Below you can find the text for Revd Amanda’s sermon for the 6th Sunday of Easter, based on the Bible readings for that day of John Chapter 14:23-29 and Acts 16:9-15. The image above depicts the meeting of Paul and Lydia from the Acts reading.
Today’s passages gives witness to the power of God in action. The power of dreams, visions, energy and enthusiasm and the Holy Spirit; the gift Jesus leaves us – at work flowing through lives making all things possible. The Holy Spirit which gives us peace, especially when we are afraid of what we are called to do.
Jesus spends time before he is arrested explaining to the disciples what will happen after his death and resurrection and what is expected of them, and ultimately what is expected of us. Jesus has come as the light of the world so that people can have the light of life; but many prefer the darkness. It was that way at the time of Christ’s incarnation and is thus now. Because of this the farewell passages say much about the world as the place of danger and darkness, the place where the disciples will find themselves when Jesus is gone.
Jesus sets out to his friends the ways in which, as a matter of fact, he will still be with the disciples come what may. Firstly, he will be with them whenever they remember and try to stay faithful to what he has taught them (those who love will keep my word). Next, in trying to continue in love and commitment to Jesus, they will be continuing Jesus’ own work of making God present. By their love for Jesus and in their continued love for Jesus they can continue the incarnating work of Jesus, God will be with them as God was with Jesus, together they become the place where Jesus is present. Lastly, Jesus is nothing if not realistic about his followers. He doesn’t expect them to manage this task of loving God and making him present on their own. The Holy Spirit is to come, to inspire, encourage, embolden, enthuse. The Holy Spirit will give enthusiasm and energy to their dreams and vision, to their mission, as they witness to the presence of Jesus – as they become Jesus’ hands and feet on earth.
Over and over as Christians we are asked to do and give what has already been done and given to us by God. We are given forgiveness and asked to forgive, given love and asked to love, given God and asked to make him a home with us, to live in and through him to become his hands and feet with the gift of the Holy Spirit.
We know what happened next. The disciples went straight from listening to this great promise about the continuing presence of God in Christ through the Spirit to total confusion and despair. We also know that the Holy Spirit did come and work in and through them and inspired them in their mission and they did rise to the task of sharing the life and love of Jesus with the world around them, and when they did they found that God was already there right in the midst of it. Which leads us to the story of Lydia.
Paul is so often misunderstood. I love Paul. For a long time I did not love Paul I was told that he didn’t like women, indeed I was told he didn’t really like anyone very much! When I first studied Theology in my mid 20s a tutor told us we were going to study Paul as part of a module and I groaned. He looked at me and smiled. You are an Anglican aren’t you, I nodded. Do me a favour he said go and read Paul for yourself. I was challenged to read Romans over the weekend, I read Acts the week after and realized just how misquoted and misunderstood Paul was. Far from being misogynist and every ism in the book Paul was radically inclusive before radical inclusion was even a thing! Paul was instrumental in challenging the old ways of seeing things and that included finding it totally normal to work in partnership with women especially in the task of being the hands and feet of Jesus and sharing the life and love of Jesus into the world – evangelism – which would have been radical in his context – but he was following in the footsteps of Christ who mixed with women too.
An encounter and vision of Jesus first stopped Paul from persecuting Christians and led him to become one. Another vision sees him called to Macedonia to help. Macedonia was a long way from Paul and he could have been excused from ignoring the vision but he knew that it came from God, gathered a team and left. When he arrives he is met by a group of women gathered in prayer. Lydia is with them, before she even meets Paul she was already a spiritual searcher committed to knowing God more. Of all the characters recorded in Acts we know quite a lot about Lydia. She comes from the city of Thyatira (todays Turkey), a prosperous commercial hub. She is a seller of purple dye – this was derived from marine molluscs and was very expensive. Lydia was significant in the world that she moved she was wealthy, a communicator, networker and known. As the Christian mission arrives they find the women receptive and ready to hear their teaching. Lydia, in particular, listens as God opens her heart to receive the Good News about Jesus.
Her response is immediate and amazing. She has been a spiritual seeker but accepts the Good News and believes and also accepts the need to commit and do that publicly. She and her whole household are baptised. Paul’s vision is fulfilled.
Lydia invites the missionaries to stay with her. She responds with costly hospitality both in terms of welcoming them into her home and making space for them, the cost of feeding them but a greater cost in the risk that would have been taken. Hosting these men in the context of Roman occupation could have wrecked her business, her professional reputation. When Paul and Silas cast a spirit out of a fortune telling slave the missionaries are seized, convicted, flogged and jailed. Lydia’s whole household under threat. But Lydia had met the Holy Spirit and had that deep peace even in fear to serve and follow her calling.
Lydia’s boldness in standing with the missionaries, being open to God bore incredible fruit. Her home becomes a meeting place for the Christian movement in Philippi and she becomes one of the first leaders of the early church.
What can we learn from Lydia? She gave priority to her calling. Once she had committed to Christ her priorities changed. She was still a businesswoman but became a believing businesswoman. Her business became her means of supporting her faith in resources and hospitality. Her skills, energy and commitment given in service of God.
I wonder as you reflect on Lydia’s story and the instruction of Jesus in the Gospels how you view dreams, visions, energy and enthusiasm?
Does our calling into being the hands and feet of Jesus mean giving things up and starting a whole new journey, or does it mean continuing what we were doing before but with new purpose as we integrate our work, our lives, with our faith and with serving God.
What does it mean for our church to serve Huddersfield in mission to witness to the risen Christ as Easter people in this place. What will that cost us? What should that cost us? What do we need to give up and what do we need to integrate?
I have declared that I love Paul. I also know that in this story of Lydia Paul was following the instructions laid out by Jesus. Paul did not think that he had converted Lydia however fantastic he was. Acts makes crystal clear that God was at work on both sides of the conversation making possible what he was asking for.
You have been given a person with hands and feet to take with you put it where you pray or read your Bible, or anywhere you will see it this week. Pray. Ask God to show you how to serve, how God wants you to reveal Jesus in your life, how you can be the hands and feet of Jesus. How can you support us in this place to dream God’s dreams, realise God’s visions, with the enthusiasm, openness and energy of Lydia. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit to help us we do not do any of it alone. But this is no passive gift that we can sit back and enjoy Jesus makes clear it is a gift to inspire the mission, action and evangelism, the service that we do as his hands and feet. Like Lydia we just need to be open and let God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit move in and through us, if we are afraid of what God might ask then pray for the deep peace that Christ promises to be with you as you pray.