Blogging toward Sunday

May 6, 2007

In this series, authors offer reflections on the Sunday lectionary texts.

Here
is a narrative in which a vision leads to a new practical beginning.
Paul was ready for a vision. He was seeking a way of ministry “out of
no way.” That new way was given “in a vision,” a perception of reality
outside the ordinary and beyond all conventionalism. This “chief
apostle” is “on the loose,” unencumbered and ready for what is given by
God—not a bad characterization of the church and its ministry when that
ministry is not imprisoned in old thought categories or paralyzed by
its traditions (or its property)

The
vision led to proclamation of the news. This “pre-institutional” church
was free for news that challenged all old patterns and that invited to
new life. We are not told the substance of his preaching. But we know
it from his preaching in Acts and in the Epistle, even given the
critical tension between the two. The news is that in Jesus of
Nazareth, the world has become open to God’s generosity; Paul’s
listeners are invited to generosity based on God’s bottomless mercy.
Paul did not need a vision to get “the message.” He needed a vision
only to find a venue for his preaching.

That venue, to which he
came almost randomly, (a) was in a place already known as a place of
prayer, (b) was on the day of sabbath when routines of management are
suspended and there is a patterned receptivity, and (c) was an
assemblage of women. I doubt if I would make much generically that
here, as with Dorcas, it is a woman. . .except to notice that Paul’s
subjects appear to be particularly open and receptive, likely the work
of the Spirit and not “gender advantage.”

In any case, Paul’s
“good news” reaches Lydia. We may observe two things about Lydia.
First, she listened eagerly to what was new to her…even though she was
already “a worshiper of God.” She listened and, consequently was
baptized and embraced a new life.

Second, she responded with
hospitality (v. 15). Perhaps everyone wanted to host “the visiting
preacher.” We are not told. But observe; preaching evokes hospitality,
a most crucial gift and practice in the early church (see Rom. 12:13).
We are not told more than that; but let us entertain the thought that
Lydia, newly baptized, embodied the teaching modeled by the departing
Jesus. “Like Jesus. . .like church!”

•Lydia, like Jesus, had no troubled heart (John 14:17). Indeed we are told she had an open heart.
•Lydia,
like Jesus, found that the “ruler of this age” now had “no power over
me.” She received, in her baptism, the freedom to be God’s child.
•Lydia,
from Jesus, was recruited for the new commandment of love. We only know
of her immediate hospitality, but we may extrapolate a new obedience of
life.

Try out these marks of the church embodied by Lydia:

•open heart, no troubled heart (among those so troubled by the ideology of the Right or of the Left)
•freedom, emancipated from the powers of this present age
•capable of the new obedience of love

All
these gifts, we are told, arise from good preaching that comes from a
vision beyond our control. The vision given to Paul leads to a new life
for Lydia. The spirit of Jesus never “forbids” such newness, not even
when we attempt to resist it (see vv. 6-7).