"Baptism & Transformation”
6th Sunday in Easter C - May 26, 2019
Baptisms for Valencio David Symons and Nayru Elizabeth Symons
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.
Today, we continue our study of the book of Acts, but we have jumped ahead a few chapters. Beginning in chapter 13, the story shifts its perspective away from Peter and onto Paul (once called Saul). He goes on a series of missionary journeys to spread the Good News across the Roman Empire, setting up small Christian communities in every city they can.
They follow the pattern that Paul later explains in Romans 1:16: “to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” So in every city, they first go to the synagogues, the gathering places for Jews who live there, and try to teach them that Jesus is the Messiah based on how he fulfills the Jewish Scriptures, the Old Testament. In most places, they win some converts among the Jews, but eventually, the message spreads to non-Jews, to the Gentiles of those towns. And so the Christian churches outside of Judea become culturally-mixed communities.
Paul does this because the Spirit of God compels him, even though he knows that it rubs the conservatives back home the wrong way. Peter has blazed the trail through the conversion and baptism of Cornelius, the story we read last week, but Paul takes it to the next level. Instead of allowing Cornelius to be an isolated incident, Paul continues the pattern of welcoming Gentiles into the church without making them convert to Judaism -- without circumcision, without dietary restrictions, without observance of the Law.
Paul does this in many towns before he is eventually called back to Jerusalem (Acts 15) for the first global Ecumenical Council in church history (think of it like a mega-Convention). Peter and Paul have done this missionary work among the Gentiles, and Peter even made a defense to some of the church leaders in Jerusalem in last week’s passage (Acts 11), but not everyone is convinced. After some fiery debate and testimony from Paul, Barnabas, Peter, and James of Jerusalem, the Council decides to continue to allow Gentiles to join the Church through baptism without becoming Jews. The Church formally rubber-stamps what God has been telling the disciples to do.
And shortly after this Council, at the end of chapter 15, Paul leaves for what is called Second Missionary Journey, together with his new friend Silas (15:40). Paul intends to simply re-visit the churches (15:36), but by the time we reach our appointed lesson for today, 16:9, he learns that the Holy Spirit has different plans.
The Spirit shows Paul a vision of a man from Macedonia asking Paul to come and “help us” (16:9). Paul has never been to Macedonia before, at least not as a Christian missionary. This is unfamiliar territory, and as we will discover between this week and next, Macedonia presents the greatest evangelistic challenge of any place yet.
The Spirit leads them to Philippi, the most important city in the district of Macedonia (16:12). Apparently, Philippi has so few Jews that they haven’t even organized a synagogye. The Jews living in diaspora in Philippi gather on the Sabbath outside the city gates, down by the river to pray (16:13). There, Paul and Silas met a group of women. Apparently, they had no male rabbi to lead them, but that did not stop them from organizing themselves as they praised and glorified the God of Israel.
On that day, Paul and Silas met a woman named Lydia who came from Thyatira and sold expensive purple clothes. She was a businesswoman of distinction in a time when women’s leadership of any kind was rare. And as Paul and Silas preached the Good News of Jesus, “The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly” (16:14). They were next to a river already, so in their joy, Paul and Silas baptized Lydia and her whole household. That means her younger siblings, her children, her nieces, and nephews, her grandchildren (if she had any), her hired servants, and her slaves. And after their celebration came to a close, Lydia invited the disciples to stay in her home.
Lydia welcomes the Spirit of God to change her life. She is a woman of wealth and means. She opens her home to the traveling apostles Paul and Silas, and therefore to the new church that will form in Philippi. Her home will be the site of the first Christian community in her city. She will be the matron of the church, who provides for the needs of all who come to follow Jesus. The wealth that Lydia earned in dealing purple cloth will not just grow her personal riches. Baptism changed her. Now, by the power of the Spirit, she will share her power and money and influence with all the new believers in Jesus in Philippi.
Think about how Lydia got here. Because Lydia was faithful and determined, she showed up on the sabbath day, expecting nothing out of the ordinary. And then she was open to the movement of the Spirit when she met these traveling preachers. She accepted that Jesus is Lord and can redeem her and heal the world. And she brought her whole house to the river for baptism in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Now her home will be a hub for the church’s mission in Philippi.
Lydia shows us the power of God to change us. She shows us what it is like to live into baptism. We are about to follow in Paul, Silas, and Lydia’s footsteps. We are about to bring new members of the Tennerson and Symons households to the fountain of life. Valencio and Nayru will join the “household of God,” and we will receive them with open arms (BCP, 308). They will receive a new identity, founded on the grace of Jesus who can transform lives from the inside out.
God’s gift of new life is freely given out of love and generosity, and Lydia shows us how the baptized are supposed to respond -- with greater love and generosity toward our neighbors. Valencio and Nayru may not notice a change today, but we pray that one day they will reject all the hateful messages of the world in favor of God’s message of pure love and grace. We pray that they will confess the faith of Jesus Christ crucified, proclaim his resurrection, and share with the rest of the church in his eternal priesthood (BCP, 308). That means that they can also become beacons of God’s light, love, and grace to the people they know. Valencio, Nayru, and the rest of us can follow in Lydia’s footsteps, serving the church and the world with a generosity that flows from a grateful, forgiven heart. Amen.
De La Torre, Miguel A. “Study Notes” in The Peoples’ Bible: New Revised Standard Version with the Apocrypha, edited by Curtiss Paul deYoung, Wilda C. Gafney, et al. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009).
Jennings, Willie James. Acts. A Volume in Belief: A Theological Commentary on the Bible, edited by Amy Plantinga Pauw and William C. Placher. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2017.
Wright, Paul H. Rose Then and Now Bible Map Atlas with Biblical Background and Culture. Hong Kong: Hendrickson Rose Publishing, 2012.