Lydia’s Labor of Love

Labor Day, 2015

Acts 16:11-15

11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district[c] of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 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. 15 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.

She may be my favorite woman in the New Testament outside of the Gospels. I really like Lydia… and have liked her for a long time. And once you know her, I think you would like her as well. In fact, I think if Presbyterians had existed back then, she likely would have enjoyed being a Presbyterian. Lydia would have been someone many of you would have known through Rotary, maybe at Prestonwood or McGregor Country Club. She would have been asked to give a lead gift or advanced gift to a capital campaign. She reminds me of many of you who are blessed to be successful businesswomen or businessmen. She had a job that brought her a lot of wealth and prestige. She was in visiting Philippi, probably on business. This was likely a business trip for her. She was from Thyatira—about 300 miles away… Imagine taking that trip without a plane! These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

What she sold was very expensive because manufacturing that purple cloth was not easy. Dye for purple cloth was made from a juice found in minute quantities of shellfish.It took thousands of crustaceans to make a yard or two of purple cloth. They said, the purple cloth was worth it’s weight in silver. If you had purple cloth, people knew you were rich… and you belonged to the upper class… Think Gucci dealer or the Rolex watch of Roman times. Thyatira was known for the purple cloth.

I like Lydia… but not because she was wealthy and prosperous and well off. But I like her because she knew who she was and her wealth did not define her. She didn’t let wealth go to her head. And she is a person of wealth who we can admire. So often that does not seem to be the case in the Scriptures. There are lots of warnings from Jesus about being rich in the gospels. There is the story of the Rich Young Man who owned lots of property… was faithful as he followed all the commandments… and wanted to know the secret to eternal life…

The text says, Jesus loved him… and out of love told him the one thing that was getting between him and what he was seeking: his riches, his property… and the young man left Jesus – and was sad… because Jesus was asking too much- it was just too much… too much…riches were more important to him… and it was sad. And I can’t help but think Jesus was sad, because he loved him. Jesus could be challenging to those with wealth.
He told that story of the rich farmer (called the parable of the rich fool) whose main goal in life was to build wealth… save up for retirement… and live the good life only to find that before he could retire he would die…(no thought give to sharing his blessings…) and there was a judgment made about him and his life…The problem the farmer was facing was that he was too successful… What was he going to do with all those crops… what was he going to do with all those stocks and bonds… Well, he knew what to do. Truth is, he did what most of his friends probably advised him to do. Talk to your financial advisor. Invest, save, be prudent…8 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19 And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ 20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have  prepared, whose will they be?’ 21 So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” I like Lydia, because Lydia seems to get it right. No one is asking her to give up her purple cloth business in order to be baptized and follow Jesus… because I think she has it right. Her wealth did not stand between her and God.

Lydia understands something people rich and poor alike sometimes fail to understand. Dealing in purple cloth is her job… and she is blessed with a job that brings her lots of money. But it is not her vocation. Do you know the difference? A job is what you do to make a living… I want to say that your vocation is what you do to make your life! And they are sometimes the same thing, but not always.
Lydia makes a living selling expensive stuff. But she makes a life loving God… even before Paul, Timothy and Silas meet her. They meet her at a prayer meeting… likely a gentile lover of God… She’s not Jewish but she believes in God. She already believes in something larger than herself… which is a big start and it is not always the way it is with people you know. When Paul, Silas and Timothy come to town, they find her with friends praying on the Sabbath day… She is also someone who was open and ready to listen to what Paul had to say. She didn’t have her mind all made up about life… she was ready and eager to listen… which led to her conversion… and led to her insisting that they stay with her… and that she would do all she could to support them as they shared the message. Lydia is one wealthy person who got it right. She had a job… to make a living… but her vocation was her labor of love… Her vocation was not to build a life and accumulate wealth for herself… but to be of service to the living God… and to support the work of those Missionaries like Paul and Silas and Timothy… the work of the church in that time.

All you really need to know about her is summed up in this verse:15 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. She insisted that she be willing to share with them… as she opened her home to them… which makes me think this may have been a second home, by the way. More than open her home, she opened her heart.

Today I was reading about the Syrian Refugees… rejected in Hungry… but welcomed with coffee and food in Germany. What a gift! I met some people like Lydia in Turkey… The highlight of both of my trips to Turkey were meals meal with families. I remind you that these Muslims are part of the Gulen or Hizmet movement (Hizmet means service)… This movement is devoted to interfaith understanding, relief work- with an active disaster relief network, education—building universities and supporting hospitals…

My friend Art, who went on a spring trip said to one of his hosts: “I know exactly who you are… You are Presbyterian Muslims!” For that is what we are involved in as well. The Gulen movement is doing very important work in Turkey—all of it made possible because of wealthy businesspeople who invest substantial resources to the work. In our meals with families, we met many of these businesspeople. They come from all walks of life. One was a vice-President of Turkish airlines, another an I.T. expert in a big company, another a mechanic starting his own small body shop (lots of business in Istanbul!)… another a Phd Pyschologist and counselor, another ran a John Deer supply company… At the meals or in conversations, we would ask this question. “Why are you involved in the Gulen movement?” and do you know the answer was almost always the same. They’d say something like, “Well before I met someone in the movement, I was a Marxist… or a leftist… or not at all involved in the faith…” But after being introduced to Gulen and the movement… after reading about the movement… and how followers are humble… active in a life of service… I wanted to be a part of that. “

I was thinking how nice it would be if Christians could be just as clear about our lives of service and care with others. I am imagining someone asking one of you who are so very active and involved in the life of the church… in service… in education… I’m imaging a friend asking you, “Tell me why you are involved at the Kirk… or in this mission or cause…” And you would answer, “Well, I used to be this way… but then I started reading the gospels and learning about Jesus… I read about loving God and loving neighbor… and I enjoyed being around other people who taught me that there is more to life than making a living… we can make a life… and what I do, I do because it is not so much of a sacrifice (which it is)… but a labor of love.”
Imagine giving that kind of answer. I know you could… because I see Christians like Lydia and others very active in being disciples of Christ. I’ve seen people like them all my life. I grew up with them in my home church at Riverside Presbyterian … leaders of the community sacrificing time and money to the church so they can be of service.

Presbyterian Church has often attracted people of wealth and influence though we have always had blue collar members as well… who often were models of giving. Some are very rich… like the Belk family, Presbyterians, who has donated millions upon millions to help build facilities at places like Union Seminary and Davidson. I think of Hugh McColl— former chair and CEO of Bank of America who has shared his wealth with his church and many other institutions. I think of Price Gwynn, former CEO of Lance Corporation who served as Moderator of the Presbyterian Church… who also led the way to help find and fund a seminary in Charlotte. Then there are many of you, who are so generous with your time and money… to be of service…Not all are Belks, but who have the spirit… We have Lydia’s – female and male forms—among us at the Kirk. I won’t mention names… but these are the people active in the church—who could be spending their time and money elsewhere… or simply live to make more money… but they don’t … they have given of their lives to the mission and ministry of Jesus Christ at the Kirk. We wouldn’t be here without their sacrifice as well as the sacrifice of people in every economic position… who may not have equal wealth… but who do have the same goal: To be a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ… to love God… to love neighbor… and who respond with inspiring generosity of time and spirit… People like Lydia… We remember her not because she was wealthy… but because of her generosity… who she was and how she shared… who insisted that she would be able to help out with Paul, Silas and Timothy… even providing a place to stay. We remember her because her life – her service, her sacrifice was a labor… a labor of love. Thank God for the Lydia’s among us. May their tribe increase! They inspire us all to be more faithful as we seek to be of service to our Lord.