We welcome Rev. Stephen Filyer to worship this morning. Steve has prepared this message for both our on-line worship and will be speaking in the sanctuary while Pastor Jim is on holidays for the next 2 weeks. We are grateful to him for joining us, and grateful to you for choosing to stay connected with your church family.
Once again, our opening prayer is the Prayer of St. Francis, a prayer of dedication and faith that draws us into true worship of God, as it calls us to be a faithful reflection of Him in the world:
Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console;
to be understood and to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen
Song: Come On My Soul (Rend Collective)
Message (Part One): “The Power of a Woman’s Witness” – Acts 16
My first message here in Kingsville was supposed to have been a few weeks ago on Mother’s Day. But Covid-19 precautions cut that short. Over these past few weeks as we have all complied with the request to remain at home many of us have used the power of the Internet in order to stay connected. Pastor Bagley has provided thoughtful messages of encouragement and provided opportunities within them for your own reflection. In order that he might have a short, but well-deserved break, I have agreed to write the Website message for a couple of weeks. This is part one of two. We will conclude this in next weekend’s posting.
Based on Pastor Jim’s “Reflection” questions and as an introduction for today’s message I have a short quiz for you. It consists of just two fill-in-the-blank questions:
• “I want to do ......” “I want to go …....”
Brenda and I still hope to travel to Alberta in late August to help celebrate her Mom’s 95th Birthday. We hope but we have no assurance that we can. What dreams has this time of isolation created within you? In today’s message we are going to take an exotic trip back in time without having to find our passports, embark on a Cruise ship, or having to enter an aircraft cabin.
• “I want to do...” “I want to go…”
A WORTHY GOAL
How do those two desires relate to today’s message title: “The Power of a Woman’s Witness” based on verses from Acts 16? Before we discover who that brave woman was, I need to first set the stage by beginning with a man who was also trying to answer similar questions:
- “I want to do…” “I want to go…”
So first we will start with Paul, who we now know, was a very successful multi-cultural, Missionary Apostle. But that was, as yet, all in the future. Once he had begun to follow Jesus, Paul’s goal, his deep desire, was to be Jesus’ messenger to the exotic eastern world. And back in Jerusalem, the original Church of Jesus-followers had given their blessing to these efforts by commissioning the members of Paul’s Mission Team to go to that non-Jewish world with the story of Jesus.
- “I want to do…” “I want to go…”
A REVISED DREAM
Paul’s first Mission Trip to the island of Cyprus had included Barnabus and the youthful John Mark. Sadly, it was a disaster. Mark was so homesick that Paul and Barnabus were forced to go on alone.
But Paul did not give up. Regrouping, this time with Silas and another young protégé named Timothy, Paul was soon ready to try again. Heading north-east, they explored mission opportunities in both of the provinces that made up the furthest Eastern border of the Roman Empire. But again, nothing went right. Well, it didn’t really go wrong either. But no matter how hard they tried they just could not seem to make it into exotic-sounding Bithynia, the nearest Asian province:
Luke writes in Acts 16:6b-7 that they were “forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia.
7And when they had come up to Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them.
8So they passed by Mysia…”
Interesting and mysterious words: “forbidden” and “did not allow.” A strange response from God to a seemingly spiritual dream.
Have you ever felt that God had closed a door to what could have been a valuable mission outreach or even to a very personal wish or desire? How did you feel? How did you respond?
FRUSTRATING A DREAM
Then one night, Paul had the dream. Clear as day, he could see a man beckoning and calling him westward. Acts 16:9-10 recounts that event:
9During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”
10After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.
TURNING TOWARDS EUROPE
The nearest town between them and the Aegean Sea was Troas. From there they would be able to get passage to sail westward over towards Greece. As Acts 16:11-12 recounts:
11From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis.
12From there we traveled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.
Although this City was on the far eastern edge of the Roman Empire, it was more than an outpost. Philippi was very favoured—it even had a medical school. The citizens, many of whom were retired army officers, paid no taxes and, very important for next week’s conclusion, if arrested they were to be free from the fear of physical abuse by their government officials.
Apparently, most of Philippi’s citizens worshipped the politically approved religious cult which was based on the Roman Caesars. The reason that we know that most of this city was Gentile was that it did not have a Jewish synagogue. The Jews worshippers of that day had a custom that as soon as any town or city had ten Jewish men, they would then set up a synagogue and begin holding services. But there was no such group in Philippi. On the Sabbath, the usual Jewish worship day, Paul and the rest of his small Mission Team headed out through the town’s gates and went down to the river.
Did you notice those gates? Gates have always been important for two reasons. Gates keep out. Gates can allow in. These gates were there to keep out other religions. The Roman Empire had a law that only religious groups that had been officially approved of by Rome were permitted to gather inside the town limits. But, in the words of the old gospel song, “Down by the Riverside” was “fair game.” These local cultural regulations meant that Paul’s Mission Team were forced to take that short journey through those gates and to travel on the path that led down to the river’s edge. And now, here is where we finally find the ladies. They too had gathered “Down by the Riverside.” Paul’s group discovered a number of them praying on that “Sabbath” or Saturday morning. In Acts 16:13 we read:
13On 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.
Aha! “The Power of a Woman’s Witness.” Fortunately, none of these women appear to have thought it out of place when Paul sat down and like any well-trained Jewish Rabbi, began to provide religious instruction.
THE SPOTLIGHT PICKS OUT LYDIA
And that was the moment when the spotlight on the scene shifted to one of the ladies. Her name was Lydia, but she was not from Philippi. She is described in Acts 16:14 like this:
14One of those listening was a woman from the City of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth.
Let me say it again. Lydia was not from Philippi. I am convinced that God has a sense of humour. Why else would we have platypus and elephants? I hope you will see the irony here. Lydia was from that mysterious eastern area that Paul had been so desperate to enter with the message of Jesus’ Good News!
“Lydia” was the name of a Province in Asia Minor. While Paul was praying and trying to get into forbidden Asia, God was drawing towards him a mysterious lady from Western Asia who was named after one of its’ Provinces—“Lydia.” Had she been trying just as hard to find God?
• “I want to do…” “I want to go...”
Did any of your frustrated dreams eventually turn out to be God’s appointment for you? How did God’s NO or His apparent lack of answer lead to a positive result?
There were still challenges and obstacles to navigate, but Luke writes here in Acts 16:14b that in a city where most people worshipped Roman Emperors as gods: “She [Lydia] was a worshiper of [the only] God.”
Back in her hometown of Thyatira, the famous woolen industry had cooperated with trade groups that produced unique dyes. The city was especially famous for the clothing made from this purple-red dyed cloth. More importantly, these expensive garments were highly valued throughout the Roman Empire.
For Lydia of Thyatira to then be able to import, export and market these types of garments while living in a Roman colony like Philippi meant that she would have been very wealthy. But that did not give Lydia a free pass. Worshippers of a Jewish God were barely tolerated in Philippi, a city that worshipped Caesar.
GOD MET HER
But that morning by the side of the river something changed within Lydia as she listened to this visiting Jewish rabbi with the Roman name of Paul. He spoke of the God of their Fathers entering into our world in the person of someone named Jesus. This Jesus had taught, healed, and lived in such a way that his followers were convinced that he truly was God revealed in flesh and blood. But then something terrible had happened. Jesus was betrayed, captured, condemned and killed. The Roman government had pronounced his death penalty. Yet unbelievably, his followers claimed that this apparently defeated Jesus had been raised alive right up out of his grave and had given them a commission to teach his truths to the entire world!
AND SHE RESPONDED
This woman who had been seeking after God felt something stir within her soul. This was what she had been searching for! Acts 16:14b says:
14The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.
It is here that we first see “The Power of a Woman’s Witness.” At that moment Lydia knew that it had been worth travelling over into Eastern Europe. She knew what she must do. She went and got all of her household and told them Jesus’ amazing story. She must have been very persuasive for in spite of living in a City dedicated to Caesar, all of her household were baptized into the name of Jesus.
But she did not stop there. Luke writes here in Acts 16:15:
15When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home.
By then Lydia had learned more about Paul, Luke, Silas and Timothy and the motivation powering their “new” European Mission Trip. She demanded that they move in with her. “If you consider me a believer in the Lord,” she said, “come and stay at my house.” Luke then simply adds: “And she persuaded us” (Acts 16: 15). This talented and determined woman became their protector and providing patron in Philippi. That new relationship would eventually be a lifeline and a God send for Paul and his ministry for Jesus.
Is there someone in your life who has been an encourager or supporter in a time of loss or discouragement? How did that build you up?
Have you been a mentor or help to someone in a difficult time? How did that build you up?
IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE SUCCESS
Let’s step back for a moment and see this event in its cultural setting. Paul, the Missionary Apostle, was about to do what had not yet been done. He was crossing over national, linguistic, religious and cultural boundaries, as he headed westward into this new continent for Jesus. This was the same Paul who wrote in Galatians 3:28 that: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Now he was about to entrust this new diverse European Church into the protective hands of an Asian businesswoman living within an Empire ruled by an increasingly unstable Caesar. From that you can be sure that Paul was not a small-minded man, not one who was captivated by the racial attitudes or by the cultural beliefs of his day.
And please do not underestimate the role played by Lydia or the significance of her actions on a number of levels. This woman, originally from the very area that Paul had been hoping to evangelize, had just become the very first Christian in Europe. Her household had just become the very first Church in Europe. In that era there were NO churches like ours today. Instead, almost ALL “churches” met and gathered in people’s homes. Only on rare occasions was Paul able to rent a Hall for “church” use. Churches were literally “house” churches. By inviting them into her home, Lydia was offering to foot all of their bills, offering to pay for all of their expenses. Because her business success as a “purple” agent now gave her some local status or protection in this Roman-dominated City of Philippi, she could now sponsor Paul and the rest of his Mission Team.
But…as in real life everywhere…there was trouble coming. So as those old radio serials used to urge, “Tune in next week for our next thrilling adventure.”
• “I want to do…” “I want to go...”
Many famous Bible characters had dreams that took time to come true. Yet they “kept on believing.” None of us know when that needed “break” will take place. “In times like these” how can we keep trusting and looking for Jesus’ answer?
Dear Heavenly Father,
We are inspired by men like the Apostle Paul, and women like Lydia, people who heard your call and chose to obey it. People whose desire was to follow you, even at great personal cost.
We confess that we are often drawn to an easy and safe kind of Christianity, but you are asking us to give our whole selves to You; inviting us to live life as an adventure that will include uncertainty and risk. And yet, this is where we will find you. This is the life of faith.
Strengthen us, Lord, because our inclination isn’t towards Your fullness. Be gentle to us Father, because in our weakness we choose our own ways.
For those of us who are sick, we pray that we will receive both healing and the strength to endure. And for those of us who feel overwhelmed, we ask You to help us to draw closer to Your presence and Your embrace.
Give us wisdom Lord, as the stress of our times leaves it in short supply. May Your people be the beacon of light to the nation that You have called us to be!
We pray in the name of Jesus.
Song – Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus (Casting Crowns)
The Lord bless you and keep you,
The Lord make His face to shine upon you.
The Lord turn His face toward you,
And give you peace, Amen