“Lydia is Listening”; Acts 16:9-15; May 5, 2013, FPC Jesup

“Lydia is Listening”
Acts 16:9-15
May 5, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide1A month and a half ago the world saw a new pope elected at the Vatican in Italy. The Protestant church got its start when Martin Luther, a German monk posted his 95 reasons the church needed to change to be faithful to scripture. In the 1500s French/Swiss theologian John Calvin started what became the Presbyterian Church.

When many in the world think about Christianity, we think about Europe. However, none of these things would have happened without our story that we heard today from the New Testament.

SLIDE 4 - LydiaOur New Testament passage gives us a quick story about a woman named Lydia: “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.”

Though her story is a quick two verses, it’s an important moment in the history of the church. Lydia is recognized as the very first European conversion at the start of the Church. The Vatican, the Protestant Reformation, and even Calvin’s Presbyterianism wouldn’t have come about if Paul hadn’t followed his strange nighttime vision calling him to Macedonia.

SLIDE 5 - PaulThere are some lessons to be learned from Paul, from Lydia, and from their seeming chance encounter. These lessons can teach us about our own call to share the gospel with others.

First, Paul was a very unlikely sort of follower of Christ. He tells us in scripture that he originally persecuted Christians: “For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” (Galatians 1:13-14)

Paul recounts his conversion in Acts 26:12-18 “I was traveling to Damascus… when at midday along the road…I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and my companions. When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? …’SLIDE 6 - Conversion

I asked, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ The Lord answered, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But get up and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and testify to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you. I will rescue you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’”

SLIDE 8 - Great CommissionPaul was given a very specific sort of call from God. In the familiar great commission passage at the end of Matthew 28, Jesus tells his disciples to, “go and make disciples of all nations.” However, the early church was composed primarily of Jewish people who had experienced the miracles of Christ.

SLIDE 9 - PentecostIn the account of Pentecost, the advent of the Christian church, we are told a miraculous account of a whole group of people from every nation who are overcome with the Holy Spirit and are able to understand one another even though they are all speaking in their native languages. A point that I never really picked up on in this passage is that it refers to this crowd of people as, “devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem.” (Acts 2:5) So while there was ethnic and geographic diversity in this group, there was not religious diversity. The call to reach all nations had somehow been translated into “the Jews of all nations.” So when Paul was called to follow Christ, he was called to open the eyes of both Jews and Gentiles.

Slide10Paul was a passionate man, so as impassioned as he was about persecuting Christians, he became all the more passionate about converting Gentiles to Christians once he was one.

He was brought to understand God’s plan for his life through a light from heaven, the voice of Jesus, and then later through visions in the night. His response, his willingness to follow where God led, changed the world forever.

Slide11It is incredible how God can redeem even those who seem the farthest off, and use them for the building of the Kingdom. Even now while I am talking about sharing Christ with others, do you find yourself falling asleep or looking around the room at others who are “better at sharing their faith”? If so, you are exactly who I am talking to.

Paul’s willingness is not the end to this story. Lydia’s openness to Paul’s gospel message is at least important as Paul’s willingness to follow God’s will. Though what we know about her is limited, her immediate responsiveness speaks to an even greater openness to God’s will. She gets it. She is a listener.

Slide12The verse labels her as a “worshiper of God.” In modern terms, she would be what we would call a deist, or perhaps even an agnostic. She is religiously unaffiliated, but questioning, open, and listening.

The reality is there are so many Lydias in this world. So many that are unaffiliated, that are looking for a truth to grasp onto. They’re looking for a way to connect. If we get out of our own way of the excuses of why we are not sharing our own Gospel witness with those we encounter, we open ourselves up to meeting these Lydias, and introducing them to our Savior.

More than just accept the message, Lydia is moved to respond. She immediately has her entire household baptism and invites Paul to stay at her home. She is all in, opening her home and her heart to what God would have her do.

Slide13If Paul had his own way he wouldn’t have even ended up in Macedonia to begin with. He wouldn’t have met Lydia, might not have made the effort to evangelize to Europe. Right before the passage we heard today, we are told that Paul was forbidden by the Holy Spirit to go to Asia. Like a GPS recalculating, he was constantly being pushed to try somewhere else.

It was not an easy thing for Paul to follow Christ’s call on his life. As Paul had previously persecuted Christians, he too found himself facing persecution. We read in Acts 14:2-7 that as he was in Iconium, “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles and poisoned their minds against the brothers.  So they remained for a long time, speaking boldly for the Lord, who testified to the word of his grace by granting signs and wonders to be done through them. But the residents of the city were divided; some sided with the Jews, and some with the apostles. And when an attempt was made by both Gentiles and Jews, with their rulers, to mistreat them and to stone them, the apostles learned of it and fled to Lystra and Derbe, cities of Lycaonia, and to the surrounding country; and there they continued proclaiming the good news.”

Slide15The important thing to notice here is that follow God’s call to preach the gospel was certainly not always easy. In fact at times it was awful and hard, but even so Paul and his companions continued on their efforts “they continued proclaiming the good news.”

God’s plan was so very different than what Paul wanted to do by his own will. While Paul tried to work his way place by place, this night time vision sent him across the ocean to a whole new area, a whole new continent.

As we seek to tell others about Christ it will be hard, and we might feel defeated from time to time, but there are Lydias in this world waiting to hear the great good news of grace, redemption, and love. If we allow ourselves to get stuck in dead ends, or defeated by those who might even hate us for our faith, we will miss out on those eagerly waiting for us to share our own experience of Christ.

Slide16I read an article this week by Presbyterian pastor MaryAnn McKibben Dana called, Christian Wanderlust: Paul, Lydia and the Holy Detour. In it she writes, “ I love the story of Columba, priest in sixth-century Ireland, who got in a rudderless boat and let God and providence take him where he was meant to be. He made landfall once, but decided to push out again because he could still see his homeland on the horizon behind him. The second place he landed was Iona, the island where Christianity touched Scotland for the first time.” She continues, challenging each of us, “How are we being called beyond our carefully-considered plans and safe assumptions into something daring, unpredictable… maybe even unprecedented?”[1]

I have to admit, as someone who likes to have a plan, a direction, and a purpose, the idea of a rudderless boat seems genuinely frightening, not to mention dangerous in all the storms he likely encountered. Opening ourselves entirely to God’s will can be a terrifying proposition, it requires vulnerability, perhaps even helplessness, but it can also change the world. May we open ourselves to what God would have us do, knowing that somewhere in your life, somewhere in your path, God has placed a Lydia, who is just waiting to respond. Amen.


[1] Christian Wanderlust: Paul, Lydia and the Holy Detour, by MaryAnn McKibben Dana http://thq.wearesparkhouse.org/featured/easter6cn/

“Follow Me”: Fishing with Jesus; Psalm 30 and John 21:1-19; April 14, 2013, FPC Jesup

“Follow Me”: Fishing with Jesus
Psalm 30 and John 21:1-19
April 14, 2013, First Presbyterian Church of Jesup

Slide01Last week I was in my hometown of Maumee, Ohio. A river, the Maumee River, borders the city of Maumee. Maumee was formed in the early 1800s and it grew as the Erie Canal was built up in the middle of the town. Water as a means for commerce and fishing made Maumee into the city it is.Slide02Last week as I traveled about town, I saw hundreds of fisherman lining the banks of the Maumee river. It was quite a sight to see, especially from a distance: all the people gathered along that river.

Fisherman will tell you that there are ways to fish, and ways not to fish. There certain types of baits and lures that will attract different types of fish.

The fishermen on the river were all hoping to catch walleye. Walleye have become somewhat of a mascot for the area.Slide03 The local hockey team is the Toledo Walleye.  Maumee has giant statues of walleye around town painted by different artists and groups.Slide04

Fishing could also be said to be a mascot for Jesus’ ministry. In fact, in the early church when Christians wanted to connect with each other they would draw out the symbol of a fish on the ground to identify themselves.

Slide05Jesus’ ministry was surrounded with fishing. Jesus’ discipleship recruitment began by the sea, in the well known story in  Matthew 4:18-23:

“As he walked by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea—for they were fishermen. And he said to them, “Follow me, and I will make you fish for people.” Immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went from there, he saw two other brothers, James son of Zebedee and his brother John, in the boat with their father Zebedee, mending their nets, and he called them. Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed him. Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and curing every disease and every sickness among the people.”SLIDE 12 - Jesus on Shore

Luke’s version of this story in 5:1-11 foreshadows our New Testament story with an overabundance of fish that nearly sinks their boat.

SLIDE 9 - Loaves and FishesEach of the gospels (John 6:1-15; Matthew 14:13-21; Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17) tells the story of Jesus and his disciples feeding thousands of people with a few fish and loaves of bread.

SLIDE 10 - Jesus on BoatJesus preaches from fishing boats, sails on fishing boats, travels with fisherman disciples and chooses fisherman for the important job of spreading God’s kingdom and building the church.

Slide11 Our New Testament lesson today gives us another fishing story. Jesus had died, and his disciples were still traveling about together, likely bonded in their shared grief and distress. And so, in their grief they returned to what was comfortable and familiar to them: they went fishing.

This was not line fishing, but net fishing. Line fishing is about the single fish, the flick of the wrist, the pull of the fish, the design of the lure, the technique. Net fishing is a different story. It isn’t about enjoying a drink out on a boat with your friends with a line in the water. It is labor intensive. It is about hauling and pulling. It is strenuous and persistent action. There’s a comforting rhythm to that sort of work.

The disciples could’ve been drowning their sorrows in busying their hands, but as they worked at this business of fishing long through the night, they weren’t having and luck. Then, all of a sudden they hear this voice from the shore saying: “Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some (John 21:6a).”

I don’t know what Peter thought but I think I would probably be thinking things like:
“Aren’t I the fisherman here? I know what to do.”
“I’ve already tried that side. It didn’t work.”
“I’ve always thrown my net on the left side of the boat.”

SLIDE 13 - CastanetsI love this cartoon representation of one of the disciples mishearing what Jesus’ shouted from the shore.

Even if they may have been confused or doubtful, they were willing to give it a shot. They threw their nets onto the other side of the boat and were overwhelmed by the amount of fish they took in, verse 11 says that their nets were “full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn.”SLIDE 14 - Net

There’s been some debate over the significance of this number 153. Some says it is indicative of the 153 known species of fish at that time or of the 153 known and recognized nations at the time. All throughout scripture representative numbers like this are used as a way to indicate a whole. So these fish signify that the disciples brought in a metaphorical amount of all the fish or all the people.

These were the same disciples who had been asked to set aside their nets and follow God, but when things had gotten complicated, they picked them up once again. And in that moment, Jesus calls them out of their complacency into an act of faith. Being told to throw their nets on the other side reminds them what sort of fisherman Jesus had called them to be: of people, not of fish.

Slide15After this enormous catch of fish Jesus gathers the disciples around a fire and they cook their fish together. In this community they were reminded of all Christ had taught, multiplying loaves and fish, breaking bread, they are re-commissioned to go out into the world fed and nourished.

This is the beginning of the church, a group of people, getting together, being reminded of whose they are called to be and reminded how they are called to serve.

This is what we strive to do here in worship each week: gathering together in the presence of Christ to be nourished and to be sent.

Matthew 18:20 says:

“For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”

SONY DSCThat means, when we gather together as a worshipping community, when we gather in Bible studies or Sunday School we are in the presence of Jesus Christ! We are gathering ourselves around the same sort of warmth the disciples felt at on that beachside bonfire. What does it mean for us to be in the presence of Christ?

In our time together are you reminded of your great God who loves you and reminded how you are called to serve. Are you listening to the call to throw your nets to the other side? Or are you stuck in the comfortable, in the familiar, in the “we’ve always done it this way”?

Our Psalm today talks of how easy it was for the Psalmist to praise God when things were easy, writing:

“I said in my prosperity, ‘I shall never be moved.’” (Psalm 30:6)

It was easy for the disciples to talk about fishing for people when they had Jesus standing right there beside them, guiding them in their ministry, answering their questions.

But when testing comes, things aren’t quite so easy. When the Psalmist was tested he was full of frustration, writing:

8To you, O LORD, I cried, and to the LORD I made supplication: What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be gracious to me! O LORD, be my helper!’” (Psalm 30:8-10)

We see this with the disciples. When Jesus was arrested even Peter, nicknamed, “the rock,” denied Jesus three times. When Jesus was crucified the disciples were thrown into despair.

Our Psalmist gives us our happy ending in verses 11 and 12:

“You have turned my mourning into dancing; you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.  O LORD my God, I will give thanks to you forever.” (Psalm 30:11-12)

Jesus at the shore side reminded them that his death was not an act of abandonment. Jesus is not stuck in the horror of death; he is resurrected! He walks around breathing grace and emboldening the disciples in all of those teachings he had laid out for him throughout his ministry.

Christ is resurrected; the world has changed! Are we changing too? Is our mourning turned to dancing? Are we clothed in joy?

Jesus is forever giving opportunity for us to seek joy over despair and action over inaction. This is worked out in his conversation with Peter, as Peter’s three denials of Jesus are redeemed in three calls to love, three calls to action:SLIDE 20 - Jesus and Peter

“When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.” A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. After this he said to him, “Follow me.”” (15-17,19)SLIDE 24 - Follow Me

When big changes in our lives happen we need to learn to reframe our challenges to assets. If we get stuck in the hurt that has happened to us or the hurt that we have caused others we are unable to serve in the way God calls us to. Each week we pray, “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” This means that we need to seek forgiveness, and we need to give forgiveness so that we can move forward to serve.

As lose sight and gain hearing, when we suffer personal loses we are more attune to the grief of others. Job loss can create opportunity to reexamine our lives and seek something more life fueling. Age or illness might limit some of the things you might have done previously, but it can also provide a new way of serving others that you were unable to do before.

Bozo fisherman using a net on the River Niger, Mopti, MaliIn our time of offering today we will be doing something new, throwing out our own metaphorical and literal nets to think about ways that each of us can minister in this church. Sara McInerny will be providing instructions of some very specific ways that each of us can serve the congregation and community. I encourage you to prayerfully consider where God is calling you. Note that I did not say “if,” but “where.” There is a call for each of us, but it might require you to shift your thinking, shift your expectations, and throw your nets on the other side.

The disciple’s act of faith, throwing their nets on the other side of the boat, brought enormous results. When we are obedient to God’s will for our lives the results are greater than we can imagine. Sometimes that means doing something different and sometimes it means doing it again.

Know that Jesus is standing on the shore side of your life pointing you to the great catch He has in store for your ministry. Amen.