Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Life Lesson from Lydia

Father’s Day has come and gone, and I find myself thinking about the messages loving fathers give their daughters:

Be yourself.

Find your voice.

Use your gifts wisely.

I grew up without a father, and the messages I heard sounded a little different:

Be quiet.

Don’t ask questions.

Understand your place, and make sure you stay in it.

Those were supposedly messages from my loving heavenly father, carefully, consistently communicated by my church community.

This month’s Synchroblog topic is “What do you wish you knew 10 or 20 years ago? If you could go back 10 or 20 years and tell yourself one thing, what would it be?”
Voula Kalapoda of BiblicalTours.Gr in Philippi

What I wish I knew is that a loving parent celebrates each child’s uniqueness.

Longs to help gifts develop fully.

Looks for ways to see potential put to use.

In March my husband Whitney and I traveled in Northern Greece with our new friend and wonderful Biblical Tours guide, Voula Kalapoda. We spent time in Philippi, walked along the river where Lydia encountered the Apostle Paul, stood on the tile floor where historians believe the first house church met, traced the expansion of that house into an octagonal meeting place, then into a larger structure.

Somehow, I had not realized that Lydia was the first European convert, that the church in her home was the first Christian church in Europe
On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us. (Acts:16:13-15)
Voula put that short passage into context for us, explaining that the Jews built their synagogues near water, but that no synagogue could be built if there weren’t at least ten men. So the fact that the women were gathered to pray by the river suggests there was no synagogue, no strong Jewish community.

Instead, there was a non-Jewish woman from Thyratira, in nearby Turkey, a woman active in trade, head of her own household.

Reading Luke’s simple account of the interaction, picturing the quiet scene by the rapid, narrow river, I think of how differently it might have gone:

Paul, seeing no men to interact with, could have walked off in search of a more fitting audience.

Krenides River outside the walls of Philippi
Or, after talking with the women, he might have insisted they go bring their husbands or male representatives to find out more.

He could have refused Lydia’s hospitality.

Moved on to the next city.

Note the hint of hesitation when Lydia invites them to her house: 
When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” And she persuaded us.
The word translated in the New International Version as “invited”, “parekalesenis,” in other places is rendered “begged”, "besought," "urged." Literally, it means, “exhorted," or "constrained,” far more assertive than a simple invitation.

And the word translated “persuaded,” the Greek “parebiasato,” means “to force contrary to (nature), i.e. compel (by entreaty) -- constrain.”

Luke’s account suggests that Paul’s first inclination would have been to say no to the idea of basing his ministry in Lydia’s home, but he heard and was moved by her energetic appeal.

The text says “we stayed several days” in Philippi. That stay included an overnight in prison, then a brief visit back to Lydia’s house: 
After Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and sisters and encouraged them. Then they left. (Acts 16:40)
Apparently that young church was growing fast, if there were already brothers and sisters to encourage.

But I find myself wondering: how many other entreaties have been ignored, or dismissed, in other places, by leaders less willing to be constrained?

How many churches died before they started, because a woman’s gifts were overlooked, or a woman’s hospitality refused?

As a child, I worshiped in a denomination which allowed women missionaries to plant churches in Africa, but wouldn't let those same missionaries speak from the pulpit in their churches back home.
Possible site of the first church in Philippi; an octagonal church,
then larger temple, built over what may have been Lydia's home

As a young woman, I attended a retreat on the gifts of the spirit, and after faithfully filling out the simple survey I was given, was told I couldn’t possibly have the gifts my survey said I had: Leadership? Teaching? The seminarian summoned to set me straight assured me I had made a mistake.

There have been more times than I can count when I’ve seen women’s gifts offered, and rejected.

When my own gifts were discounted.

When I’ve felt called to step forward, and then told, firmly, to step back.

What’s lost when our energies are spent wrestling with the millennium-old questions:

Why would God give gifts he doesn’t want us to use?

Why would he call us to teach, lead, speak, when those who confidently assert his will are certain we should sit in silence?

Trace back through the history of the church and there are stories of women blazing like the stars of Philippians 2:15.

But how many more women hid their light under a bushel out of deference to the voices that said “go ahead and shine, but not here, not now, not this way, not that.”

How many have stuffed down the anger that grows, uninvited, when offerings are rejected, or second-guessed, when thoughts tentatively expressed are swept aside, or interrupted, when attempts to be obedient to the deepest inner callings are dismissed as misguided, inappropriate, rebellious.

And how many more have run from the church, the faith, from God himself, rather than listen to the endless, fruitless arguments about who is greater, who is less, who gets to lead, who has to follow.

What I’d like to say to my younger self, to my lovely, strong, spirited daughters, granddaughter, nieces, cousins, friends, is this: Be who God made you to be. In freedom. And with joy.

walls and steps of Philippi
But it’s not that easy.

So instead, I say this: learn early to hear and know God’s voice.

Spend time in his word, in prayer, in listening.

Pay attention to the spirit behind the voices you hear.

Learn to recognize pride, control, self-righteousness, envy.

Be led by mercy, grace, and love.

When the first answer is no, don’t be afraid to ask again.

Like Lydia, be ready to “urge, exhort, constrain.”

When someone steps on your toe, forgive and keep on walking.

When someone slams a door in your face, grieve, regroup, and look for another door.

Envision a church making full use of all its gifts, all its members, male and female, young and old, creatively, wisely, freely, with joy.

Don’t let anger, or grief, or fear shut you down, close you out, or cloud your mind.

Hold firm to the knowledge that you are a well-loved daughter, knit together with care for purposes far beyond those imagined by anyone eager to define you by what you’re not allowed to do.
 I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. (Ephesians 3:16-19)

This is the fifth in a series, Texts in Context, revisting two formative weeks spent in Greece in March 2014Earlier posts: 

It's also part of the June Synchroblog, "If I Could Tell Myself One Thing." Other links are posted below:

As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Just click on   __comments below to see the comment option.