The Sixth Sunday of Easter
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.” 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.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 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. 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. 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. 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.
Come on-a My House
Lydia is mentioned only twice in the Bible, both times in the 16th chapter of the book of Acts. Yet, she has grabbed the attention of generations. She is venerated as a saint with her own feast days. The Eastern Orthodox Church calls her “Equal to the Apostles.” In Philippi an outdoor baptistry was built on the site where she was baptized by Paul. The Catholic Church has deemed her the patron saint of dyers. She is recognized as the first European to be converted. Modern authors continue to be intrigued with her, writing autobiographical religious fiction of her life as they would imagine it.
For me personally, I’ve been fascinated with her since childhood. Perhaps it was her beauty and success and the deep purple veil and shawl she wore; or that she lived the life considered to be the Way: Worship the Lord. Work hard. Take care of your family. Give back by giving to those in need.
Of course, I was only ten back then, so it was probably her clothes and jewelry. I do like those things.
I can see however how others have been equally taken with Lydia. You don’t hear frequently about women in Biblical times being well-to-do entrepreneurs and here we have one. She was a seller of purple, a cloth dyed with expensive Tyrian purple dye derived from shellfish. It was a dye reserved for the robes of rulers. The higher Roman officials in Philippi may well have been her customers. She wasn’t selling gingham, folks. And she wasn’t selling fabric out of Wal-Mart. Her customers were among the wealthiest and most powerful, willing to pay top dollar for her product. With it, she supported a household that likely included servants and slaves, all dependent on her. She was the head of the household. When she converted, they did as well and were baptized with her.
Now that we’ve met Lydia, let’s return to today’s scripture. Paul, Timothy, and Silas had embarked on their Second Missionary trip. It is thought they were later joined by Luke, author of Acts, considering the first-person singular that falls into use at this point. Paul had a vision in which he is told that they were needed in Macedonia in northern Greece. They changed course and made their way to Philippi, a Roman colony in Macedonia. Once there, they found lodging and stayed awhile. When it was Sabbath they walked to a place where they heard that people gathered for prayer. There they met Lydia. She was a Gentile who worshiped the God of Israel but was never formally converted. Paul spoke to her. God was with her; she listened and believed.
Here is where Lydia speaks to us today.
She didn’t just say, “I believe,” and went back home to do laundry. She took action! And in a heartbeat, she and her household are baptized. Then comes the punchline, “’If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.’ And she prevailed upon us.”
Think about it. Here she is in the presence of the great Paul, accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke, all learned miracle masters, powerful, saints and martyrs in the making, and she challenges them. She challenges them even to consider not accepting an invitation to her house.
Implied in this challenge come the questions. If you think I’m faithful enough to baptize, why would you not accept my hospitality? Am I not faithful enough? Or am I unacceptable because I’m not a Jew? Or because I am a single woman? Anticipating any one of those arguments, she does not slip away quietly. She does not back off. She does not plead. She does not whimper. She does not cry. She does not beg. She does not offer a weak, “Well, if not, maybe drop by sometime?” No. “She prevailed upon us.”
To my way of thinking, that one sentence tells us more about Lydia than any commentary or Biblical fiction author ever could. Intriguing how a single word can be so revealing. Prevail. To prove more powerful than opposing forces. To be victorious. To prove to be superior in strength, power or influence. To predominate. To persuade successfully. That was Lydia.
She was an independent successful woman of means. She did not get that way by not getting her way! She was not to be deterred when she insisted that the men were to come to her home. She was more powerful than any doubts or prejudices they may have. She knew they were angels of the Lord and she would be the one in charge of their care and keeping. Come on a-my house! Come on, come on! She understood the ritual importance of hospitality, and whatever dis-inclinations Paul and his friends might have had, they would not prevail. She would prevail. And she did. They stayed with her. And later, when Paul and Silas were released from jail where they were beaten and chained, they returned to her home to find it the gathering place for the followers of Jesus. And again, they stayed with her and she gave them a place to rest while their wounds healed; she gave them food and drink and safety.
To my way of thinking, she shows us how to do it. No more weak, half-hearted invitations to a new neighbor like “We should get together sometime?” Rather, “Come on-a my house! I just bought a bunch of ribs. I’ll cook them up for you. You have to come.” Prevail upon them.
Or prevail upon yourself. Let’s say that God has extended to you an invitation to his house, promising music, prayers, acceptance, coffee and doughnuts, even something good to think about. Rather than saying, “I should go back to church sometime, maybe one of these Sundays?” try this. “Hey Lydia! I want to go to church with you this Sunday. Can you pick me up?”
Have you ever considered extending an invitation to God to visit your house? Is it a weak, “Drop by sometime God, when you’re in the neighborhood? I’ll try to be here.” Or do you start your morning, thanking him for a new day and insisting that he strengthen you for whatever temptation or adversity you encounter? Do you stand up to God and insist that he pick you up when you are weak, insist that he strengthen you when you struggle? At the end of your day, do you pray with determination, “Visit this place, Oh Lord and drive far from it all snares of the enemy!” Do you fall asleep with a song in your heart, “Come on-a my house! Come on, come on.”
Lydia did not back off in her demands on the men of God. I’m sure she didn’t back off on God any less as she spearheaded the growth of the new church in Philippi. She set the bar for us in communicating with a God who will listen, a God who loves us, a God who never leaves us even in sickness and death. Trust her. Sing out, “Come on-a my house, come on, come on and I will give you figs and dates and grapes and cakes. And I’m gonna give you marriage and ring and Easter-egg too. Just come on-a my house. Just come on!”
Your song will prevail. You will prevail, and God will come to your house. He will come and eagerly listen to your words and accept your gifts. And he will give you apple and plum and apricot and Christmas tree too. He will give you life and a reason to live it.