St Francis, Terriers - Easter 6 (01.05.2016)

Tony Dickinson

This morning let’s hear it for Lydia! So far as we know she’s the first person in Europe to become a Christian. She’s also, so far as we know, the first leader of a Christian congregation in Europe. And she brought the whole of her household to be baptised.

So there’s a very appropriate reading for this morning, as we celebrate the baptism of Natalie, Chloe and Sebastian as a family unit and rejoice with the Banks family over Harry’s christening. It has to be said, though, that the household of which Lydia was the head will have been very different from the average home in High Wycombe. It may not have included children. It almost certainly included her domestic servants, and it may have included the workers in Lydia’s business. She bought and sold expensive, high-quality fabric for clothes – think Armani and Hugo Boss rather than Primark.

But being a successful and wealthy businesswoman wasn’t enough. Lydia seems to have known for years that there was something missing from her life – even when she was still living and working in her home town, Thyatira, on the other side of the Aegean Sea in what is now Turkey. Thyatira was a town which had a sizeable Jewish community and from them she had learned about the one God whom Jewish people worship, who had saved his people from slavery and who showed them the right way to live, and she liked what she heard and she became part of a group of non-Jewish believers on the edge of that community.

Then, for some reason, she moved from Thyatira to Philippi. Some scholars think that she might have been widowed. Others suggest that new markets were opening up in what was an important city in the north of Greece and the cloth manufacturers and dyers in Thyatira sent her there as their agent. For whatever reason, Lydia moved to Macedonia. And she found that there was no Jewish community in her new home. But being the woman she was, she didn’t say to herself “Oh well, that’s that, then”, and go back to her old ways. She found other women who felt as she did and they gathered together regularly at the riverside to pray and to talk about God.

And that, as we have heard, is where Paul and his companions found them, having searched the city in vain for another place of worship where they could tell people about what God had done in sending Jesus. It was when she heard the Good News that Paul and his companions shared with them that God really touched Lydia’s heart. They told her how the God she had heard about in the holy writings of the Jews had entered the world in Jesus of Nazareth to bring healing (as we heard in our gospel reading) and to call people everywhere to peace and mutual forgiveness, to bring hope to those who had no hope and to summon life out of darkness. They told her how the rulers of this world had seized Jesus, tortured him, and killed him because they saw that the power in him was a threat to their power but that the love and the light and the life that were in him could not be snuffed out, not even by a cruel and painful death, and that God had raised him from death to make real his promise of new life for the world.

Lydia made up her mind that she wanted to be part of that – and that she wanted that for the people with whom she lived, including the people who worked for her. Perhaps she recognised, as Paul told the story of Jesus, that Jesus had made his life among people like them, not people like the rich customers who bought her immensely expensive cloth. Today we celebrate the fact that Natalie wants to be part of that – and that she wants it for Chloe and Sebastian. We celebrate the fact that Richard and Katie want it for Harry, as three years ago they claimed it for his big brother Ben. And we pray for them all; that their encounter with Jesus in the waters of baptism may be as life-giving as the sick man’s encounter with Jesus beside the waters of Beth-zatha and that they may know the transforming reality that Paul proclaimed to Lydia beside the river in Philippi.

Alleluia! Christ is risen.