"Down By The River Talk," Pastor Fred
Once again, dreams and visions, Jesus and the Spirit, are Paul’s GPS guidance system! Visiting cities throughout Asia Minor – which is present day western Turkey – Paul is forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia, and when “they attempted to go into Bithynia… “the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.” So they stayed in a little town called Troas, on the very western tip of the continent.
“During the night, Paul had a dream,” writes Luke in the next Act of the Apostles scripture we read from today. Paul saw a Macedonian standing on the far shore, calling across the sea: “Come over to Macedonia and help us!”
The dream gave Paul his map. They went to work at once getting things ready, Acts says. All the pieces had come together. It was Paul’s 2nd Missionary journey, and he was eager to press on further, and spread the good news in new places. This vision confirmed it, and they knew now for sure that God had called them to preach the good news to the Europeans, for the first time – in Macedonia, which was in northeastern Greece.
Putting out from the harbor at Troas, the next day they tied up at a place called New City and walked from there to the main city in that part of Macedonia, Phillipi -- a Roman colony. They bided their time, getting the lay of the land. And when the Sabbath came, they had a plan. They went outsed the city walls and down along the river, where they supposed there was a place of prayer. They took their place with the women who had gathered there, and they simply talked with them.
One woman, Lydia, was from Thyratira and a dealer in expensive textiles, known to be a god-fearing woman, i.e., a Gentile who worshiped the God of Abraham. As she listened with intensity to what was being said, the Lord gave her a trusting heart… and she believed! After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she told Paul in a surge of hospitality: If you’re confident I’m in this with you and believe in the Lord truly, come home with me and be my guests. Paul hesitated. But Lydia wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I’ve always kind of wondered how they “supposed” there was a place of prayer, in an informal, unmarked, space “down by the river” outside the city gate? How did they know? We do know that, as Paul was eager to tell others about Jesus, and spread the good news, he usually entered the local synagogue of a new city first. But this had limited appeal, apparently. Most of his new churches were populated by Greeks, pagans, and non-Jews. It seems he had more luck out in the Gentile neighborhoods.
Where are the places needing visits around Unity? Who might be a good candidate to receive the good news in Edgewater?
As a pastor, part of my call is to visit the sick and those in nursing homes. When I arrived here, Cindy and Barb were attending Unity from All American Nursing Home, so I went to visit them. And I’ve had a few Unity folks visit All American with me ever since, making new friends there. What other institutions, like schools, coffee shops, social clubs, might we visit?
In the story from Acts, a group of Gentile women have assembled for some kind of Jewish-style open-air-synagogue prayer service. I’m not sure what it means that it was outside the city gates. Were they on the margins, on the fringe, not welcome inside? Or did they just like being by the living waters of the river, on the Edge of the Water, and claiming this public space as holy – as church, for them?
But it made for a different dynamic, not without tension, when Paul just walks right on over, and introduces himself to the women’s prayer breakfast and starts telling them about Jesus. He can do that, because, they’re just out there – and, well, maybe because he’s a man! But it is certainly easier, not to have to negotiate any imposing physical brick walls of a church building, the long vulnerable walk up so many stairs, not sure what’s through those doors, or which pew to choose! That’s a lot of barriers to break through! How can we help break down any barriers we have, and make walking into our building a more natural, less stressful, and more inviting experience, I wonder?
Sitting on the park bench on the water’s edge, Paul discovers that Lydia is a seller of purple cloth, a woman of some capital who invested in the process of gathering and milking, of millions of little snails, necessary to make the pricey purple dye, used primarily for, the elite stripe on Roman Senators’ togas. And she seems to be the one who has organized this community of prayer – Lydia is well-positioned. She has a head on her shoulders – is a strong business woman. So, you wouldn’t have thought Lydia would have been, needing anything. But she was eager, hungry, searching, for a word of life, a word of God. It didn’t seem to take Lydia very long after Paul approached her, to decide this was the way she wanted to live. Lydia dragged her whole family into the river of life, with her!
It makes me wonder who else among our neighbors might just be more receptive than we think to a conversation… people we might never have dreamed or envisioned, might want or need a word or invitation from, the likes of us.
The encounter by water’s edge, is a mutual breaking down of religious, gender and cultural barriers too – much as Jesus did with the Samaritan woman in the public space at the well, when he started a conversation with her. Here on the margins of the life-giving waters, the European women, who have become colonized clients of Rome, and claimed the spirituality of Judaism, encounter Paul, a male Jew and Roman citizen, who has become a follower of Jesus, and evangelist for the risen Christ. What they will have in common after this meeting, is the freeing gospel of grace.
But the story doesn’t stop with Lydia’s life being changed in this encounter and coming into the Christian community. Lydia puts it right back on Paul and asks him to take a life-changing risk of engagement too. Lydia tests her welcome into this new group – the assembly and life she’s just joined – by prevailing on Paul to come to her place! She invites Paul so she can share her life. She invites Paul and the brothers, to come now and stay in her home and discover the gifts she brings.
And Paul… hesitates. Like Peter crossing the threshold to stay with Cornelius’ family, the Gentile Roman Centurion after his baptism – Paul, who is used to making his own way, beholden to no one, is being invited to stay in the household of a Gentile businesswoman for the first time. He gets changed and stretched too. The gifting is not one sided, but mutual. And it would bear much fruit, as we know from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, some years down the line.
In Acts, God’s Spirit moves as it chooses, inhabits whom it will, and is not confined to a particular routine or pattern. God’s Spirit precedes us; is everywhere; and looks upon and hears all people. And God’s attention, power, and compassion are not even limited to those who call themselves Israelites or Christians.
And so now, Lydia’s hospitality, included a mutual sharing of the gospel – for true discipleship and learning involves dialogue, mutuality, and humility. We might see Lydia as a disciple who has taught her house-gathering how to worship God in word, and by acts of kindness. And it all started with a conversation by the Edge of the Water.
Where is God sending us in Edgewater? We don’t have to cross over to a whole new continent. But we might be well prepared, as John said last week, to be intentionally in conversation – for some time – writing letters, or texting, or whatever, for it to bear good fruit!
Let’s set sail, and make our dreams and visions come true!
Alleluia, Christ is risen!