Lydia Shows Us Life in the Church
Sixth Sunday of Easter [c] May 26, 2019
9 And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. 11 So, setting sail from Troas, we made a direct voyage to Samothrace, and the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city some days. 13 And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. 14 One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was said by Paul. 15 And after she was baptized, and her household as well, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay." And she prevailed upon us.
In the Name of Jesus.
What do we know of Lydia? Not much. Scripture mentions her name only a few times, and doesn’t give a lot of information about her. But there her name stands. Written down by the hand of St. Luke in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles.
We can contemplate that for a moment. Here is this woman living in the city of Philippi. She’s no royalty, queen, or princess. She’s not involved in some sort of palace intrigue to overthrow a king or kill a Caesar. She’s no great historical figure such as Helen of Troy or Cleopatra.
And yet, here’s this Lydia, and the Holy Spirit has her name inscribed in the Bible. As the Church reads about the acts of the Apostles, how they brought the Word of Christ from Jerusalem into Asia Minor and Greece and Rome, how these Apostles kept the Church in the pure doctrine of the Gospel even over against the teachers of the Law, how they were persecuted by pagan governors and judges throughout the Roman empire—as this early history of the Apostles is given to be read in the Church, we read also this name, Lydia.
In the books of history of this world’s great names and powerful kingdoms, Lydia is not mentioned—she’s inconsequential.
But not to us. Not to the Church.
Here is this name Lydia. Holy Scripture doesn’t tell us a lot. The details are sparse. But what we do know is what binds us to Lydia. She came from Thyatira. That’s in Asia Minor, in what we today call Turkey. Then she moved to Philippi, a major city in Greece. Why the move? We’re not told. No husband is mentioned. Was Lydia a widow? Did that have something to do with her move? We’re not told.
We are told that she was a “seller of purple.” That tells us something. Purple die was made from an expensive procedure to extract it from a certain shell fish. Purple clothing was for the wealthy and the royalty.
So it would seem that Lydia is what we might call today an independent businesswoman. She was well to do, for she had a house and household impressive enough to serve as a hotel for Paul and his delegation.
But none of that would have the angels in Heaven rejoicing. The angels in Heaven rejoice over one sinner given the gift of repentance, over one person brought into the life of the Church by the forgiveness of sins.
The angels in Heaven rejoice over Lydia. She was a woman who joined with other women to hear the Word of the Lord. We don’t know how this actually worked. Where were the men? It’s the men, the husbands and fathers, who are given to protect their wives and bring their families to the Lord’s gifts. Why are no men mentioned? Was this a group of widows meeting to hear the Lord’s Word? We’re not told.
Luke, who was traveling with Paul, tells us,
And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together. One who heard us was a woman named Lydia, from the city of Thyatira, a seller of purple goods, who was a worshiper of God.
Then we are told something else about Lydia. The Lord gave her a gift. Acts 16:14:
The Lord opened [Lydia’s] heart to give attention to what was said by Paul.
That is the work of the Holy Spirit. That is the gift of life. Amelia and Haley, as you have memorized it from the Catechism,
I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and kept me in the true faith.
In the same way he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on Earth, and keep it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.
In this Christian Church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
Lydia, by gift of the Holy Spirit working through the Word, had her heart opened to give attention to the Word. She heard the Gospel. The Lord gathered her into the Church. In the Church, she daily and richly lived as one forgiven by the Lord.
We give thanks that Lydia’s name was given to us in Holy Scripture, and that the Church on Earth will hear of her as the Scriptures continue to sustain us until our Lord comes again to judge the living and the dead.
It was no small gift to Lydia.
It was the preaching of Jesus Christ crucified. It was the apostolic doctrine bringing people to the fellowship of the Lord’s Table. It was the knowledge given Lydia that no one makes himself righteous by deeds of the Law, but that the sinner has eternal life by faith in Christ Jesus.
Amelia, you were given the middle name of Faith. So that, Amelia, is your confirmation verse, Galatians 3:11-13:
That no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them." Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law.
This gift of faith given to Lydia is a living faith.
It’s not just a quantity of knowledge, it’s not like reading an Algebra book to understand equations, so, as Christians we read a book about Jesus. Rather, it is a living faith, a faith holding on to the promise of God, so that even in the midst of the deepest doubt or the worst despair, by faith we know that are baptized into Christ and, by God’s promise, by the oath he gives on his own Name, we belong to him.
Haley, you were given the middle name of Elisabeth. Elisabeth is a beautiful Hebrew word—it’s throughout Scripture; it means, God’s oath, or God’s promise. Your name is a testimony (the same testimony given to Lydia) that in the promise of Baptism you are clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and by that promise you belong to the inheritance of eternal life. So that, Haley, is your confirmation verse, Galatians 3:27-29:
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
In the historical timeline of this world, Lydia’s is not a great name. No kingdoms under her, no palace intrigues, no jilted lovers starting wars.
But her name is consequential to the Church. She received an oath from God, Baptism for her and her family. By this oath, she is our sister in Christ Jesus. According to this promise, she is rescued from justifying herself and she is brought into the life of faith, into the Church.
For in the Church, there is the forgiveness of sin. There is the preaching of the Gospel. There is the doctrine of the Apostles. There is the Body and Blood of Lydia’s Lord and ours. In his Body and Blood, he gives himself to us by oath for the forgiveness of our sins.
By this Body and Blood and Blood of the Lord, he binds us in fellowship with Lydia and with the whole Church which has preceded us and which will follow us. It is this faith which had Lydia saying to Paul and his companions, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.” [Acts 16:15]
And it is this faith which has us rejoicing in serving one another.
In the Name of Jesus.