Easter 6 • 1 May 2016

Acts 16:9-15
Revelation 21:10,22-22:5
John 14:23-29

Rev. Chris Udy

[Maggie McLean was baptised during the service]

I understand that Maggie’s due date –
the day her parents
were expecting her birth –
was Easter Day –
and that’s a pretty good day
to be expecting new life.
As it turned out, though,
and not surprisingly,
given her parents’ engagement with life,
Maggie decided she’d exercise initiative
and take her place in the world a little early.
So it looks like Maggie is primed to continue
a heritage that has underpinned
the life and mission of God’s people
for a long, long time.

Today we read about Lydia -
a dealer in purple cloth.
Lydia was probably affluent -
purple dye was exorbitantly expensive;
only the very wealthy could afford
to buy anything coloured purple -
and perhaps that’s why it came to be recognised
as the colour of rulers and royalty.
So Lydia was a business woman -
probably competing in a prestigious market
for customers who could afford
to buy the best.
It also looks like Lydia
was successful in that market.
Her profit margin was healthy enough
to support a household,
and apparently she had the resources
to accommodate and support
a number of guests
for an extended period of time.

Whatever the rest of her story was,
Lydia was also the first person
to be baptised in Europe -
because Philippi, the city where she met Paul,
was a Roman Colony,
and Paul’s first port of call in Europe
during his second missionary journey, in AD52.

As Luke tells the story,
Lydia was part of a group of women
who had gathered outside the gate of the city
beside the river on a Saturday morning -
when Paul, who was looking for a place to worship
came out with Luke, and possibly Silas,
and began to talk with them.
Lydia listened eagerly - Luke says -
and either then, immediately,
or at some later meeting
she asked for baptism,
both for herself and for her household.
She also offered her home
as the base for their work -
in fact, not just offered,
but insisted that Paul and his companions
stay with her
and use her support and assistance
to establish in Philippi
what Paul would call in his letter
to the Christians there,
not just a colony of Rome,
but a colony of heaven.

Lydia’s contacts and influence
might also have been helpful
when, a little time later,
Paul and Silas were arrested and thrown in prison
for disturbing the city –
something Paul was accused of fairly regularly.
When Paul and Silas were released from jail
it was to Lydia’s home that they returned,
to say a strategic farewell
to the new Christian community meeting there
and moving on to Thessalonica and Corinth.
Over the next few years that new community
encouraged and supported him
in spirit and with funds
especially when he was imprisoned again
both in Ephesus, four years later,
and then again, in Rome, in the year 62,
and the last letter we have
that we know Paul wrote
went to that community in Philippi.

It looks like it was Lydia
who provided the point of transition
across a boundary
and into a new arena of life and purpose
for the Christian movement.
Paul’s method was confrontation,
argumentative persuasion –
and that was effective up to a point
and with the people he knew –
but Lydia’s method was different.
She opened up a new horizon
through hospitality and compassion,
and that character and spirit
formed the community in Philippi.
Lydia was no-one’s doormat;
no-one would survive in her line of business
without strength and intelligence –
but at the boundary of cultures,
when we hope
that something new and good
might take root and grow
in a different environment,
hospitality, compassion and respect
are far more likely to succeed
than aggression and coercion.

Lydia and people – often women – like her
contribute to a heritage
that underpins significant moments of transition
both in the traditions of God’s people
and in wobbly pilgrimage of human progress.
Armies and empires might extend territory
by trying to impose their rules and culture
on others by force –
but when we hope to bring and share
the best of one culture or tradition with another,
it’s simple hospitality,
an openness to learn,
a willingness to live in that awkward place
where we don’t always understand
and we don’t always know what to do –
that’s what makes it possible
for us to find the good
in strangers and strange places,
and for them to understand
that we may also have something good to share.
Warriors and generals and dictators might insist
that they can defend us and our borders
against the future,
but they can’t –
it will be the teachers, the translators,
and the traders – like Lydia,
the women and men who make a space
in their hearts and in their homes
for people and ideas that are not like them;
it’s those hospitable people
who will plant and grow
a hopeful and peaceful world
for us to live in –
they are the ones
who will grow the realm of God.

Lydia was like the women on Easter morning,
who were the first to trust and hope
in the potential of new life;
and also like Mary, the mother of Jesus,
and like Ruth,
who both found themselves in unfamiliar
and potentially hostile circumstances
and with strength and creativity and grace
found their way through them.
She was like Helena –
the emperor Constantine’s mother
whose influence was probably behind
the Roman Empire’s conversion,
and Clare – who worked with Francis of Assisi,
to bring the Christian movement
out of the dark ages;
she was like Catherine, and Teresa of Avila,
who were among the first
to explore and describe
the inner landscape of the spirit,
and Florence Nightingale, and Mary MacKillop,
and Mother Teresa –
and the list goes on and on -
and today we baptised Maggie
into that tradition of hope and peace
and hospitality, compassion and grace.

Our hope and prayer
is that she might become
one of those transitionary women.
She’ll grow up as one of a new generation,
in a new culture of human life,
where the institutions, ideas and attitudes
most of us have lived with all our lives
have faded and crumbled –
or are utterly changed –
and our hope is that she, in her generation,
can open up a space
where the best and most life-giving
of the stories and traditions of God’s people
can be shared with her friends and neighbours
and where, in turn, she and her family
can learn from them.
Maggie’s already begun that life
with energy and urgency and resilience;
I seem to remember her first Facebook post
nicknamed her ‘Roaring Meg’ …
and our prayer for her and her family
is that with her ears open to hear,
and her mouth roaring God’s praise,
she will also know the love and blessing of God
and of all God’s people.