Easter 6C – May 22, 2022
St. Paul’s, Bellingham – Easter 6C – May 22, 2022
The Rev. Rachel Endicott
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Over the past few weeks, I’ve been thinking a good deal about visions. Three have been particularly notable.
The first overlapping visions have come through reading and pondering on materials for our church’s Sacred Ground circle. Once again, we’re reminded of Martin Luther King, Jr. with his vision the black people could finally cash the promised check of equality and where he – in one short sentence – shared, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character."1 Out of these formative voices and a life of prayer and thoughtfulness, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry has presented a further vision that the Episcopal Church might become the Beloved Community, a community of faithful people who live their faith LARGE in the world, a faith that leads to a life of supporting justice, serving others, and being the ever so varied people of God.
A second place where vision has been in the fore is closer to home. At last Monday’s vestry meeting, we had a brief update from Jim Schmotzer, the chair of the Profile Committee, regarding the Parish Profile that is close to being complete and will be brought to the Vestry this coming month. At one level, this document is about vision as it brings both the mission statement of the church together with the desire for a partner who can help both set and carry out the vision of this community going forward.
And, thirdly, in today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles, we come across events which are put in motion by a vision. Luke, the author of Acts, writes that Paul had a vision. In it a Macedonia man pleads with him to come to Macedonia to share the good news in this European location, part of the Roman empire. And this vision prompts Paul and Silas to leave what is now Turkey and head across the sea to what is now Greece.
And at Philippi, the vision which sends Paul off is turned upside down. As we notice from the text, while the deliverer of the vision is a man, most of what Luke originally tells about Paul is about his meeting Lydia, a woman. She is intriguing, I would say feisty and persuasive, and someone who also listens to God, perhaps more so than listening to Paul!
So, we find Paul meeting Lydia at a place of prayer. Now there is all sort of debate about where this gate by the river is. There are several possible gates unearthed from the archeological digs. One possible place has a Christian basilica from the fourth century, so perhaps this building was constructed on the earlier sacred place of prayer referred to in the text.2
And we are brought into the conversation which starts, conversation between this male itinerant Jew, now a follower of Christ and this woman, who the text says was a “worshipper of God”. This term probably means a god-fearer, which is the term for Gentiles who were considered to be partial-converts to Judaism. 3 And the middle part of the story is about not really Paul’s conversation with Lydia; notice how the text says “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said”. So really it’s God’s facilitating new learning from this conversation with the visiting men..4 And coming from this conversation, we find that she and the members of her household were baptized.
But what do we know about Lydia besides her burgeoning sense of Christian discipleship? The text earlier describes Lydia as a wealthy tradesperson, a porphyropolis, a seller of purple cloth. We don’t know why, but later, in the text’s recounting of the baptism, it is also noted that she was the head of her household. She may have been a widow or an unmarried person; we don’t know. What we do know is that given that households were paterfamilias, so named according to the male, they must have been all women otherwise the husband, father, or son would have been noted as head of the household.5
And here is where one of the early “pinches” happens and consequently, I believe, we have a great outcome about the vision of the church. Lydia immediately lives into her understanding of a new vision of a church based on the old value of hospitality, where not only people of all socioeconomic class can be together, but also men and women. Notice, though, how this is not immediately taken to heart by Paul. Lydia has to “urge” Paul and the others and, thankfully, she eventually prevails. And this closer mix of women and men in church becomes – early on – formative to the nature of the early Christian house churches and probably eventually more formalized churches. It differs from the prevailing understanding in Judaism and in some forms of pagan communities. And, although women throughout the centuries have not always been treated equally in Christian communities, this short passage from the Acts of the Apostles points to an initial push towards this as a vision of the new faith communities!
So what does this passage bring to us for consideration here at St. Paul’s? Two things jump out at me, one an overarching vision and another, a specific time-related consideration.
First, it reminds us about the call to have men and women work and worship together. It reminds us of holding a vision of church which includes a breadth of socio-economic members within community – those who are wealthy traders as well as those who struggle as well as diversity in many other aspects. And it reminds us that we need to be open to new things, and we need to listen to God as we discern the words of others.
The other wisdom we glean from this passage concerns St. Paul’s’ search process. As we move closer to soliciting candidates to be called as the next rector of St. Paul’s, I would urge you to consider interesting and well-suited candidates whatever their gender may be. As a woman, I’m aware that there is still in our world a preference for males in many roles, including that as rectors. I remember some years ago I went on an interview for a position as rector of a medium-sized church in this diocese. I was in the middle of the interview when one of the members of the interview panel literally said, “You know, Rachel, we’re really looking for a man with a family to be our next rector.” I was so stunned, I couldn’t talk – and that’s pretty rare for me. In hindsight, two things came to mind. One, my astonishment that they would say what I’m sure others have thought but not verbalized or admitted to – and I’m still not sure which is worse. Secondly, I regret that I didn’t simply stand up at that point and say “Well, there’s no point in finishing this interview. I’ll let the bishop know that you’re only interested in male candidates.” And, sure enough, they hired a male, married with older children.
So, be followers of your and our dream. Let us be people for whom the vision is one of faith, following, and inclusivity. Let us thank Lydia for her place of influence in the continuing history of Christianity. And most importantly, let us listen closely to and look for that to which God calls us.
1 Martin Luther King, Jr., “I have a dream” speech, 1963, I Have A Dream Speech (TEXT) | HuffPost Latest News
2 Florence M. Gillman, Women Who Knew Paul, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992, pp. 32-33.
3 Florence M. Gillman, Women Who Knew Paul, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1992, p. 36-37.
4 William H. Willimon, Acts, Atlanta, GA: John Knox Press, 1988, p. 136.
5 Luise Schottroff, Lydia’s Impatient Sisters: A Feminist Social History of Early Christianity, Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995, p. 110.