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.
Last week our grand Easter season adventure saw Peter winning the argument (well the first part of the argument) over whether Gentiles could be part of the church.
And today the action shifts back to Paul, who has had another vision. This time, he is called to Macedonia. For those, like me, who haven’t been in geography class in a while, Macedonia encompassed what is now Northern Greece, and parts of Bulgaria.
Paul has a vision calling him to Macedonia, yet further away from the center of things, deeper and deeper into Gentile territory.
And on the Sabbath day Paul and his unnamed crew go to a place outside the city where people go to pray. It isn’t a temple, or a synagogue, but somewhere the locals hold sacred. And there they meet an unusual woman.
We know she’s unusual for a number of reasons, first she has a name. Unlike the majority of women in scripture she is not identified for her relationship to a man. She has a home city, and she has a job. She deals in purple cloth (a kingly commodity at the time, so we must assume Lydia is also well to do and moves in powerful circles.)
But here is what I really find interesting: Lydia was already a worshiper of God.
She is not Jewish living in the diaspora, or Acts would simply have called her Jewish. So she is most likely a Roman, or Greek. She falls into the group of people sometimes called “God-fearers,” those who worshiped the Jewish God without actually converting to Judaism. She doesn’t fit into any of the neat tidy boxes of the day. But she listens to Paul and his friends, and her heart is moved. She and her household become members of this new movement.
And here is why I love this text: God was already present in Lydia’s life, in the life of her household, before Paul showed up.
It is a valuable reminder. We are surrounded by people who are “not us” and soon there will be even more. By people who are (by and large) not Christian. And it is all too easy for we Christians to fall into the trap of assuming that we need to bring God to them. There is that phrase I hate that gets tossed around in church circles about folks like our neighbors: unchurched. Like “unwashed” or “unclean” or “untaught.” Lacking.
Lydia wasn’t lacking.
She was already a worshiper of God, she already knew the Living God.
Paul brought her a story so compelling that she decided to follow him, but Lydia was not “unchurched” she wasn’t lacking God in her life.
Perhaps it was exactly her participation in the worship of God, in practices that drew her close to the Love who created all that allowed her to hear Love reflected in Paul’s story. To hear her own story in his and respond.
But notice, Lydia wasn’t the only person there that day. The author of Acts doesn’t focus on the folks who heard Paul and went away not having found their community. Act’s author focuses solely on the person who did find her community in Paul’s companions.
Like Paul, we have the chance to live out a unique opportunity. Our story is a little different. We don’t need to get on a boat. We don’t actually have to go anywhere, because people are coming here. In just a few years we will, without moving, become a neighborhood church. We will be given the chance to become that place where people of the city go to pray. And as that happens we will meet a great many Lydia’s. And we might be tempted to assume that it is our job to bring God to her.
I imagine in that place there were a whole crowd of women worshiping God. God was already present in their lives, active and alive. When we meet our neighbors it isn’t our job to give them God; but to share our story. To share who we are, our joy and our dreams.
And our own Lydia’s will find their hearts moved; our own Lydia’s will hear God moving in our midst and want to be part of that adventure. The church often focuses on who isn’t here. Who visits and doesn’t come back, who never walks through the door. As we dream, and learn, and create a vision for this place, and the future of this community may we become to overflowing with the Good News in our community that when Lydia hears? She won’t fail to know she has at last found her home.