Easter 6 May 26, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

EASTER 6  Year C

Acts 16:9-15, Psalm 67, Revelation 21:10; 21:22-22:5; John 14:23-29

 

Christ Episcopal Church

Tacoma, Washington

Sunday, May 26, 2019

The Rev. Janet Campbell

 

 

 

At his last supper

with his disciples

Jesus, preparing them

for his departure,

promised

God would send them

another companion and guide –

the Holy Spirit,

 

to teach them

and

remind them of all

he had said to them . . .

 

to lead them into all Truth.

 

 

Some 40 years later,

in the meeting of Paul and Lydia

we see

the Holy Spirit at work

creating the early church.

 

 

It was an unlikely encounter

that might never have happened.

 

Paul had planned to

continue his missionary work

eastward, into Asia Minor,

 

but, we learn in Acts

just before today’s reading,

 

that he and his companions

“had been forbidden by the Holy Spirit

to speak the word in Asia.”           [vs. 6]

 

(no reason given)

 

They attempted

to go into Bythinia instead,

but again, we learn,

“the Spirit of Jesus

did not allow them.”                     [vs. 7]

 

(again, no reason given)

 

So they found themselves in Troas

(in present-day Turkey),

wondering just where it was

they were meant to go.

 

 

Then came Paul’s night vision:

the man pleading,

“come over to Macedonia to help us,”

and the way opened

before them.

 

They set sail westward,

to Macedonia,

and the principal city, Philippi,

a Roman colony

in what is now northern Greece.

 

And so the Church,

the community

gathering around

the Good News of Jesus Christ

crucified and risen,

began its spread

in that region . . .

 

starting with Lydia,

a most unusual woman

for her time.

 

The unmarried head

of her own household.

 

A successful businesswoman

dealing in luxury goods –

expensive purple cloth.

 

A “worshipper of God,”

a Gentile drawn toward

the Jewish faith.

On the Sabbath,

Paul and company

went out from the city

to the river,

where they thought they might find

a synagogue –

usually built

near running water.

 

A number of women

were gathered there,

and Paul sat down

to talk with them.

 

There’s no record of the conversation,

but we can imagine

the women were curious to know

who Paul and his companions were

and

why they had come to Philippi,

and

what they were doing

by the river.

 

And that’s what Paul

had come to tell them . . .

perhaps beginning with his story:

 

 

his life as a Pharisee

and a persecutor of Christians;

his encounter on the way to Damascus

with the Risen  Christ;

the complete turn-around

of his life;

his passion for Christ;

and his mission of spreading

the Good News of Christ.

 

 

Lydia was one of those women . . .

 

perhaps she came to that place

every Sabbath to pray,

or maybe she had happened on the place

that very day,

blown there

by the fair wind of the Holy Spirit . . .

 

However it was,

she was there and,

as Acts tells us,

“The Lord opened her heart

to listen eagerly.”

 

She was hungry

for the Words of life

falling from Paul’s lips.

 

 

Perhaps then

she told Paul her own story,

about empty places

in her soul

that even her business success

could not fill.

 

From the conversation:

conversion.

 

 

An encounter with Christ,

through Paul,

so compelling

that right then and there,

Lydia and her whole household,

apparently gathered with her

at the river,

were baptized.

 

In the Good News,

Lydia had found her heart’s desire.

 

“You and your friends

must come and stay in my home,”

she said to Paul,

and wouldn’t take “No” for an answer.

 

 

 

In the exchange of stories,

Paul, too, had found something:

a sister in Christ,

a stalwart supporter

with considerable resources,

a home base for his missionary work

in Philippi and that region.

 

And perhaps his own resolve

strengthened

by Lydia’s ardent response.

 

Lydia became the founder

of the household of faith in that city,

bringing all her skills and intelligence

to a local Church that, as it grew,

gave Paul much joy and encouragement

in his ministry,

as we know

from his later

Letter to the Philippians.

 

All from what must have seemed

a “chance” meeting at a river

outside the city walls

of Philippi.

 

The Holy Spirit weaving together

a Church.

 

 

How Paul and Lydia

must have enjoyed

looking back along the separate paths

that had led them,

against all odds,

to their improbable

life-giving,

life-changing encounter.

 

 

Their story and others

from the earliest days of Christianity

show us how we might recognize

signs of the hidden work of the Spirit

in the here and now,

in the chances

and changes

of our own lives.

 

Haven’t we all known times

when we had planned to

head for Asia,

or Bythinia –

only to find the way

blocked . . .

 

and found ourselves

directionless and

trapped in Troas.

 

 

At some urging or prompting

we may not now even remember,

we finally turned away

from the brick wall

we kept bumping up against

and found our defeated selves

on the way to Philippi . . .

 

where a so-called chance encounter

with a person

or a community

or an opportunity

we would otherwise

never have had  . . .

turned out to be

just what we didn’t know

we were looking for.

 

 

And haven’t we all

been hungry for something

that would make sense of our lives,

give meaning to our existence . . .

 

Eagerly we sought it,

not really knowing where to look,

for it was not to be found

in possessions,

career,

popularity,

fashions or fads,

purple cloth,

championship teams . . .

 

 

Then,

in the story of a stranger,

or a gathering at a place of prayer,

or a lonely sleepless night,

or the kindness of a friend,

 

into a heart opened by the Holy Spirit,

came the knowledge

that we, who had been seeking,

had been found.

 

 

The Holy Spirit invisibly working,

weaving together

the threads of

individual lives

and events

in patterns we can only see

when we look back later . . .

 

The Holy Spirit

bringing people together

in communities of faith,

moving in the life

of communities of faith

to build a Church,

moving in the life

of the Church

to recreate the world.

 

 

And what does that recreated world

look like . . .

but the magnificent

vision of the holy city Jerusalem

coming down out of heaven,

 

alight with the glory of God,

gates always open . . .

there is no more danger,

no more trouble,

no more night,

nothing to fear . . .

 

The justice and peace of Jesus

reign in the city

and joy abounds there.

 

For the river of the water of life,

bright as crystal,

runs through it,

 

and on either side

of the river

is the tree of life

with its twelve kinds of fruit

yielding year round,

 

and the leaves of the tree

are for the healing of nations.

 

The healing of the striving,

contending, warring of nations,

 

The healing of the wounds

and grief of God’s people,

 

the healing of a Creation groaning

under the burdens we have

placed upon it  . . .

 

 

The new Jerusalem,

The Kingdom of God,

The Easter City

of the new Creation,

 

is near to us

but not yet here  . . .

 

the Eden of God,

the desire of Christ,

the ongoing mission

of the Holy Spirit.

 

And what is that mission

but the creating and re-creating of the church

for the creating and re-creating of the world.

 

 

In just two weeks

we will gather on the Day of Pentecost

to celebrate the

outpouring of the Holy Spirit

on the first disciples . . .

 

the beginning of the in-spirited

life of the church.

 

But only the beginning,

for we celebrate also

the presence of the Holy Spirit

throughout the church’s life . . .

 

The Holy Spirit,

ever-living, ever-working,

ever moving in and through the Church.

 

The Holy Spirit,

ever-taking-advantage

of every opportunity

to teach, guide,

and lead God’s Church Easter-ward.

 

In these 50 Days of Easter,

this great feast of resurrection,

of new life stirring, abounding,

the Holy Spirit urges us

with eager hearts and minds

to let the winds of God’s holy springtime

blow us where they will . . .

 

that we and the world may bloom

with the risen life of Christ.

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