Easter 6, C
Acts 16:9-15, Revelations 21:10, 22-22:5, John 14:23-29
Have you ever been homesick? That uprooted, yearning, disconnected feeling? Poet and philosopher Rumi describes the sensation this way,
“There is a candle in your heart, ready to be kindled.
There is a void in your soul, ready to be filled.
You feel it, don’t you?”
Do you think Lydia knew that empty, lost feeling? I suspect Lydia knew homesickness. Lydia fascinates me. We know little about her. She is specifically mentioned only twice in the scriptures – what we read today and a throwaway line later in Acts saying Paul went to her house after he gets out of jail. We actually don’t even know her name. “Lydia” is what is called an ethnicon. It isn’t what her mother or her brother would have called her. It means “the Lydian woman”. It denotes her birthplace – Lydia of Asia Minor, in which Thyatira is a small city. She is far enough in life events and geography from her birth home that her very name has been lost.
Paul meets up with her in Philippi, a leading city of Macedonia. Founded by Philip of Macedon in 356 BCE, it was initially a bit of a backwater. By the time our heroes met there, however, it had been rediscovered by Emperor Augustus as an ideal place for retired army officers who had faithfully served him. It had become a leading Roman colony. The Roman Empire is well known for its architecture, its infrastructure, its art. It is definitely not known for its emphasis on gender equality. In the manner of all Roman society, Philippi would have been exceedingly patriarchal. Yet here, in a place of prayer, Paul finds Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. That means that she dealt in exceedingly expensive cloth, whose use was limited by law to the elite classes. She listens and learns and is moved by the Holy Spirit. There is no mention of a Mr. Lydia – by her instigation she and her household are baptized, and her (Gentile) home opened to Paul and his companion.
One commentator writes of Lydia that she is the contemplative Mary and the active Martha all rolled into one (Ronald Cole-Turner, FEASTING ON THE WORD).
We know why Paul does the things he does. The Spirit drives him forth. In this case, in the text just before our lectionary selection starts, the Spirit has warned him off two travel plans he had in mind. It nudges him to Philippi with the vision we heard this morning, the man of Macedonia pleading for his help. We never meet the man. We meet Lydia instead.
Almost certainly raised a gentile, Lydia clearly hungers for something more. Her restless searching made her a “God worshipper” – someone following Judaism, but not yet a confirmed convert. Ronald Cole-Turner writes, “She comes to worship because she is hungering for something more in life, something beyond the commercial success she has apparently achieved. She is hungering for more because that restless Spirit, who is surely in us all before we ever know it, has stirred up a holy longing in her soul.” Her heart and mind, open to the Spirit, find a home in the message Paul brings.
In Revelations, John of Patmos writes for a community that knows homesickness. Revelations was written in 80 or 90 AD. The people who lived when Jesus lived are dead or very, very old. The temple was destroyed by the Romans in about 70 AD. It is difficult for us to truly appreciate the meaning of the destruction of the temple. We lament the destruction of sacred places when it occurs from time to time. But the temple was so much more than a simple sacred space. The temple was considered God’s physical home, the Holy of Holies. This place defined not just the Jewish people, but their relationship to God. Its destruction signified exile, dispersion, disgrace, captivity, repression, a tenuous existence as a faithful people.
John of Patmos brings them back home to God in vivid, open, flowing terms. In the early church, New Jerusalem was seen as a metaphor for the church. Any physical temple becomes irrelevant. God IS the temple, and God is a constant shining presence in New Jerusalem – in the lives of the men and the women who carry forth God’s vision. There abides the river of the water of life. There we find abundance and healing and light. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there.
We all live with events and circumstances that leave us feeling uprooted and alone. An accidental glance in the mirror, improperly prepared for day starkly reveals the passage of decades – not years, decades. Significant portions of my physical self are now falling out, drooping down or have gone on seemingly permanent, unauthorized hiatus. Sudden unpredictable changes in health status turn lives upside down. Our city is slowly absorbing recent news of a major job loss that will leave no one unaffected. It can leaves us in danger of longing for the “back then”, the “back there”, restless for the “something else.” CS Lewis, in Pilgrim’s Regress suggested that we are all homesick, homesick for someplace we’ve never been. Therein lies the key, I believe. Not in looking back to the used to bes, might have beens, could have hads, but deep into ourselves now, where God in Christ has come to set up housekeeping. Augustine of Hippo says, “Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.”
Jesus was leaving, turning his disciples’ lives upside. His bequest lives on today. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
In a very short time, we will have the chance to “Pass the Peace.” Think for just a moment what you are offering as you hold out your hand and say “God’s peace” or “The peace of the Lord”. We offer each other a refuge, a home, a small taste of the peace which passes all understanding. With Lydia, may we throw open our spiritual doors to the new life of the living Christ. May we learn to offer God’s peace to all who are homesick or heartsick, who are hungry, weary or alone. May they see his face shining in our lives, his name on our foreheads. Amen.