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Bethany Evangelical
Lutheran Church

Ishpeming, Michigan † Est. 1870

 
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Easter - 5/13/07

The liturgical calendar and the lectionary don’t take Mother’s Day into account.  In the church today is the Sixth Sunday of Easter and the lessons for the day continue patterns that have been developing over the past few weeks with a lesson from Acts about the early church, a lesson from Revelation with the focus now being on the new city come down from heaven, the new Jerusalem, and in the gospel from John today we get a preview of Pentecost, which we celebrate in two weeks, with Jesus’ announcement of the coming of the Advocate.

We are a lectionary based church and some would say that’s what we should go with; just say Happy Mothers Day and then proceed with the Sixth Sunday of Easter.  Every year at the pastor’s text study on the Tuesday before Mothers Day there’s talk about all the people who might be offended or hurt, people who might feel excluded if the focus is too much on mothers.  On the other hand there are others who would say we should scrap the lectionary for the day and focus on the gift that mothers are, the sacred calling of motherhood, not that it’s the only calling but that it’s an important one.

I’ve done both of those things, but the most logical thing to do is to try and find some connections that can be made between the lessons of Easter 6 and what’s on everyone’s mind, which is Mothers Day.  However, some sets of lessons are more cooperative than others in this effort.  Sometimes the connections are pretty easy to make, sometimes it’s more of a stretch. 

Today we at least have the story of a woman, the story of Lydia in the lesson from Acts.  She is not a major figure; we just have these few verses about her and then one more reference at the end of this chapter.  But she’s included for a reason, you can be pretty sure of that.  The biblical writers (Luke in this case as Acts is volume 2 of Luke’s gospel) didn’t tell stories just for the sake of telling stories.  They were theologians, making statements about God, about Jesus, about the Holy Spirit, about the church, about who is welcome, all those kinds of things.  So what about Lydia?

First of all, on Mothers Day, she is not a classic mother; in fact she may not be a mother at all.  That in itself makes her inclusion kind of interesting because we’re talking about a culture where women were valued mostly for their ability to be mothers, their ability to produce children.  A woman was defined by her husband and by the number of children, especially sons, that she was able to produce.  But Lydia was a businesswoman, a seller of purple cloth, financially independent, someone who might fit better in our world than in that of first century Palestine.  In that world, she didn’t fit the mold.  She wasn’t an outcast by any means, but she didn’t fit the mold of the ideal of that culture and I don’t think that’s an accident.  I think it’s intentional on the part of Luke. Much in the gospels and much in Acts is about the message of Jesus being spread by and among people who don’t fit the mold.

In this case, Lydia, becomes the founding member of a Christian community, a woman who doesn’t fit the mold became the founder of a church.  She couldn’t have been the founder of a synagogue; that was strictly the domain of males and apparently there weren’t enough men to establish a synagogue in Philippi.  Lydia and other Jews had to gather down by the river for prayer.  But following her encounter with Paul and Silas and her subsequent baptism, Lydia could establish a church.  She invited Paul and Silas to her home where they could interact with and encourage others in this new house church. 

Keep in mind that while all this being done by a woman may sound quite unremarkable to us, there is a freedom indicated here, freedom in Christ that breaks down unassailable barriers and crosses unthinkable boundaries.  In this account Lydia is the first European convert to Christianity as Paul’s mission had moved from Troas which was in Asia, to Macedonia, the city of Philippi which was part of Europe.  The first European Christian was a woman.

This is one example of Luke giving women a pretty prominent place in his account.  In a society that was very much dominated by males, throughout Luke and Acts, women are given greater prominence and mention than that society as a whole would have given them.          That’s something probably worth thinking about on Mothers Day.  It took the church a long time to figure it out, to realize that women could do more than teach Sunday School and make the coffee; some denominations still haven’t figured it out.  But in every denomination…women, mothers have often been the primary evangelists as they pass the faith on to their own children and teach it to the children of others.  It’s not the only thing mothers do, and mothers aren’t the only ones who do it but it is a Mothers Day connection with the theology presented in the book of Acts.

The other thing that is of note in this story is the role of baptism.  We celebrate baptism here today and while it’s just kind of mentioned in passing in this story about Lydia, in theological terms we could say that it is the key moment.  It is her baptism that gives Lydia a new identity as a Christian.  It is an identity that makes her free to go against Jewish custom and approach and speak with Paul, a man, in public.  She was free to invite Paul and his entourage, a bunch of strangers, to her house which would have been unheard of, outside the boundaries of what was thought of as proper.  She was free to be the founding member of a new church.  Lydia was a woman, a foreigner from across the Aegean Sea in Thyatira; she didn’t fit the mold, yet in baptism, in the message of the gospel, she was free to act in new ways.

It is in baptism that we as Christians find our identity.  Individually, we are named children of God; we then collectively become part of a larger family that goes beyond the boundaries of blood lines, beyond the boundaries of denomination, ethnicity, nation or any other mark of division you want to come up with.  It is in baptism that we have our unity as Christian people of God.

For Brayden and Reid, their family is about to get a lot larger.  Now that doesn’t diminish the role of Tammy and Terra as their respective mothers.  Motherhood is a special and sacred calling.  But for Terra and Tammy, for Pete and Shawn as fathers, for the grandparents and other relatives here today, extended family takes on a new meaning, a divine new meaning.   That too is worth thinking about on Mothers Day.

The role of this new extended family is to teach the baptized what all this means.  That is really a life long process that involves teaching and learning about the faith and it also involves living the faith.  Baptism has always involved a teaching component which used to happen first but now is most often later; we call it Sunday School and Confirmation.  We call it the catechism.  But even more, in my opinion, it involves learning the Bible.  It’s in the Bible that we find the great stories of the faith, stories about people in relationship with God, people who represented something different, the alternative way that is always opening us to the new hope and possibilities of the God in whose name we baptize, the God we name as Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Mothers have always played an important role in the teaching and modeling of the faith.  But united in baptism, mothers are not alone.  Like I said, in today’s lesson it’s not clear whether Lydia was a mother or not, but she played a role in expanding the mission of the church by welcoming Paul and Silas to set up shop in her home so that others could learn about Jesus and be baptized.  Her own heart opened by the Lord to hear the gospel, she did what she could do to make the alternative of the gospel available to others.  Some of you do that or have done it in your calling as a mother; others have done it in other callings.  But united in Christ, united in the baptismal family, mothers and everyone else, we all have family responsibilities.

That too is something to think about on this day of baptism, Mothers Day, the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

 
 

Bethany Lutheran Church
715 Mather Avenue
Ishpeming, MI 49849

Phone: 906-486-4351
Fax: 906-486-9640
contact@bethanyishpeming.org

Rev. Warren Geier, Pastor
pastor@bethanyishpeming.org

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“Whoever
welcomes
one such child in my name
welcomes me, and whoever
welcomes me welcomes
not me
but the
one who
sent me.”
 
 

 

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