In those times when we are worn out and weary to our very souls, we need an opportunity to gather at the river, an invitation to come and worship by the river, a moment to come by the waters and let God open our hearts, to listen eagerly, and to be transformed.
August 15, 2021
Acts 16: 11-15
Pastor Heather McColl
Acts 16: 11-15
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.
Lydia Acts 16: 11-15
We are not going to have a “normal” sermon per se this morning. Instead I would like us to gather at the river.
Here’s what I mean by this: All week, I have pondered why the Spirit was so silent when it came to sharing Lydia’s story. I tried looking at various translations of the text. I tried stepping away from the text. I tried forcing the words for the sermon to come forward but still there was silence. That is until Friday morning….a stirring of Spirit came to me and simply said do what Lydia did. So I went back to the text and read it again. What I discovered is that Lydia goes to the river to worship. At the river, she encounters someone who encourages her faith. By the waters, God opens her heart. By the waters, she listens eagerly. By the waters, she is transformed.
The first couple of times, OK every time I read Lydia’s story this week, I kept skipping over this detail. I kept missing the significance of how the water renewed, restored, and empowered Lydia to become the person God created her to be. I kept missing how the water drew Lydia to its shores as a worshiper of God, how the water drew Paul and his companions to its shores because they saw it as a place of prayer. Every time I read Lydia’s story this week, I kept missing the invitation, the invitation to come and sit by the water, the invitation to come and simply be at the water. I kept missing the invitation for us to come and gather at the water as a community of faith.
The reason for this is because I was too focused on the details of the story, details which clamored for my attention, details which someone else said was too important and the whole point of the story. I kept missing the invitation because I was too focus on the details, details which distracted me from an encounter with God.
For Lydia, the encounter at the water transformed her. The encounter at the water empowered her to become the leader of the Philippian church. The encounter at the water strengthened her faith. The encounter at the water opened her eyes to the Kingdom of God in her midst.
For me, and I think it is safe to say, for us, as a community of faith, we need an encounter at the river right now. We need an opportunity to gather at the river, We need an invitation to come and worship by the river. We need a moment to come by the waters and let God open our hearts, to listen eagerly, to be transformed.
Because for me, and I think it is safe to say after having conversations with so many people this week, we are tired. We are worn out. We are weary to our very souls. It has been a long year and a half.
The constant change is wearing us down. The not knowing what’s next is draining. Over the last year and a half, there have been so many details thrown at us, details which distract us, details which clamor for our attention, details which do not show the full picture of how God is at work in our world.
For me and I think it is safe to say for all of us, in this new reality we find ourselves in, where everything clamors for our attention, where even the simplest tasks wears us out, for me and I think it is safe to say for all of us after having conversations with so many people this past week, we are finding it hard to simply be. We are finding it hard to step away from the cycle of constant change. We are finding it difficult to find that quiet center so that we may be restored, renewed and transformed.
Knowing this is how I am feeling and my guess is that many of us are feeling the same way as well, I am inviting everyone to gather at the river. To get comfortable wherever you are, to pause, to focus on our breathing. I’m inviting us to transform our narrative, to go from worn out weary people to worshipers of God who gather at the river because we know it is a place to pray. I am inviting us to listen to the water as it runs over the rocks, washing away all that separates us from God, washing away all that distracts us from seeing where God is at work in our world. I would like to listen to the water running over the rocks as it invites us to gather at the river and simply be. I am inviting us to follow Lydia’s example, to open our hearts and minds to God’s word as we go down to river to pray
[Two minutes of relaxing audio of river waters running over rocks]
I invite you to come back to this sanctuary and we do, may we remember that “as the only Philippian convert named in Acts, Lydia was quite possibly the leader and patron of the Philippian church. She used her wealth to establish the community. She risked her reputation as a businesswoman to house foreigners released from prison”, none of which would have happened if she had not gone to the river to pray, none of which would have happened if she had not gathered at the river and encountered someone who encouraged her faith. Lydia was a leader and patron of the Philippian church, none of which would have happened if she had not opened her heart to God and simply listened.
As disciples of Christ, as servants of the one who taught us to pray may we follow Lydia’s example, finding time to renewal, finding time for encounters with God, May we follow Lydia’s example and go down to the river to pray.
See also: Theology Tuesday for Sunday, August 15, 2021 – Lydia Acts 16: 11-15.