Faith United Methodist Church

May 1, 2016

6th Sunday of Easter

Rev. Kristabeth Atwood

Scripture: Acts 16:9-15

Prayer for Illumination:      

God of light and life, shine upon us with your wisdom and truth. Open our hearts to listen eagerly and to love generously. As you teach, so may we live in your world. Amen.

Sermon:                         From Strangers to Friends

There are two main characters in our Scripture lesson today. The first character we encountered ~ and we could probably say he was quite a character ~ was Paul. In true Paul fashion, he experienced a vision that led him to change his course and do something different. We may remember that this wasn’t the first time that Paul had been persuaded by a vision. The vision God gave him on the road to Damascus changed his whole life-direction and brought him to the Christian faith. Today’s vision, if slightly less dramatic, also led Paul to change direction. “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

Paul ~ and those with him ~ followed God’s leading and ended up in Philippi, the leading city of the district of Macedonia. This was the first experience of the early church in what is now Europe. Yet, the “us” of the vision was not immediately clear. Come over to Macedonia and help us. On the Sabbath Paul cast about for a place to worship before stumbling upon an assembly outside the city-gate by the river. It was there that Paul found Lydia and her community of women gathered in prayer.

Lydia ~ the second main character of today’s Scripture lesson. Lydia who sold purple cloth. Upon meeting Lydia and her friends at the river Paul did what Paul did best. He shared the good news. Lydia heard the word and God opened her heart and she believed.   She became the first convert in what is now Europe. Following her conversion, she and her household were baptized. Lydia, the mother of European Christianity. Some of us here can trace our faith roots back to her.

Beyond this, we really don’t know much about Lydia. We don’t know if she was a mother, a grandmother, a wife, or an aunt. She could have been widowed. Perhaps she was compelled ~ out of economic necessity ~ to take over her husband’s trade in purple cloth. We do know that, by this point in her life, she was successful. She was influential businesswoman who was head of her household and made decisions. One of the decisions she made was to believe and be baptized. Another was to open her home in an act of hospitality. In the encounter between Paul and Lydia those who were at first strangers became friends.

And Lydia’s generous hospitality did not just extend for that one night. Indeed, her home became the missionary outpost for the developing church in Philippi. That small prayer group by the river became a growing Christian community that drew Jews and Gentiles alike.

Scripture tells us that, as time passed, Paul continued to draw on Lydia’s friendship. If we read further in the book of Acts we hear of Paul’s arrest and imprisonment in Philippi. Upon his release, he and his company headed straight for Lydia’s house. After Paul left Philippi, it was likely that the congregation continued to gather at Lydia’s house to share meals and worship. It was likely there they took up a collection to help Paul in prison in Rome and, later, read the warm letter Paul wrote to them. Some may even go so far as to say that from Lydia’s home an entire continent was touched by the Gospel. Through Lydia’s generous giving many who were once strangers became friends.

The theme of our Stewardship Campaign ~ which wraps up today ~ is the Unconditional Giving. Our giving isn’t a one-way transaction. Giving is something that grows out of interdependence and relationship and gratitude. At its most basic level, our giving flows out of our recognition that everything we have is a gift from God. In the best case scenario, coming together in Christian community our generosity meets with the generosity of others and we are able to do amazing things. We are able to turn strangers into friends.

This happens when we share in fellowship in our Gathering Space and introduce ourselves to someone we don’t know. This happens when we prepare a meal at the Salvation Army and sit down to eat with our guests. This happens when we gather for Bible Study and share our thoughts and questions with each other. This happens when we worship with our friends at The Pines and Pillsbury Manor, sharing communion and prayer concerns. This happens when we pay our Mission Shares, which spread around the world to help our brothers and sisters on the continent of Africa and in South America and the Philippines. Strangers separated by distance, by economic circumstances, by political outlook, by age or race or class, become friends.

Paul responded to a vision and reached out to the people of a different land. In response, Lydia opened her heart to faith, opened her home to become a mission outpost, and opened her treasure in the spirit of friendship and faith. Unconditional Giving. As Joyce Hollyday offers, “Lydia gave truth to Jesus beautiful promise: ‘Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.’ (John 14:23)”

And aren’t we are all called to do this in our own way? Using our skills and resources to support the body of Christ in our time and place? Giving what we have been given as we are able?   Bringing together our hearts and homes and finances for the work of faith? As we saw with Paul and Lydia, when strangers become friends, when giving is from the heart, the whole world can be changed. Amen.