is meant to celebrate all the wonderful women in our lives. They give birth to us, they nurture us, guide us, give us direction and they offer us their unconditional love.
But how often are they doing it from the outside?
If you are a mother, and you are honestly doing the best you can do- 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, if even only in your heart.
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, strong-loving mother in which all children are cared about.
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.
They are already beautiful, loved and blessed.
But through Christ, God has made them all 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 a radiant light, and the Holy Spirit who opens up the gates so all the nations can come in.
Amen and amen.