Surprised By God
Sermon: Surprised by God
Have you ever been welcomed into someone’s home in a memorable way? What did they do to make you feel welcome? I can think of an example of some dear friends of mine. My husband just recently stayed with. The first way they welcomed Jason was to give him the feeling that he was no intrusion at all. Even though they also had to care for an elderly parent in the same home. Jason was a welcome guest, and friend, and fellow believer. He even felt so comfortable as to borrow their car in the early morn, without asking! And the refrigerator rights were just as freely his as anyone else’s in the family. Conversation brought joy to them all and they caught up on old friends, children, and life in general. But this is what my husband remembers the most…the pancakes! Our friend made Jason a dish that he can’t stop talking about. She has a knack for making delicious things…and these pancakes had the wonderful mix of strawberries, yogurt, oatmeal even, all dished up in the most wonderful breakfast he’d tasted! It was an echo of the Eucharist—in that the greatest joy was sharing a meal together. Jason was in somebody else’s home, just for a short time. But the hosts made it feel like his home, and offered him the best of what they had.
I can think of another time when I personally was welcomed into someone’s home. I was a college campus ministry intern leading a mission trip to Bolivia. We had driven about 7 hours in a hot, slow bus, through barren mountains and terrain to a small village. The adults in this village had no more than equivalent to a Grade 4 education. But their minds and hearts were full of more love and devotion than all my years of education combined. They hosted us in their homes for that weekend. They showed us the beds we would sleep on…little more than cots with some strained springs underneath the thin mattress pad, and a few old blankets to keep us warm. It wasn’t until later that we realized they were giving us their own beds! They had slept outside on the dirt. What hospitality. What servant hearts they had!
The disciples in Acts have been on a long road before arriving to Philippi in route of their journey to Macedonia. Now, before this reading in Acts today, it is clear that the Spirit of Jesus is leading them and leading them specifically to Macedonia. For it begins that Paul had a vision at night of a man pleading “come over to Macedonia and help us.” God’s Spirit prevents them from going certain directions and places. You also heard that the disciples went outside a gate that was by the river, “where they supposed there was a place of prayer.” Just the mention of prayer anticipates that God is working! Both Lydia’s baptism that follows and her hospitality show that God opened her heart and that she embraced the gospel.
How do we plan for an open heart and embracing the gospel of Christ?
A few months ago our Board and Leadership Team had part I of a Vision Planning Retreat together. We’re eagerly looking forward to Part II—we just have to coordinate everyone’s schedule now that more folks are able to travel again! It’s a good problem to have—and we’ll get there.
Lots of churches have Vision Planning meetings—it’s strategic, it’s hopeful, it’s mission oriented. It’s…manageable. But, it’s not quite like Paul. Paul’s Vision planning meetings come straight from his Vision-like dreams—and when Paul follows through, change happens.
Remember, Paul has a history of Visions changing his life. He was Saul…on the road to Damascus, when God met him there. When God visits us—we are undeniably changed.
God found Lydia in the story from Scripture we’ve heard today. She didn’t expect it. She did what she’d always done—she went to pray—but today was different! She was serious about her work. And she was serious about worship. Both had a place in her life. Both were significant. This is in contrast to the story of Mary & Martha—where one sister is known for her worship, and the other sister is known for her work! According to Lydia—you can do both!
I remember our neighbour was an investor—he knew what to do with stocks and money and how to help people do the same. He was a math whiz. One day, we were sitting on the front porch in our bluejeans, and this guy walks out his front door looking like a model! We were gawking—he was so stylish—truly movie-star cool in his entire dress. My husband said, “Wow—I thought your job was working with numbers, I didn’t know you were also a fashion expert. The neighbour quickly replied “why can’t I be both?”
Lydia was a worshipper of God, and Lydia worked hard. Who she was was important, but who she served mattered even more. I think many of you know I came from the United Methodist tradition in the United States. I was what you call a ‘cradle Methodist,’ coming from a long line before me. I must have drilled that into my youngest son’s head, because one day when he was just a boy, a substitute teacher asked the students to tell their name and some fact about themselves. My son said, “I’m Will Byassee…and I’m a Methodist!”
There are a lot of things that define who we are. We may be teachers, we may be fire fighters, we may work with cloth, we may work construction. We may be Methodists! But who else are we? What defines us, really?
Are we people who are open to Visions from God? And how do those visions transform us if so? The word for “vision” occurs 12 times in the New Testament—once in the gospel of Matthew and 11 times in the book of Acts! As I mentioned, Paul had a transforming vision—when he encountered the risen Christ on the road to Damascus! Paul’s visions were always encouraging…
What do we do in this season of Easter, now that Jesus has risen?
Something significant, we hope!
Lydia had a lot of success in her job—she was a woman who dealt in purple cloth—which was symbolic of wealth. She was good at what she did, and she was also independent in her work and life. By all respects, she had achieved a lot in her adulthood. But that is not all that God had for her. She was, as the Scriptures note, a worshiper of God. And she must’ve come to this space often to pray, as this was where Paul and his companions found her. Paul was called to Macedonia in his dream, but he didn’t know why? He knew that they needed help…and he shared with all those who gathered. Lydia was there. Lydia heard. And Lydia was changed. Immediately. She asked for Paul to baptize her and all who lived in her household. And then she opened up her home to those who needed a place to rest.
Her heart was opened by God—and hospitality prevailed. Paul followed the vision, and God opened the heart. And where did it take place? At a place that they often gathered for prayer. Lydia was a worshiper of God, gathering for prayer, expecting nothing out of the ordinary—and God showed her more. More than her profession, more than her wealth, more than her own household. God helped her see the need in her own community, and respond. Lydia’s home became a basecamp for Christianity! How? She listened. God helped her to listen to what God needed her to hear. And Paul was the vessel used to share. And Paul didn’t even know it! He just followed the Vision to go to Macedonia.
I love how bizarre this entire story is!
It’s not cut from the strategic planning that we learn in any course for growing the church. It’s messier than that. If we ask God to open our hearts, he might ask us to open our lives…and if we do that, we might be forever changed. Are we ready? Who is God bringing to our doorstep, North Lonsdale? Who will our hearts and doors be opened for, that God might meet us here and now, no matter what are profession, our financial status, or the denomination we were raised in. Let’s gather and pray and be surprised at what God shows us when we listen. Like Lydia, we do the things we normally do. Except something changes when God enters—what was normal is not the same. God changes us, and speaks through us.
Lydia had no children of her own, yet she gave birth—to a whole church, in her home! She welcomes us into her home, as a mother welcomes all her children home. With the Spirit of God that so moved Lydia, so now it moves us to open our hearts, welcome, and worship God.