Year C — The Sixth Sunday of Easter

Commentary for May 5, 2013
by the Rev. Dr. John Fairless

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Acts 16:9-15
The “invitation hymn” has long been a staple of Baptist church life. Arising from the frontier revivals of the first Great Awakening in America, the general idea is that as the Spirit has spoken to persons during religious services, there is a time to respond to the Spirit’s call and sinners are “invited” to come forward in a demonstration of repentance — going in a new direction with their lives. “Wherever He Leads, I’ll Go” is a classic example of such an invitational hymn. 

(You can hear a version of it here — our thanks to the choir of the Armenian Cilicia Evangelical Church in Pasadena, CA.)

Reading this passage in its context, it strikes me that Paul had an “invitation” of sorts — from the Spirit of Jesus, no less — and had a moment of repentance that changed the course of history. Paul wanted to go in one direction, but the Spirit wanted to send him in another. 

“Come over to Macedonia…” becomes a standard expression for missionary movement of the gospel around the world. I love how the vision that compelled Paul to change his plans led him to several wayside posts — such as Samothrace and Neapolis — before he arrived at what would become one of his most famous and successful church plants — Philippi.

Be sure to read Dr. Chilton’s treatment in the sermon below for more about how God used a woman named Lydia — an unlikely candidate, to say the least — to expand the horizon of the gospel by orders of magnitude far beyond the imaginations of anyone in the church up to that point.

Wherever he leads, I’ll go…indeed.

Psalm 67
The psalm text affirms God’s good intention of spreading the message of salvation to “all the peoples” of the earth. 

Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5
The most striking features of this vision from Revelation are those that are NOT in it: the temple, the sun, and the moon.

“God is with us” has been the theme of the Revelation readings for the past several weeks. Here, we see the ultimate expression of what it means to live in the presence of God. God IS our temple; God IS our light. The Lamb of God is our lamp, shining and showing us our way. 22:3 gives the blessed promise: “Nothing accursed will be found there anymore.”

Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight. (from It is Well with My Soul, Horatio Spafford.)

John 14:23-29
The power and presence of the Holy Spirit are hard to over-emphasize in their importance in the lives of believers. From the Advocate, (Greek: parakletos, “the one who stands beside and speaks”) we receive guidance, remembrance and, most importantly, the peace of Christ.

A pretty good deal, all in all.

John 5:1-9
This passage contains one of the most poignant questions that Jesus ever asked (and he asked a bunch of ’em!): “Do you want to be made well?”

That question probes to the very deepest levels of our hearts and souls, does it not? 

  • What do I really want? 
  • Do I enjoy the attention that comes from being “lame?”
  • Am I willing to “get up and walk” or is simply lying here much easier?
  • How many reasons do I have on my own list for the reasons I’ve never really seen or felt the power of God in my life?
  • Do I believe that Jesus can help me?

by the Rev. Dr. Delmer L. Chilton

Our lesson from Acts this morning focuses on Paul and the twists and turns of fate or God’s will which led him first to Philippi, then to a riverside prayer meeting, and finally to the home of a woman named Lydia, who became the leader of the first church in Europe.

As the story opens, Paul is a very frustrated man. His first mission trip had gone well. From his base in Damascus he went into the eastern part of Asia Minor, what we now call Turkey, with his partner Barnabas, a gifted preacher and trusted friend.

But his second mission trip was a bust so far.  First, he and Barnabas had had a falling out, a big argument over Mark. Mark had gone with them part way on their first journey, then got homesick and went home. Now, Mark wanted to go on this trip and Paul wouldn’t hear of it, “No second chances,” he thundered. Barnabas insisted, Paul said no way, and finally, Barnabas went out preaching with Mark and Paul picked up a new partner, Silas.

So, Paul’s mission trip got off to a rocky start; they were going to the western part of Asia Minor this time. But they couldn’t seem to get anything going once they got there, the text says “they had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit,” and prevented by the “spirit of Jesus.”

Then Paul had a vision; a vision that called him to go to a new place, a place he had never thought of, a place and a ministry which had never crossed his mind. God showed him a “man of Macedonia,” that is a Greek, pleading with him to come over the sea and bring the gospel to that land.

So Paul and Silas went to Philippi, named after Alexander the great’s father. And on the sabbath, they went looking for the Jews. They went to people with whom they were familiar, hoping to start a conversation. It was a tiny Jewish community in Philippi, as they had no synagogue, they met in good weather under the trees, down by the river. 

Notice the text says, “outside the gate.” Many towns of that day had laws that forbade foreign religious practices within the city, for fear of the wrath of the gods, so people like the Jews had to go outside the gate to pray. And there Paul and Silas found them; at least they found the women.

That’s interesting. Though a man spoke to them in the vision it was the women who were at prayer. Or perhaps there were both men and women at the meeting, but it was only the women who were open to hearing something new. Paul and Silas sat down and shared the Gospel.

“A certain woman named Lydia, a worshipper of God, was listening to us; she was a dealer in purple cloth. The LORD opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” “A worshipper of God,” this indicates that she was not Jewish, but was interested in the Jewish religion, in particular that she was interested in a faith focused on God, community and morality rather than the ancient world religion’s mix of war, fertility, prosperity and revenge. She was a person primed to hear what Paul had to say.

We are today surrounded by people who are ready to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. We live in the midst of a people who are dying of spiritual thirst and we have the Living Water they need. 

There are Lydias all around us; people who are looking for something more in their lives, who are anxious and eager to be a part of something real and honest; people who need to know what God in Christ has done for them; and the question is “Do we see the vision, do we hear the voice calling us to reach out to them with Christ?”

Second thing in this verse: “The Lord opened her heart to listen.” Many times we fail to realize that God is the one who leads people into the faith, not us. We are simply God’s instruments, God’s tools, for saving the world. God does it, not us. 

In 2007 Time magazine reported that “word on the street,” “buzz,” “word of mouth,” are the most powerful marketing tools around. When it comes to brands, consumers say they’re influenced by people, not by ads. 56% reported trying a new product because of recommendations of friends or family, 10% because of TV ads, 9%- newspaper ads, 6%- radio ads. (TIME – April 23, 2007) We are called to “recommenders of Christ” to each other, to our family and to our friends. 

Lydia responded to the Gospel. And she shared it with her family and soon she and her household were baptized. We don’t know how soon this took place, how quickly she converted, but notice how the conversion had a ripple effect, first Lydia; then her household, those nearest and dearest to her. As a wealthy woman, a household would have included personal family, plus quite a few servants and several children.

From this beginning there came a church, the church to whom Philippians is written.
It is our call today to join in God’s missional outreach, to become a part of bringing more and more folk into the household of God. We are called to be Lydias today; people who hear the Good News and share the Good News in all that we say and do.

Amen and Amen.

One thought on “Year C — The Sixth Sunday of Easter

  1. Another great job. You are getting better every week. The background to the Acts passage was much appreciated especially in our changing world. Hope to attend your retreat in the Fall.

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