Sermon: May 27, 2019

Easter VI 2019: Vision

by The Reverend Jeffrey C. Johnson

Acts 16:9-15
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.

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Today’s reading from the book of Acts begins with a vision.  We love to use that word, “vision,”  in church work and the church world.  I use it all the time.  Usually, we’re talking about strategic planning for a congregation.  In fact, we’re about to strategically plan with the council and all those who want to come on Saturday, June 15.  We can usually discover a vision by the following steps:

  1. Pray
  2. Thank God for working in our congregation
  3. Discern and God’s vision by calling a consultant (which is an expert from out of town)
  4. And so on.  

However, I’m reminded in this lesson that our vision for the Church specifically FLC, is VERY different than receiving a vision from God.  We tend to want to script God’s vision for a church.  However, receiving a vision from God is different.  This sort of visioning is safe and comfortable.  However, God’s vision for us is not always safe and comfortable.  We really want to control God, but I am willing to bet that we really, really cannot control God.  And I’m not a betting man. 

We cannot dismiss or pooh-pooh vision used in the biblical sense.  I’m reminded in biblical studies this week that receiving visions from God was not an exception; however, it was rather the norm.  Visioning begins with Adam and Eve and ends with the book of Revelation if you want to see some clear examples of God’s vision.  

In Acts 16 here, Paul receives a vision about a man in Macedonia (a part of Greece that happens to be a Roman colony) who needs Paul’s help.  If you notice, Paul is NOT writing this part of Acts, but his companion Timothy who is a recent convert to Christianity.  Along for the ride is Silas who joins Paul and Timothy.  

But first, we get a travel log BY BOAT to the following cities: Troas, Samothrace, Neapolis, and finally to Phillipi.  It is to be noted that this voyage takes Paul to Europe as Christianity is now a religious movement that is no longer confined to Asia Minor and specifically Jerusalem.  

Strangely enough, we never meet the man of Macedonia, the man of Paul’s Godly vision.  We, however, meet someone else and that someone else is?  Lydia, a woman, specifically a businesswoman and a purveyor of purple cloth.  Now you need to put your Sherlock Holmes detective hats on.  No detail is to be left unturned.  

Very quickly, in Ancient Greece women could own property and obviously, own businesses.  Therefore, Lydia appears to be a woman of independent means.  To be a purveyor of purple cloth, the costliest of all dyes known is a further indication of her status.  Note also, there is no man associated with Lydia and her household mentioned in this story.  

We find Paul meeting Lydia down by the riverside in a chance meeting.  Her heart is opened and obviously moved in that “she eagerly wants to listen to Paul.”  She and her household (which speaks to her wealth) are baptized.  She is the head of the household.  And finally, Timothy writes, Lydia prevails upon us to stay with her.  “Come stay at my home.”  

And in these brief lines, this is all we know of Lydia.  But more importantly, this is where we believe the church begins in Europe.  In a chance meeting by the river between Paul and Lydia becomes the first convert to the Faith.  

But back to Lydia.  The response is amazing.  Lydia does not run away.  Lydia doesn’t say, “Let me think about this and get back to you.”  She accepts Paul’s story of a Savior named Jesus and a way of life so appealing to her that she requests baptism for her and her household.  And then to boot, she asked these three men, strangers, to be her houseguests.  

I really don’t know how to think of this.  Who among us is willing to do this? First off to allow complete strangers, and in this culture, men to come live with us?  I don’t know that I could.  But I remind you that this is the vision of God and not necessarily Paul’s vision.  Paul and his fellow Jewish Christians were not especially excited about converting Gentiles.  But here we have it.  The least likely first convert: an unknown woman named Lydia of whom we know nothing about who deals in fine and expensive fabrics.

For me, there are some obvious takeaways and some really startling ones.  The first takeaway is God uses us for God’s purpose and this purpose can be unexpected and startling.  Secondly, Lydia is wealthy.  The Early Church and the Modern 21st century Church needs folks who have financial means.  There, I said it.  This organization, though holy and set apart, require the “grease of civilization”: Money.  And with money comes infrastructure.  Lydia provides these traveling evangelists with means and money.  

What is hidden in this brief encounter is Lydia’s willingness to believe and then, in turn, be hospitable, a sign of Christian love and welcome.  And once again, Lydia welcomes the least likely people into her home.

My question for the writer of Luke is what happens the next day?  Too bad we hear nothing more of Lydia.  But there are many amazing women in Acts and in Scripture: Rhoda, Dorcas, Eunice, Priscilla, and here, Lydia.  What of their extraordinary witness to the love of God found in Christ Jesus.  

But back to my original thought…what is God’s vision for us here at FLC?  I bet some of you have had some visions of God’s vision for us and not necessarily OUR vision.  But that of God’s vision.  I think we’re scared to talk about God’s vision at times because we might not be able to control God’s plan.  Think about it.  

AMEN.