Sixth sunday of easter - sermon
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.” (Ps 19:14)
A guy walks into a restaurant and the day's special is beef tongue. He says to the waitress, "I don't want anything that came out of an animal's mouth. That’s gross. I'll have two eggs instead."
I love steamers in the summer, but who was ever the first person to eat one of them. They look ugly. Or what about raw oysters? Whoever slid one of them down the throat for the very first time?
But somebody had to be first.
Two wrongs, it’s said, don’t make a right, but two Wrights make an airplane.
Somebody had to come up with the preposterous idea of human beings flying through the air, and Orville and Wilbur Wright were brave and smart enough to be the first.
I know a Minister who loves to travel to exotic locations that she’s never been to before. She’ll go through the flight schedules for Logan Airport, find a non-stop to a place she’s never been, and off she goes.
In a couple of weeks, she’s flying to Cape Verde off the Atlantic coast of Africa for the first time because of that very reason – it will be her first time there. She loves the thrill of first time experiences.
And today we hear about some really important firsts. The church was born in Jerusalem on Pentecost, and from there it began to spread. People moved on and as they did they told others about Jesus. The most successful of them all was a man by the name of Paul.
He was like my minister friend who’s going to Cape Verde. Paul would go anywhere new. He planned his trips by making sure that no one had gone there to talk about Jesus before him.
One night Paul had a dream. He felt called to cross over to a new continent. He decided it was time to start talking about Jesus in Europe for the very first time.
He immediately heads off for Philippi. This is all brand spanking new to Paul.
He takes a chance and on the Sabbath goes down to the river suspecting that this may be a place where Jews would gather for prayer since they needed the water for ritual cleanings. He was planning according to the expected.
There is a gathering, but it’s of women. Where are the men? This isn’t a worship gathering after all. Maybe this is a group of women washing clothes and enjoying the chance to talk with each other because they’re seldom allowed out of their homes unaccompanied.
But the unexpected does not scare off Paul. He doesn’t go looking for the men. He joins the women. He sits down with them. This is simply not done.
On top of that, Paul doesn’t patronize them. Paul preaches to them about Jesus. Paul preaches to these women like they matter. This is something radically new. Religion was men’s business. But Paul really believed Jesus when He said, “See I am making all things new,” like we talked about last Sunday.
Paul’s Christianity was a radical and disruptive equality and he had no problem breaking through the old rules and talking about Jesus to a group of women, and the church grew.
And then we are told that Lydia believed, and for the first time Europe has a Christian. Lydia was a strong woman. Independent. Not afraid to be a first. In a day when men ruled their women, Lydia owned her own business. And Lydia listened to Paul.
She heard this message of a strange kind of God who loved His people so much that He died for them. She saw how this man Paul treated her like she mattered in a world where this would not have been common. And the newness of this message so impressed Lydia that she chose to become a part of it. Faith was liberating and empowering.
Think about this for an extra moment. Think about what the biblical author is telling us. Last Sunday I mentioned that no one who had read only the Old Testament could ever have expected Jesus.
Now we hear that the first Christian in Europe was not a man as would be expected. The first Christian in Europe was converted by an apostle who dared to talk to women like they mattered, and that first convert was a free-thinking business-woman.
Paul shouldn’t have done what he did. Lydia shouldn’t have done what she did. And Christianity shouldn’t have barged into Europe among a group of women washing clothes. But this story is told because Christianity’s message is anything but ordinary or expected. It is filled with the courage and conviction of firsts and first-timers.
It offers us God’s new and different, and what a shame it is when the faith settles for anything less, when it loses its thrill of exploration.
Jesus needs us to take those first time opportunities to be like Paul did when he spoke to those women about his faith.
That respect for each other no matter who the other is central to our faith. It should be obvious in the way we live. And what a pleasant change that would be in our world today. Respect. The meanness has become tiring.
I was so impressed by the pictures I saw of Danielle and Brian and their supporters outside of Town Hall on election day. Two candidates competing against each other for a spot on the School Committee, but with respect for each other. Maybe politicians higher up the ladder could learn from this, and what a wonderful first that would be.
And Jesus needs us to be also a first like Lydia. Don’t let others define who we are and what we’re supposed to do or be. That limits God and it limits us, and that doesn’t work for Jesus.
Jesus gives us the courage to be ourselves and it simply does not matter what anyone else says or thinks. Jesus made us who we are, and He loves us like this. There’s only one of each of us so whoever we are becoming is a first. That’s why we need to be like Lydia. Jesus lets us be happy being our own first.
Paul went into Europe when no one knew who Jesus was or what a Christian was supposed to be, and I think a lot of people today don’t know what our faith is all about. I think even some Christians have defined Christianity in strange ways, filled with judgment, anger and violence.
Maybe people are just tired enough of the usual ways of the world and of that kind of religious message to be ready to listen again for the first time to the startling new and liberating message of Christ and church.
May this be our prayer in Jesus’ name. Amen.
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