Sermon for the Sixth Sunday after Easter
May 1, 2016, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas
Sermon Text: Acts 16:9-15
Sermon Theme: “Are We as Startling as the Early Church?”
(Sources: Emphasis Online Illustrations; Emphasis online Commentary; Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Harper’s Bible Dictionary; original ideas; Westminster Bible Dictionary; Online Business Jokes; Believer’s Commentary; “Introduction to Acts,” Concordia Self-Study Bible; Online; Online, “The Power of Women;” Personal Background in History of Costume Design)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
Written by Luke, the Book of Acts is a sequel to the third gospel by Luke. It begins soon after the crucifixion, and covers the spreading of God’s Gospel that Jesus died for the salvation of mankind, from Jerusalem through the eastern Mediterranean lands to the Capital of the Roman Empire, and from a small Christian-Jewish community to an extended church of Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians. Today’s sermon text is taken from the 16th Chapter of Acts.
What is this new group of believers and followers of Jesus, originally known as “The Way,” going to become? There is much in this short sermon text that lies beneath the surface and needs to be explored carefully, and the answer to the question lies partly there. When Jesus was still living on earth, the inner circle of twelve was made up of all men; it was an “organization” to the extent that Judas was its treasurer and Peter its leader and spokesman.
In Acts, Paul joins Peter as a leader and spokesman, and Luke, the well-educated doctor, records it all in two books. Are they going to become a group of ascetic monks, hiding themselves away from active life like the Essenes, whom we believe were all men?
The inner circle of a big business tends to group itself together as a little organization, or team, within an organization, and supposedly work together like cogs on a wheel.
There was one such team of business men and women wherein one of them was going to have to have a brain transplant. So they all went together to the hospital and met with the brain surgeon.
One of the colleagues asked, “What will the cost of a new brain be?”
The doctor replied, “A female brain costs $20,000 and a male brain cost $40,000.” The men in the group looked at each other and smirked.
But one of the females asked, “Why is that, doctor?”
“Well,” the doctor replied, “the female brain costs less because it has been used.”
We live in an era in which it is quite common for women not only to work along side men in the business world but also serve as CEO’s. We even have a woman running for President of the United States and another for Vice-President.
But the time during which Luke, Paul and Lydia lived such things were unheard of. Lydia was a Gentile who believed in the Jewish faith. Lydia was a woman. And she was a very rich woman, a dealer in purple cloth, a fabric which only wealthy people could afford to buy.
Philippi, where Paul meets Lydia, who came from Thyatira, did not have a Synagogue even though there were Jews living there as minorities among Gentiles. In order for a community of Jews to have a congregation, called a Synagogue, you had to have at least ten men, — ten men made a quorum. You could have twenty or thirty women and just as many children, but if you didn’t have ten males, you had no Synagogue.
When we were first married, my wife’s Jewish friend Val from New York came down to see us, and we went to the Synagogue in Wharton. As soon as we walked in, someone in the congregation said, “Oh, good, a tenth man, now we can start.” The fact that I was a man seemed more important than the fact that I wasn’t a Jew.
If you were a woman without a husband, which was the case of Lydia, you could not join a Synagogue. So, even if there had been a Synagogue in Philippi, Lydia could not have joined it. Those who loved God in their hearts met on the river bank for a prayer meeting together, and that’s where Paul found them.
If that seems strange to Christians today, consider the fact that the prayer a Jewish man prayed every day was to thank God that he was not a woman.
To the Jews and even to the Romans, the Early Church was startling. Many people who followed Jesus were poor, even the dregs of society, people who had nothing, and Jesus gave them hope. In general, wealthy people, such as the Sadducees and Pharisees, hated Jesus, partly no doubt because He loved everybody.
Yet, even in the beginning, wealthy, as well as poor folks, followed Jesus, — such as Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. Even though Peter, James, and John were fishermen, they weren’t poor, because they had a fleet of boats and a family fishing business. Today, we might consider them middle class or upper middle class businessmen.
The point is Jesus did not reject anyone from following Him and joining His group, men or women, grown-ups or children, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile. Money was never considered a sin, only the LOVE of money was a sin, or if money became a person’s god. Lydia was a very wealthy woman without a husband (maybe her husband died, we don’t know). Jesus never looked upon women as second class citizens as the Jews did, nor did He look upon children as entities to be seen but not heard.
The wealthy, prosperous Lydia was converted and baptized with her whole household, the text says, Her household would have included her servants, maids, artisans and other workers who weaved and dyed the purple cloth, and her children, considering that she was possibly a widow with children. My focus is on Lydia, because not only was she a woman accepted into the Early Church, but also, a business woman during an era when they were rare, and also, because she is the first recorded Christian convert in Europe. It seems no small matter that the first European convert was a woman. Not only that, but a rich woman and a Gentile.
And what does this rich woman do? She invites Paul and his fellow missionaries to join her at her villa, to come and stay with her. Luke says in the text, “And she prevailed upon us.” We see her using her wealth to serve God’s work here on earth. Later in verse 40 of chapter 16, which is not included on our insert, Paul and Silas return to her home after they are miraculously released from imprisonment. And Lydia was no doubt one of the women helpers mentioned in Philippians 4:3, working with Paul in the spread of the Gospel.
Startling to be sure! No hesitation to let this gentile, this woman, this business owner, this stranger, join the fledgling church! Yes, “Church,” – no quorum is needed “where two or three are joined together in My Name.”
I love this text, because it is reassuring to members of small churches like us, who often get to feel guilty because we’re not a mega church doing mega things. Some of our small churches do have as few as ten members.
Pastor Hermann (I’m not sure what his first name is) tells about meeting with his Church Council, wherein a Council member wanted Pastor Hermann to drop the kids’ sermonette from the service, saying, “It’s a waste of time, because there are only two children, when there ARE children, and the rest of us can’t hear what Pastor is saying to them. We could be putting the time to better use.”
“Are you feeling left out?” Another Council member asked.
“No, I think we’re wasting our time. New people coming here must wonder what’s going on, when two children can hold up the whole worship service to chat with the pastor. I say take it out!” The Council voted 7 to 1 to keep the sermonette in the service. To our Savior Jesus, every human being is totally important, — child, woman, man, teenager, shut-in, nursing home resident, handicapped or not handicapped.
One deaf child is totally important to Jesus. One man in a wheelchair is totally important to Jesus. One woman in a wheelchair is totally important to Jesus. One shut-in who cannot leave the house is totally important to Jesus. One member of great wealth is totally important to Jesus. One broke, jobless person is totally important to Jesus. And they should be to us, too.
What kind of church are we? We’re not a mega church; we will probably never be. Are we as startling as the Early Church? That’s a better question to ask. Do we let everyone who walks in the Narthex door know that he or she is totally important to Jesus? I think we do. I think we do. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.