Sixth Sunday of Easter (22 May 2022)
JoAnn A. Post
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.
Since 1935, Iowa has been testing its students’ basic skills. Not the “basic skills” one would expect in a state known for livestock and field crops—skills like milking cows and slopping hogs, walking beans and baling hay. Iowa children inherit those skills along with a predilection for dry humor and coffee so thick it doesn’t need a cup.
No, the basic skills on which Iowa children are tested are vocabulary, listening, language, mathematics, social studies, science. We are an educated lot, we Ioweigans. I love the Iowa Basic Skills test. I’ve always been competitive—even in grade school. But more than that, I’ve always loved words. I was reading Madeleine L’Engle and James Michener in second grade. I learned to read by decoding the backside of The Des Moines Register while my mom read the front. I’ve always loved words.
So, if you marry my killer instinct with my logophilia, you understand my passion for word tests. My favorite section of the Iowa Basic Skills? Reading comprehension. And further down that already-nerdy rabbit hole, I most loved “decoding contextual clues.” Trying to figure out from the text itself what a new word meant, a character’s motivation, imagining what might happen next.
I’ve never lost that investigative passion. That’s probably why I love scripture study so much. It’s the world’s biggest word test—centuries old, written in many languages by many authors, culturally bound. What does it mean?
During the Easter season we’ve been living in the 1st century with the apostles who carried news of Jesus and his resurrection to all corners of the then-known world. We so rarely spend any time in the book of Acts, with these characters, its been like six weeks of speed dating for me. (Though perhaps not as exhilarating for you.)
This week’s edition of Resurrection Repercussions presents a real puzzle and offers lots of contextual clues.
Who was the elusive “man from Macedonia” and how did Paul know he was from Macedonia?
How long did it take to sail from Troas to Neapolis, and then to walk to Philippi, and why did they stop there?
Why wasn’t Paul in synagogue on the sabbath?
What made them assume there was a place of prayer at the river?
What god or God did this “certain woman named Lydia” worship?
Just how wealthy was the she? After all, purple cloth was reserved for royals and generals.
Did she ask to be baptized or was baptism foisted on her and her household? And what sort of baptism was it?
So many clues.
But most curious is that, of all the encounters Paul and the apostles had as they journeyed on Jesus’ behalf, the writer of Acts would remember Lydia. Among hundreds of encounters, she is one of only six women named.
Why Lydia? This worshipper of god/God. This dealer in purple goods. This generous host. How does her life add to the story, multiply the ministry, extend the gospel, witness to the resurrection?
Women were not given starring roles in the 1st century. They were always “supporting actors,” providing services—lodging, clothing, financing, intel—to the men who got top billing.
Even given the restrictions of her era, Lydia was different from the other “supporting actors.” Time and again she opened her home to Paul and other evangelists. Without Lydia, the ministry in Greece would have lasted about five minutes. But it was her, her curiosity and kindness, her wealth and business sense that made the ministry happen.
Lydia is like so many women in our own lives who make our lives possible, but who never stand in the spotlight.
I don’t know at what point we consider a “girl” a “woman.” When does that language shift take place? (Of course, in some parts of the country, you’re a girl until the day you die. Hey, Girl!) Words are funny that way. Regardless of the age or the designation, we have all looked to women for inspiration, strength and support.
Two such women inspire us today. A few contextual clues.
Both AudreyAnn and Paige were baptized here, and are being raised by parents and baptismal sponsors and grandparents who do right by them everyday.
Both Paige and AudreyAnn live full lives of family and school and sports and friends—and faith. Not all women their age care about faith.
Both AudreyAnn and Paige are filled with questions. Why do we do that? What does that mean? When will that happen? Their curiosity far exceeds our ability to answer.
And both Paige and AudreyAnn will, today, commit to strong words and even stronger actions: affirmation, profession, renunciation, covenant.
We will pray powerful words over them: enlighten, nourish, uphold, stir up, confirm, guide, empower.
And we will today, test their basic skills.
When they were baptized, their parents and baptismal sponsors promised to raise them among God’s faithful people, teach them to love the Word of God and Holy Communion, model lives filled with good words and good deeds, live lives of service, justice and peace.
It was a lot to ask of young parents; even more to expect of infants in arms. It sounds like an impossible position description. But, for those of us who claim to be Jesus’ disciples, we know that these are the fundamental principles, the core concepts, the root from which all else spring. These are our basic skills. Which are tested every day of their lives, as they are in ours.
I know that I would have learned to read—eventually. But it was my mother’s example that made me to want to read so young, want to be like her. She taught me that reading is one of life’s most basic and essential skills.
I know that AudreyAnn and Paige might have come to faith on their own—eventually. But it is the example of their parents and grandparents, their baptismal sponsors that makes them want to be faithful. That makes them want to care for others, love this place and these people.
This morning, we gather at the river with Lydia—dealer in purple goods and host of the gospel—on whose hospitality, the simplest of gifts, all the gospel depends.
This morning, we gather at the river with AudreyAnn and Paige—whose curiosity causes us to question.
This morning we gather at the river with disciples of every language, every age, every orientation and identity, every ability.
Because together we live among God’s faithful people, welcome the stranger, ask the hard questions. After all, these are, for Jesus’ disciples, the most basic of skills.