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[a] 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. (Acts 9:11-15 NRSV)
So far, in our two-week journey through Acts, we’ve encountered some interesting people with engaging stories. Peter is summoned to Joppa for the sake of a woman whose ministry is caring for widows. He brings her back from the dead.
Peter is then summoned to Jerusalem to answer for his actions in ministering to and eating with Gentiles.
Visions abound. The Holy Spirit is active. People from all walks of life are led by the Spirit to be converted: women, gentiles, Romans, the wealthy. The Spirit is able to overcome road blocks: gentiles hostile to Jews, Jews doubting the gentiles, discussion and debate, even dissension in the church. It would seem that nothing could get in the way of God’s activity through the Holy Spirit.
Today we meet Lydia: a woman, probably a gentile and she’s wealthy. She seeks more in her life, though. Her spiritual life craves God. So she meets with other women by the river to pray.
Meanwhile, Paul and his associates are attempting to spread the gospel. They travel through Asia, repeatedly blocked by the Holy Spirit from preaching. They arrive on the coast of the Aegean Sea opposite modern-day Greece. They endeavor to enter an area close by. “No,” says the Spirit. “Not here.”
Ministry is like that. We show up with a great plan and enthusiasm and energy only to have our hopes dashed. The Holy Spirit has blocked the way, always with good reason. It takes awhile for us to understand that reason, though.
Just as Paul decides to sit tight, he has a vision. Lots of visions appear in Acts. What visions have you experienced?
This vision essentially says, “Your ministry is in Macedonia. Get going.” The next few verses indicate a sense of urgency in their travel plans: from Troas across a peninsula to Samothrace Island and then they land in Neapolis. (I’m told that this is the same journey the Syrian migrants take to find a home in Europe.) From there a short journey to Philippi.
They settle in for a few days. Come the Sabbath, they head for a place of worship. What led them outside the city gate? What drew them to the river’s edge? They know they’ve arrived when they see them: a group of women. Paul crosses all kinds of barriers to minister to them. They are women, at least one is wealthy and they’re gentiles. He begins to speak.
Lydia is among the women. She’s from Thyatira, a city known for its production of purple dye. Purple is the color of royalty and it’s illegal for anyone outside of the royal family to purchase it. She’s a unique woman; wealthy and successful, able to move in a world completely dominated by men. That day she arrives at the river not knowing her life is about to change forever.
Paul, on his way somewhere else and blocked at every turn meets Lydia and helps her fill that need in her spiritual life. What were the chances they’d meet up in Philippi? Pretty good, if you consider the Holy Spirit is at work.
As I said, a lot happens in Acts by the activity of the Holy Spirit. Barriers of race, gender and economic means are crossed. The church becomes a place for Jew and Greek, men and women. And next week we’ll learn about the barrier of slave and free.
It’s in Acts that we learn of the origins of Deacons: those chosen to serve the widows and others in need. Today we learn another important part of the life of the church: that of radical hospitality. Lydia prevailed upon Paul and his entourage to stay at her home. She has responded to God’s call on her life. Now she responds to this call by caring for the messengers of the Word.
Plans blocked by the Holy spirit.
Leaders pointed in a different direction.
Ministry to non-Jews and women.
All leads up to radical hospitality. One could well ask, “What is this first century church coming to?”
In our 21st century church of declining members, churches closing, the increase of no church involvement or belief, one may well ask, “What is Christ’s Church coming to?”
I suggest the church is becoming better at listening to the real needs of people and are learning to pay attention to the Holy Spirit. I suggest that the vision of the man of Macedonia pleading and saying, “Come over here and help us,” is that sector of our society labeled, “spiritual but not religious.” These are the Lydia’s who don’t know what church can be and that there is living water here for their thirsty hearts.
What is this 21st century church coming to? What I believe is this: the Spirit is still active and God isn’t finished with us, yet.
So, we can sit in sack cloth and ashes and immerse ourselves in gloom and doom. Or we can be a part of God’s plan, discerning the call of the Holy Spirit and reaching out to those whose paths cross ours. And when we meet up with them, we can be authentic, caring Christians who meet people where they are and honor their pain and their joys.
And that’s how we begin to offer gospel hospitality.
All glory and honor be to God.
Questions for Consideration:
- Are there barriers that you’ve erected from those who aren’t like you? Are they appropriate barriers or not?
- What would it look like for us to reach out to the “spiritual but not religious?”