Missed Church? Pastor’s Sermons

DID YOU MISS CHURCH?

Rev. Betsy A. Garland

Reverend Betsy Aldrich Garland

SERMONS

Moosup Valley Church UCC

Neighbors

Luke 10:25-37

July 14, 2019

What can one possibly say about today’s story of the Good Samaritan that we don’t already know?  It’s the most familiar of all Jesus’ parables, and even people who don’t know their Bible have heard about Good Samaritans – strangers who stop to help someone in an accident, volunteers who serve on a suicide hotline, the person who finds your wallet and calls.  But like all parables, this parable sets our minds to racing in different directions and seeking a variety of interpretations.  Jesus wants us to think about complex situations and strive to live “beyond the letter of the law.”

First, what about the priest and the Levite?  Why did they pass by without lending a hand to one of their own?  Before we cast them as the “bad guys,” hard-hearted and calloused or too prissy to get their hands dirty, we need to know that their purity laws forbid them from touching a dead person; doing so would have made them ritually unclean.  They would be unable to lead worship.  The crowd listening to Jesus’ story would not have expected representatives of the religious establishment to help.

Besides, we all pass by, from time to time.  The accident on the highway?  Someone else will stop.  We’re on our way to a meeting; we don’t have time.  The homeless person on the corner with the “Please Help” sign.  Why doesn’t he get a job?  The drug deal on the corner.  We turn a blind eye.  Yes, we all pass by most of the time, probably less so in rural Foster than in the city, however.

Second, why does Jesus choose a Samaritan for the story?  They were a despised people.  The adjective “good” is not a description in the parable, and it dilutes the element of racial tension that gives the story its force.  To the lawyer, to the Jews in Jesus’ audience, to Luke’s readers, there was no misunderstanding about Samaritans.  They were half-breeds, unclean people from the north, who had refused to participate in the restoration of Jerusalem and who had aided the Syrian leaders in their war against the Jews.  They were the ultimate “outsiders.”  When Jesus put a Samaritan in the role of helper, he must have stunned the crowd. Who, in our time, is the ultimate “outsider”?

 

Third, what about the lawyer who asks the question, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”  He knows the official answer before he asks the question.  Love God (Deut. 6:5) and neighbor (Lev. 19:18), and Jesus agrees, two Jewish men who know their scriptures.  But the lawyer is looking for something more.  What is it?  “Who is my neighbor?”  And Jesus tells a story, a story about an enemy helping someone in need, salvation through service to those in need, not personal piety.

It’s easy to skip over the dialogue between Jesus and the lawyer in our rush to get to the parable, as if the lawyer is in the story only there to ask the question, a “plant” to goad Jesus.  But the exchange between the two men is not especially confrontational. Perhaps the lawyer is intrigued and inspired by Jesus to go deeper than the legal answer.  He had assumed the commandments were internal to the Jewish community itself, not to foreigners – for example, the 10 commandments – and Jesus, by inserting the Samaritan in the story, takes him where he never expected to go.

And us?  Jesus calls us to dialogue, to sit down with those who think differently, to go where we never expected to go as well.  Our 21st century has become one of sound bites, confrontation, and name calling.  The only way to create understanding, to seek out truth, to reduce the level of fear, to build consensus, is through dialogue.  Jesus calls us to make the time, to provide the space, and to assure the safe environment to talk with each other.  It may take hours of listening and debate, even decades, to find common ground – between faith groups with different ideas about religious freedom, political parties who are more focused on winning than governing, between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, between black men and the police in our country – let alone in our own families which have issues to be resolved.  So, we cannot overlook the importance of dialogue and merciful conversation to bring about understanding and collaboration.

And, finally, what about the man in the ditch?  Beaten and robbed, left for dead, how did he feel about the Samaritan?  Would he rather be left to die than be helped by this enemy of his people?  Professor Amy-Jill Levine, a Jewish feminist who teaches at a Protestant divinity school, insists, “We should think of ourselves as the person in the ditch and then ask, ‘Is there anyone, from any group, about whom we’d rather die than acknowledge, “She offered help” or “He showed compassion”?

Also, consider this.  Is there any group whose members might rather die than help one of us?  If so, then we know how to find the modern equivalent for the Samaritan.  The impact of the Samaritan’s assistance would be like the Grand Dragon of the KKK giving a hand out of the ditch to a black man, or the other way around, or the Grand Marshal of the Gay Pride Parade donating blood for Bishop Tobin, or a Mexican showing mercy to border control agents in Texas.

If you were in the ditch, is there someone you hate so much that you’d rather die than be helped by that person?  How about the bully on the playground when you were a kid? Or the boss who made your life miserable at work?  Or maybe your ex?  Or, to put the shoe on the other foot, is there someone in the ditch that you could not help?  Someone who molested your child, maybe?  Someone who shot and killed your best friend?  Someone you could not think of as “neighbor”?

Who is my neighbor?  Not necessarily the one close to you, in your circle of friends, someone of your ethnic group or class, someone down the road or in the next town over.  If only some people are neighbors, then some are not neighbors.  Jesus’ answer has to do with becoming neighbors through knowing each other, through acts of compassion.

Yes, this parable, often used to encourage us to aid a traveler whose car has broken down on a dark and stormy night, is really a parable about redemption and mercy, about breaking down walls of hostility between people, about forgiveness and hospitality.  This story is really about mercy, a “merciful” Samaritan, a story about undeserved compassion, pardon, strength, rescue, generosity.

A story about calling down mercy on ourselves and each other in all of our hard lives, with sins and regrets, in need of strength and blessing and rescue at the hands of robbers – and on us, when we are the robbers.  All of us on the road needing wine and oil poured on our wounds.  All of us made neighbors in Jesus Christ.[1]May it be so!

Amen.

[1] The last three sentences are based on a poem of homiletics professor Jennifer Lord, taken from Christian Century in July 2013.

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Moosup Valley Church UCC

Thoughts on the Fourth of July

Psalm 66:1-9

June 30, 2019

Our Pilgrim ancestors of the Congregational faith came to this land to seek a new life, to find freedom to worship at they choose, to pursue the Biblical vision of a City Set on a Hill.  They brought with them values from Europe and cultivated them here.

But in many ways, the model that the Puritans brought with them to the Massachusetts Bay colony was as oppressive as the one they were escaping.  Roger Williams’ thinking was revolutionary and caused him to be driven out of the commonwealth in the dead of winter, in the middle of the night, in a snowstorm.  He founded Providence “to hold forth a lively experiment that a most flourishing civil state may stand and best be maintained with full liberty in religious concernments.”

These emerging values shaped the emerging nation and formed the basis of the Declaration of Independence that was signed 243 years ago this week.  “We hold these truths to be self-evident,” wrote Thomas Jefferson, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness has come true for those of us who have a job and sufficient income for a decent place to live, a health care plan when a family member is sick, a quality education and citizenship in the best country in the world.

But life in America is not perfect for everyone – we have unfinished business:  unfinished business for the Providence School Department after the scathing investigation by John Hopkins Institute reveals chaos in the classroom; unfinished business in health care and housing and civil rights.  It helps to remember, when they adopted the Declaration, that they had unfinished business in 1776, too:  Women were not equal, slaves were not free, happiness was realized by relatively few.

Well, we’ve made progress, of course.  We have a middle class that, by and large, in the last 50 years, has found life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness – although gains made in the 20th century are slipping in the 21st century … with our new global economy, the shipping of jobs overseas, yes, still, changes in the tax code, rising cost of health care, severity of the weather due to rising sea temperatures, computerization of almost every aspect of American life, robots who are taking away more and more jobs from workers, and dark money in politics.  Plus, we have not made gains everywhere:  racism, homophobia, and poverty still dog us as a country, especially with each new wave of immigration.  We’re not the land of the free for everyone….

Perhaps the founders knew that their words did not describe the current reality – but that the Declaration described the end result to be pursued, the beginning of the work to create the “City Set on a Hill.”  Frederick Douglas wrote, “Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground, they want rain without thunder and lightning.”  And William Faulkner reminds us, “We must be free not because we claim freedom but because we practice it.”

Yes, we have challenges, and today’s issues are more complex than ever.  How shall we deal with immigration, gun violence, tax reform, drug overdoses?  Yes, we have misdeeds – too many decision-makers act in self-interest, not the public interest.  Congress is split along party lines, held hostage by lobbyists.  Rhode Island’s General Assembly is notorious for making decisions in the middle of the night.  Yes, we have hate speech in campaigns, on the internet, in print and in the broadcast media which stifles dialogue and polarizes people.

I’m still chuckle over one of Rabbi Leslie Gutterman’s guest editorials in The Providence Journal a few years ago in which he told this story:

A man was walking along the beach and found a bottle. A genie appeared.

The genie said, ‘I am so grateful to get out of that bottle, I’ll grant you one wish.’

‘I have always wanted to go to Hawaii,’ the man replied. ‘I’ve never been able to

go because I am scared of flying and become claustrophobic on a boat.

My wish is for a road to be built from here to Hawaii.’ “The genie replied,

‘No, I can’t do that. Just imagine all the pilings and concrete involved.’

The man then told the genie, ‘Okay. There is another possibility.  I want to know

why [our current political climate] is so mean-spirited.’ The genie considered and

then said, ‘So do you want two lanes or four?’

Yes, although we have unfinished businessand we know we have work to do – we’re still a country to be proud of:   The way citizens like us form nonprofit organizations when we see a need to better people’s lives and rise up with contributions of time and money to help in a disaster.  The way we abide by the law, most of the time,   and can trust our public officials, most of the time.  The way we can hold vigils and rallies, and say what we need to say, without fearing repercussions.  The way we can count on a full night’s sleep without being dragged out of bed and arrested for some vague crime – at least most of us most of the time.  The way we celebrate the values of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness – even when we don’t always practice them.

Yes, God has blessed America!  And we’re blessed to live here and to raise our children and grandchildren here.  But scripture reminds us:  the greater the blessings, the greater the responsibility.  God’s blessings are meant to be shared.  We have work to do.

Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder reminds us of this truth when we become nostalgic about our country’s history:

The work of God is the calling of a people, whether in the Old Covenant or the

New.  The church is then not simply the bearer of the message of reconciliation,

in the way a newspaper or a telephone company can bear any message with which

it is entrusted.  Nor is the church simply the result of a message, as an alumni

association is the product of a school or the crowds in a theater are the product of

the reputation of the film.  That men and women are called together to a new social

wholeness is itself the work of God, which gives meaning to history.

Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness – for all – that’s the business we’re in.  Today, we remember when it all started, and so join me in saying

“Happy birthday, America!

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Moosup Valley Church

Tragedy and Compassion

Luke 7:11-17

June 23, 2019

Tragedy has struck.  The widow’s only son has died.  Now she has no one to care for her, no male relative – no father, husband or son – a recipe for destitution and death in her culture.  And if the son had sisters, they, too, were vulnerable unless they could be married off.

We don’t know any more about that situation – except that a widow’s plight is a common theme in the Bible.  Think of Ruth and Naomi, both widows, and how Naomi tries to send Ruth back to her father’s house, to a place of safety, but Ruth insists on accompanying her mother-in-law, “Where you go, I will go.”

We also have witnessed a prophet’s compassion on a widow before.  In I Kings, in the Old Testament scripture for today, we find a companion story about Elijah raising a widow’s son in Zarephath.  Clearly Luke is drawing on that tradition, grounding Jesus’ compassion in the long line of prophets.

These Biblical miracle stories make a life of faith difficult for us.  Why are some people healed and others are not?  Why are some people brought back to life and others are not?  We ask, what did I do to deserve this?  Did I not pray hard enough?  Was I not worthy enough?

Unfortunately, our early religious training often sets us up for these questions. And the Bible, too, can raise expectations:  “Ask and it shall be given unto you, seek and you shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you,” we read in both Matthew and Luke’s gospels.  “If you have faith like a grain of mustard seed,” you can move mountains.  Or with faith, we can command a sycamore tree to be uprooted and planted in the ocean, these gospels promise us.  It’s no wonder that we blame ourselves and our “little faith” when tragedy strikes.  We can be saddled with guilt and shame as well as grief.

But perhaps that’s not the point of these miracle stories.  Yes, I believe in miracles – but not the “magic trick” kind.  I believe in the compassion kind of miracle.

A professor of psychology at the University of Massachusetts[1] suggests that we all hold certain core assumptions about the world, and when tragedy strikes, aside from the physical and emotional harm, they are our undoing:  First, we believe the world is benevolent, that is, bad things will not happen; second, that the world is meaningful, things should make sense; and third, that we are worthy, that events correspond to whether we are good or bad.

We want our world to be trustworthy.  We want to have some measure of control over events.  We want to believe that goodness makes a difference.  Well, of course, it does, but the world is still unpredictable.

Even though, in our rational moments, we know that life is not fair, when our world comes crashing down around us with an accident or the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job, or a shooter in the workplace or school, very often our first thought is how could this happen?  Why did this happen to me?  What did I do to deserve this?

We can image that the widow might have wondered these things as her son was being carried out of the city for burial.  And then Jesus hears her sobbing, sees her inconsolable tears, knows her heart is split with grief, and he walks in through the gap.

I was asked, at my Ecclesiastical Council, “What was Jesus’ greatest gift?”  I hadn’t thought about it before and frantically grasped for a reasonable answer.  “Compassion,” I said.  Jesus reaches out and touches the stretcher on which the son lies and life seizes him.  “Rise up,” Jesus orders, and he does.  Perhaps he wasn’t really dead, or he thought he had nothing to live for, or had no will to give up what was killing him.

But as Christians, our question need not be, “Why do bad things happen to good people?”  But rather, where is God in the chaos?  When all attempts to make sense of a tragedy come up empty, we turn to God to find meaning.  Miracles are the “proof positive” that God’s compassion will bring our world back into alignment.

Sometimes, we get the grand miracle for which we all pray:  The father’s operation is a success; the mother beats the odds and survives cancer; the wayward daughter graduates from high school; the child is found safe and unharmed.  And sometimes we don’t:  The son who just got his license is killed by a drunk driver; the job that feeds the family is moved overseas; the fire, the tornado, the hurricane (take your pick) uproots too many neighbors.

And where is God then?  Probably right where we need God to be, if we only would notice:  In the friends that reach out to touch our pain; in the community that helps us to rebuild; in the comfort that finally comes in the majesty of a night sky full of stars or the industry of bees in a summer garden.

Yes, life is unpredictable and full of the unexpected, at best, and full of sorrow and despair at the worst.  And, yes, we are surrounded by tragedy.  In reality, our lives are filled with messy edges, not the nice tidy ending that the widow in today’s gospel experiences.

But, if we open our eyes to the love around us and to the presence of the Spirit in our midst, reaching into our grieving hearts and deepest crevices of our greatest pain – just as Jesus reached into the place of death on the funeral bier – we perhaps will find meaning in the midst of our shattered world and peace in the most desolate suffering.

May it be so!

Amen.

 

 

[1][1] Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, Shattered Assumptions: Towards a New Psychology of Trauma (New York: The Free Press, 1992). Referenced in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Volume 3, p. 118.

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Moosup Valley Church UCC

God in Three Persons?

Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31

June 16, 2019

Today is Trinity Sunday, always the first Sunday after Pentecost, which was last Sunday.  And what is Pentecost?  The coming of the Holy Spirit, completing the circle.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  “God in three persons, blessed Trinity,” we sing in the old hymn, “Holy, Holy, Holy.”

One does not find the word “Trinity” in the Bible.  It’s a later teaching – a doctrine – of the Christian Church, that God is “three in one,” an idea that evolved as the Church was developing, one that many authorities would say one must believe to be a true believer.

In around 500 CE, the prophet Mohammed pulled away from a corrupt Christian Church and the core Christian belief in the Trinity with a different understanding, and today, Muslims recite, “There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is his prophet.”

And while we might think that all Christians believe in the Trinity, church history says otherwise.  Two hundred years ago, in the first half of the 19th century, the Congregational Church split over the Trinity:  Is God one person or is God three persons?  In Cambridge, Trinitarians marched out of Harvard Divinity School and founded Andover Newton Theological School.  And while Harvard is non-denominational now, it has the largest collection of Unitarian materials in the world.  And in Providence, Joseph Snow marched out of First Congregational Church (now First Unitarian Church) on Benefit Street and crossed the river to found Beneficent Congregational Church.

Our own Moosup Valley Church, indeed all of the churches in the Larger Parish, are or were Christian Churches – one of the four denominational streams that comprise the UCC – held to the founding principles that “The Holy Bible is a sufficient rule of faith and practice,” and “The right of private judgment and the liberty of conscience are rights and privileges for all.”  To be considered a member of a Christian Church one did not have to believe in the Trinity.

One does not find the word “Trinity” in the Bible, but we can find the seeds of the idea of the Trinity in both the Old Testament and the New Testament.  “In the beginning God,” the ancient writer wrote, establishing in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, that God is, declaring the foundation of our faith – and not just of the Christian faith but also of Judaism and Islam.  We are all “People of the Book.”  “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” creation out of nothing.  The psalm for today, Psalm 8, a Psalm of David, celebrates both divine majesty and human dignity in creation, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established, what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?”

And so, God the Father grounds the idea of the Trinity, the first person.

As Christians we celebrate the coming of the Messiah, the one for whom the Jewish nation waited for centuries.  As Christians, we believe that Jesus is that Messiah, come to save us – although not with a sword and the hoped-for mighty arm to destroy Israel’s enemies.  In our UCC Statement of Faith, we affirm God the Son, the second person in the Trinity, “who is made known to us in Jesus our brother, and to whose deeds we testify.”  God the Son who teaches us what God-in-the-flesh is like:  loving, forgiving, supporting, freeing:  “When did we see you hungry and give you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  When was it we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?  When was it we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” God the Son teaches us, demonstrates to us, how life is to be lived and cared for in God’s kingdom.

And the Holy Spirit?  We celebrated her coming last Sunday on the Day of Pentecost.  But, of course, the Holy Spirit was already here, loose in the world.  We read in the Book of Exodus that she led the Israelites out of Egypt as a fire by night and a cloud by day, and in the Prophet Ezekiel, that she, the Glory of the Lord, streamed out of the Temple, accompanying the Exiles into Babylon, and here, in today’s text, as Dame Wisdom, with God since the beginning of time.

Her role in the Trinity is to send us out into the world as instruments of God’s reconciling love.  In our UCC Statement of Faith, we declare that the Holy Spirit is bestowed upon us, to create and renew the Church and to bind us together.  In his book, Beyond Resistance:  The Institutional Church Meets the Postmodern World, our UCC President and General Minister, John Dorhauer, reminds us that the business of the Church is Mission. “The Spirit will invest herself in those places where there is a clear mission,” he writes.  He highlights a UCC church in southern Arizona that is clear about its mission:  “We are a church on the border, called to serve the immigrant.”  Their members take water out into the desert, negotiate between immigrants and border patrols, sit in courtrooms, and run workshops.  Their mission is grounded in Jesus’ mission.

Our Moosup Valley mission statement that we adopted two summers ago integrates the idea of the Trinity, although in a way that it makes sense. It could be said that we were ahead of our time.

“Gathered in 1868, Moosup Valley Church is a community growing in our knowledge of JesusLed by the Spirit, we reach out to love God and our neighbors as ourselves.  We are a country church welcoming EVERYONE, respecting individual personal beliefs, and spreading peace in our world.”

And so we have “God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, one God, Mother of us all,” I recite in our baptismal service.  How can this be?  Why the importance of three persons?

I remember reading years ago that the mystics say that all we need is three of something.  If we have only two of something, we have polarity – this or that, yes or no, either / or. I think our computers work on this principle.  But if we have three (or more than three), we have something that speaks of depth, complexity, the possibility of innovation.

Denominations often latch onto one of the three Persons as their primary way of understanding God.  I hear talk among Roman Catholics about “Jesus our brother,” and Pentecostals and Quakers lean toward the Holy Spirit.  Martin Luther spoke about finding God in nature, and I bask in the God I find in the spring flowers and lilac trees, in the majesty of the ocean and the peepers on the lake.

As I wrote this reflection, I wondered if we at Moosup Valley, as a congregation, lean more to one person in the Trinity than another.  And how about each one of us?  Which person in the Trinity speaks most to you?  With whom do you resonate?  To whom do you pray?  Where do you find God most easily, most naturally?  In creation?  In learning about the life of Jesus?  In an inner voice, through intuition?  God speaks in many voices.

Perhaps the different aspects of God speak to the different aspects of our personalities. Perhaps the different aspects of God all have something to say to us at different times of our lives.

On this Trinity Sunday, the first Sunday after Pentecost, we celebrate the Trinity, God in three persons.  In our Western, scientific world view, we expect we should be able to understand everything, explain everything, agree on everything.  Our foremothers and forefathers argued over the concept of the Trinity.  Factions formed over whether God is one, or God is three.  Pastors were driven from their pulpits over the “Unitarian Controversy.”  Churches split.

On this Trinity Sunday, we would do well to remember that these are only words, a creation of our human imaginations, limited as they are.  Language is only metaphor for our individual experience, and truth is relative.  So let us maintain an attitude of openness to the concept of the Trinity, to the deep, divine mystery that is God, God that defies human understanding and is beyond our knowing.

Indeed, whatever you were taught to think about the Trinity – one person or three – does not matter.  What matters most is that we understand that we are not God, and yet are wrapped in a divine love, so profound, that it is beyond our human understanding.  To us, today, in this, wisdom calls and rejoices.

May it be so.

Amen.

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Moosup Valley Church UCC

Open Hearts & Minds

Acts 16:9-15

June 2, 2019

Of all the gospels, the Gospel of Luke emphasizes the role of women in the Jesus movement that became the Way, and then the early Christian church.  And, since Luke is also the writer of the Book of Acts, it’s not out of character that he would include this story about Lydia – although her story is highly unusual.  Women were second class citizens in that society.  They lived under the protection of the male members of the family.  They were mostly invisible, confined to the women’s quarters, living outside the public sphere.  As they say, nice women don’t make history, so we don’t have many stories about women in our scriptures.

But here we have a story about Lydia who appears to live independently of a father, brother, or husband.  And she manages her own affairs.  This is a big deal for the time – and Lydia became a big deal in the developing Christian community.  Luke tells us that Lydia was a business woman, a dealer in purple cloth which, in ancient times, was associated with royalty.  Her cloth was expensive, so Lydia’s customers were the elite class in Philippi.  Because of her success, she was the head of her own household, a rarity in that patriarchal society.  She must have been quite a woman!

This story takes place in Macedonia, in Greece, the gateway to Europe.  Luke calls Lydia a “God-worshipper” which means that, although she was a gentile, a non-Jew, she was attracted to Judaism, but she was not yet ready to take the plunge and convert to Judaism.  She lives between the already and the not yet.

Lydia shows up here in this story in Acts because she has gone to the river where God-worshipping people like her went to pray on the Sabbath if they were not able to go to the synagogue.  This is where Lydia meets the apostle Paul who has seen a vision that calls him to take the good news of Jesus Christ to Europe.  Paul’s extensive missionary journey begins here and takes off with the help of Lydia in this unexpected encounter.

As Lydia and her companions are walking along the river, she overhears Paul preaching to the crowd, and she stops to listen.  Imagine her holding up her hand, signaling to the women to pause.  Imagine her standing at the edge of a clearing or sitting down on a rock, leaning in to hear.

Why does she stop, take notice?  Lydia must be hungry for something, for meaning or purpose in her life,  for a life beyond comfort and contacts, beyond purses and possessions.  Something is missing for her, unfulfilled, a holy longing in her soul. And so she stops to listen to this foreigner, a man who introduces a God different from any she has considered.

Who could think such a thing – a God who reaches out to women like her.  A God who values the poor, the outcast, children, the least of these.   A God who speaks through ex-cons and immigrants, which is what Paul and his companions are, given that they have recently been in prison and are now in a foreign country.

Lydia is so taken with their testimony that she commits her life to this God.  She asks Paul to baptize her on the spot, an act signifying her conversion to this new Jewish sect – which we now know as Christianity.  She is open to sharing faith with these strange men, here at the river – of all places.  This is the good news Lydia has been waiting for – Jesus the Messiah’s message of love and justice for everyone, not just the upper crust with whom she is used to dealing.  She dives in, hook, line and sinker and puts everything she owns at Paul’s disposal urging them and his missionary group to stay at her home, changing her plans for the sake of the gospel – in spite of her busy life.

That day at the river, Lydia found what she was looking for – and she seized the day.  But she had to go outside of her comfort zone to embrace it, and she had to involve everyone else in her household. Together, they became home base for Paul’s missionary journey.  It must not always have been pretty or without argument – or safe – for a single woman.  But because of her boldness and generosity, she becomes the “mother” of the church in Europe.  Without Lydia and her passion for Paul’s message, we wouldn’t be sitting here this morning.

There at the riverside, Lydia opened her heart and mind to the Spirit, and it changed not only her life but also the life of the world.  Lydia found the God who was finding her.[1] This God, this God, is the same God who reaches out to you and me, no matter who we are who where we are on life’s journey.

May it be so!

Amen.

[1] Ronald Cole Turner, Feasting on the Word, Year C Volume 2, page 474.

 

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