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Easter 6C RCL May 5, 2013

Acts 16:9-15

Psalm 67

Revelation 21:10. 22-22:5

John 14:23-29

In our first reading from the Book of Acts, Paul is in the port city of Troas, very near the ancient city of Troy, in what we now call Turkey. This is considered the western edge of Asia. As he look across the Aegean Sea, he can see Europe, Macedonia.

During the night he has a vision. A man says,  Come over to Macedonia and help us.” They set sail. They go to Samothrace, then to Neapolis, and then to Philippi, a leading city in Macedonia and a Roman colony. Paul and the other early followers of Jesus were constantly on the move, looking for people who wanted to hear the good news.

On the Sabbath, Paul and his team go to a place of prayer by a river, and there are some women there. One of them is named Lydia. She has traditionally been described as a wealthy businesswoman who sells purple cloth to privileged people, who are the only ones who are allowed to wear the royal color of purple.

In 2007, Professor Arthur Sutherland of Loyola University in Baltimore published a book called I Was a Stranger: A Christian View of Hospitality. Professor Sutherland writes, “The popular conception of Lydia as a wealthy woman who dealt in expensive fabrics is misleading. A more accurate reading of purpurie [the word translated as “dealer”] is a person who works in the manufacturing and sale of dyed products. Although dye houses were often owner operated and often employed hired help, and both genders worked as dyers and dealers, textile production was still considered women’s work and was looked down upon by the general public. Lydia’s work was most likely a subsistence occupation for herself and her house.” (Text read online.)

Scholars tell us that dye houses had a terrible odor because the process of dying involved the use of animal urine. Dye houses were located outside the city gates. Since the dying was done by hand, Lydia carried a visible stigma. That is, her hands were purple. She was considered marginal and of a lower class. Scholars tell us that in those days women would gather with other women who were of the same trade.

Yet Lydia is a seeker, a worshipper of God. She wants to grow closer to God. She and her household are all baptized. Then Lydia invites Paul and his helpers to her home. This is rather unusual because, in that time and culture, women did not invite people they did not know into their homes. Paul apparently hesitated to accept her invitation because the text says that she prevailed upon them. She had to convince them to accept her invitation. Scholars tell us that this could have been because she was a woman or because she was considered of a lower class.  Eventually Paul, Timothy, and Luke go to her home, which becomes a center of operations for them in Philippi. Through Paul’s later letters, we know that the congregation in Philippi becomes one of his most beloved communities of faith.

So here is Lydia, a person of deep faith, but a marked woman with purple hands.  Yet she does not hesitate to invite Paul to her home.

Mary Donovan Turner of the Pacific School of Religion writes,  “Lydia is right to think that her authority to greet, to receive, and to protect the stranger comes from her baptism and relation with Christ. On the basis of her faith and her baptism, she challenges any cultural notion that her house or she herself, is not fit for visitors. Lydia is a worker, marginalized, strong, voiced, determined—one who challenges discrepancies or hypocrisies when she sees them.”

Professor Turner points out that we often discuss issues of race and ethnicity in the Church, but she says that we do not often examine issues of class. She poses some questions. What classes are welcomed and feel comfortable in our church community? Do our worship and hospitality reflect class bias?

Jesus says in our gospel that “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.” What a thought. God will come to us and make God’s home with us, And Jesus says that the Holy Spirit will teach us everything.

In our readings today, barriers are coming down. A woman can invite Paul and his team to her home. A worker who doesn’t make a lot of money can extend hospitality to Paul and Timothy and Luke. Loving as our Lord calls us to love means that we share generously what we have. We invite people into our homes, and those people accept our invitation. It doesn’t matter whether our homes are simple or fancy, cabins or castles.

Extending hospitality comes from the heart, and receiving hospitality is a response from the heart. We are called to welcome everyone, regardless of race, gender, and all the other things we use to divide ourselves against the loving will of God, including class.

These ideas are of special interest to Grace Church because we have a strong ministry if accessibility in every sense of the word, and we have a strong ministry of hospitality. I know that we all hope and pray that we will welcome anyone who comes here, no matter what their life circumstances, as we would welcome Christ.

Amen

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