"From Lydiaís household to ours"
Message preached May 13,
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Acts 16:9-15
Order of Worship
When my mother turned 80, the three of us children planned a celebration for her around the theme - "When I am 80, I shall wear purple." It was a wonderful party, the best part being when the open house was over and our family gathered around a big table, where we listened to her and her older brother gab about what it was like growing up in Vermont. My only regret was that we forgot to turn on the video camera and catch some of that conversation for posterity, so enthralled were we by the light-hearted banter between these two siblings. Such moments are priceless!
"When I am 80, I shall wear purple." The woman in this morningís scripture lesson might have liked that motto. After all, Lydia was a businesswoman who specialized in the sale of cloth dyed with the color purple. She probably would have altered the words, however, to say that purple is just fine for people of all ages to wear. You donít need the permission that old age seems to bestow, in order to dress as you please - to be colorful.
Lydia, herself, must have been quite a colorful character. We donít know all that much about her, except that she was a pretty persuasive person. Most of what we know about her is along the lines of the influence she had among those who were drawn to Jesus Christ in Philippi. The church there began in her household. Of all the letters written by the apostle Paul, as we have received them in the New Testament, his note to the believers in Philippi is by far the warmest, the most intimate. Itís obvious there was something unique, a caring and loving character, that "colored" these people who began their journey with Christ together in Lydiaís home. Is it a stretch of the imagination to say that her influence is evident? I donít think so.
How much of the development of a church over the years, even from its very beginning, flows from the household in which it began? Our own congregation bears a unique stamp, starting as it did in the home of John and Wilhelmina Prigel. The house still stands just down Long Green Road, occupied by another generation of Prigels. Even after the first "official" meetinghouse was built, the Prigel home remained a gathering place for the faithful. Many are still living who fondly remember meals after church, or all-day Sunday gatherings, weekends, or even summers spent on that farm. That household "colored" this church. (see "The Long Green Valley Story")
So it was with Lydiaís household. Now, to be honest, the details of her home have escaped the pages of history. There is no mention of a husband, but that doesnít mean she never married. She could have been a widow, or she could have been single, or her husband might not have been all that memorable a person. Perhaps he was the shadow behind her, supportive but not in the limelight, like so many women have been. Or possibly, if he existed, he may have been an "absentee" kind of guy, for whatever reason. Who knows!
Scripture, though, does recognize a "household" connected to Lydia. She didnít live alone. She was not an Ebenezer Scrooge type of businessperson, living solely for the next exchange of money. No, there was more to this woman than her trade. A family of some sort surrounded her. Furthermore, she looked beyond her immediate surroundings - her business, her family. We first meet her, in the books of Acts, down by the riverside in Philippi on the Sabbath, turning toward God. She was gathered with a group of other women there, worshiping the God of Moses. She was not Jewish herself, but was pulled in that direction as a Gentile.
Whatís interesting about this story is that the apostle Paul had a vision while he was staying in Troas. This town stood on the shores of the Aegean sea in what today is known as Turkey. On the other side of this body of water lay Macedonia and Achaia in what is the modern day Greece. This sea has long been referred to as the boundary between east and west, Asia and Europe. In Troas, Paul had a vision of a man standing on the other side of that sea, pleading, "Come over to Macedonia and help us" (16:9). Propelled by this inner calling, Paul and his associates set sail from east to west, and arrived in Philippi.
Itís kind of ironic that Paul did not then encounter a man, but rather a woman - Lydia. Then, again, would Paul have acted so quickly had it been a female in his vision? God knows us very well, you know - what motivates us, and what doesnít. Regardless, it is obvious from the text that it was the prayer of these praying women in Philippi that brought the good news of Jesus Christ from east to west. Never underestimate the power of prayer. Furthermore, never underestimate the power of a praying woman.
Scripture says that Lydiaís heart was wide open to the message Paul brought about Jesus, and she became the first convert in Philippi, quite literally the first Christian in Europe. And, it says, "she and her household were baptized" (16:15). She influenced the rest of her "family" (however that "family" was defined) to come to Christ with her. It doesnít say how this was managed, but I canít quite envision her as a dominating sort of person who ordered those she loved to do as she said. No, if we read Paulís later letter to the church that grew out of this home, we find a fellowship of joyful Christians. Joy is not something that can be imposed on anyone.
Of course, one wonders if there wasnít some need among these people, who had their beginnings in Lydiaís home, to downplay the power a few may have wielded. Otherwise, why would Paul have had to encourage them later to "in humility regard others as better than yourselves," to "look not to your own interests," to have the "mind of Christ" who himself took on the earthly "form of a servant" (Philippians 2:1-11). Every family - whether it be a household of parents and children, grandparents and aunts and uncles, and other connected folks, or a household of faith, a church - every family needs to deal with power and how it is wielded. In the long run, the best influences are those which are grounded in Christ-like humility.
Lydia was a key leader in the congregation that began in her home. Now, this bit about the church beginning in her household is important, for you see - the church itself is likened to a household. There are many metaphors the Bible uses to describe the church. It is an "ekklesia," a "gathering" of the faithful. A similar term, also in the language of the New Testament," is a "synagogue," a "congregation," those who "congregate," who "meet together," who "gather" in one place. The church is also described as a "soma," a "body" that lives and functions in ways similar to the human "body."
Yet another word is used to describe the church. It is an "oikos," a "household," a "family." From this very page in the story of the early church we derive this way of seeing ourselves, from Lydiaís household to ours. On this "Motherís Day," itís important that we celebrate the value and worth of the family, for the church is itself a family, a household of faith.
Now, families come in a variety of colors. They are not all purple, if you will. This very passage from the book of Acts reveals a family that may be a bit different from your own. Lydiaís household may or may not, as I have said, have had a "husband or father" figure. We donít know. It, like most families in those days, was much bigger than two parents and 2.5 children. Whether related by blood, or friendship, or even business, the typical household back then was itself a sort of congregation, a gathering place.
There are two interesting trends in our society at present. One is the continued shrinking of the family unit - from multiple children to one child, from two parents living together to step families or single parents. The other trend is the development of the "mega" church, which is less like a family and more like a mall. I mention this not to bemoan the changes taking place, for good or for ill. They are a fact of life in the present age. The important point is that we all still need to find the "oikos," the "household" amid the change. As families shrink, we need a connection to a larger household, a bigger family. And, even when congregations grow huge, there still needs to be a smaller niche within them, a "household," a "house church," a "family" to which Godís people can belong on a smaller scale, where we are known by name, and loved like a brother or sister.
"Family" is the primary building block we all need, no matter what color the household may be. Allow me to use that very word, "household," to emphasize something essential about our life together in the faith, whether weíre talking about parents and children, or the church. If this household is to hold together, it needs to be held by God. God is the One who upholds this house. It shouldnít go without saying. Furthermore, we grow together as we hold this house (not the building, mind you, not the bricks and mortar of the dwelling or the meetinghouse, but the connection of people who live together within it) - we grow as we hold this house in prayer. Never underestimate the power of prayer! That shouldnít go without saying, either, but how often do we - as those women in Philippi did so long ago - gather beside the river (whatever river that may figuratively be today) and pray? Not as often as we should, right?
Well, on this "Mothersí Day," let me repeat, never underestimate the power of praying women (nor men, for that manner!). Itís what holds this house together. Itís what makes possible every new beginning. Furthermore, itís what adds color to Godís people. Thatís the message from Lydiaís household to ours.
©2001 Peter L. Haynes
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