1 Easter 6 Year C 2013 Denver, CO Pastor Dena Williams Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Rev.

21:10, 22-22:5 John 14:23-29 The Purple Skirt The Book of Acts, the Psalm, the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of John: our lessons for today are rich and deep. They speak again, this week, of the radically inclusive love of God. They are wet with the waters of the river of life. They are filled with the work of the Spirit, the Advocate who will come. When I was about 10 years old, a pageant was held at The Edgewood Baptist Church in Rock Island, Illinois The Sunday School children dressed as Bible characters from the early church as described in the Book of Acts. I was assigned the part of Lydia, the seller of purple. My Aunt Mabelle sewed my costume. She bought cloth of deep lavender. She made me a long robe and a sash of royal blue, because this is how the flannel graph figure of Lydia was dressed in our Bible story. Later, of course, because the fabric was not to be wasted, she made me a very full skirt gathered to a waistband. Lydia’s robe required quite a bit of yardage. Not wanting to waste a single inch, Aunt Mabelle made the skirt a quite modest length with a deep hem to be let down as I grew.

2 Lydia’s robe became a long, full, gathered skirt I was expected to wear for several years. I did wear this purple skirt. New clothes of any color were a precious commodity and I was grateful. As I grew the hem was let down, leaving a series of faded lines at the bottom edge. My experience of Aunt Mabelle’s love and care for me, gives me a special fondness for the story of Lydia, the seller of purple. Lydia sold purple cloth because it was rare and expensive. The purple dye used to make the cloth was obtained from the shell of a particular species of snail which lives in the oceans of the Middle East. The snails were laboriously collected, then processed carefully to extract the purple dye. Only wealthy people wore purple. As a result, Lydia was a wealthy woman. She was the head of her household, a very unusual occurrence in those times. Her wealth protected her, to some extent. She was still, however, a woman without a husband, brother, father. Her position in the public life of the community was vulnerable. In today’s story, according to the Book of Acts, Paul and his companions extend their missionary journey to Europe for the first time. They come to Italy, to the Roman city of Phillipi to bring the Gospel to the people. They hear how a group of women gather every day at the river for prayer. Paul and his companions go to the river. They take their message of Jesus to women gathered by the river. Paul, a man, a Jew, a Roman citizen comes to bring the Gospel to women, Gentile, European women.

3 The Spirit of God’s inclusive love opens Lydia’s heart. She and her whole household are baptized, the women and children and babies, the old and young, male and female, the slaves—all members of the household. receive the Spirit of the water of the river of life. A woman, a Gentile, becomes the first European Christian. Lydia insists her home be made the center of Paul’s ministry. It is in the home of a woman, a Gentile, where the first European church was born. The Spirit of God’s love and compassion came to Lydia, a woman, a Gentile, a seller of purple. The Spirit of God’s love and compassion came to a little girl in a long gathered skirt of deep lavender with faded lines around the hem. The message of the story of Lydia is the wonder of God’s love, wide enough for all people, in all times, in all places. God’s love is as wide as the river of life flowing from the throne of God in our lesson from The Book of Revelation. By the river grow trees, bearing fruit and healing leaves for all people. It is the river of Jesus’ baptism. It is the river of Lydia’s baptism. It is the river of our baptism. The river begins in the waters of our baptism and continues to run through our lives, even to the New Jerusalem on the other side. The river flows through all our lives bringing the love, the comfort, the compassion, the healing of God to all people. Our baptismal font lives at the entrance of our worship space to symbolize our entry into the river of life. We encounter the font each time we come to worship. We find comfort, peace, courage, healing, compassion, and whatever else we need in the water flowing from the river of life.

4 We are reminded of our baptism and remember the presence in our lives of the river flowing from the throne of God. It is in John’s Gospel where we hear the story of the one who will help us remember, who will remind us of Jesus’ gift to us of life-giving water. Jesus tells his disciples: the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all I have said to you. The Spirit is sent to remind us of these words: Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Lydia and Paul tell us of God’s inclusive love. The angel shows us the river of the water of life. Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit. God’s love, the water of life, the presence of the Spirit: what else do we need? Love, life, Spirit: abundant and overflowing, more than enough to share. A Story, a true story of a congregation that learned to share love, life, and Spirit. They were small in numbers. They were once a large congregation,

5 worshipping hundreds of people back in the fifties and sixties. Then attendance fell off as the neighborhood changed. The congregation entered a sort of survival mode. There wasn’t much happening, except the necessary pieces of worship and Sunday School and an occasional Bible study class. Back when they were thriving they were very involved in missions, giving much of their time and energy to support various Christian endeavors, locally and around the globe. Such outreach gradually trickled away over the past twenty years or so. They were good people, people who cared about each other and about the church. They loved God and sought to live out their faith in their daily lives. They just seemed to lose the spirit of the one who kept their congregation alive and lively. There was a woman in the congregation. She and her husband were recently retired. She was looking around for something to do, something she would enjoy, something to make a difference in the world. A neighbor of hers, not a member of her congregation, went about once a month with a community group to visit a prison about an hour’s drive from their town. The neighbor invited our newly retired friend to go with her to the prison. The first time the metal gates clanged shut behind her, our friend knew for certain this would be a new experience. She was anxious and suddenly unsure she had anything to share in this place. She continued, however, to accompany her neighbor on these monthly prison visits. She got to know some of the women inmates.

6 She began to look forward to the visits. She listened to their stories, shared her faith, and learned much about prison life. Many of the women had children. Often the children were living hundreds of miles away with relatives or foster families. The women felt so out of touch with their children. They would say to our friend, “If only my children could hear my voice, if only I could say their prayers with them at night, sing them a song, read a book with them.” On one visit our friend took a tape recorder and some blank tapes and a children’s book with her to the prison. She asked the women to make a tape for their children. They read the children a story, sang songs, spoke bedtime prayers onto the tapes. They called their children by name. They told their children they loved them and missed them. When our friend got home, she mailed the tapes to the children of the inmates. On her next visit she took more tapes and more books. Her friends at church heard the story of what she was doing. Soon people were donating tape players, tapes, and books. Then some of her church friends asked if they could go with her to the prison. Others donated money for postage and other supplies. Then the congregation decided to make this ministry a priority. They formed teams of people to visit, to purchase books and tapes and recorders, to package and mail the books and tapes to the children. Soon the whole congregation was involved. Children were bringing their used story books. So many people wanted to participate they had to set up a rotation system for visiting the prison. Neighbors and friends from the community heard of the ministry and wanted to help.

7 Some of these folks came to worship and decided they wanted to be a part of the congregation. Our retired friend was the first prophet in this congregation to make the sharing of love, life, Spirit, a priority in her life. Soon many of God’s people were prophesying. Many experienced what it means to share the love of God, the water of life, the Spirit of Christ. The wind of the spirit blew through the congregation, bringing new life and new hope, bringing a vision to the people of God. The congregation grew in numbers, but more important the people grew in spirit and in love for others and for God. Did you hear the story of our congregation in the story of this other church? I wonder what would happen, if we renewed our focus on others? I know we probably have plenty to worry about among ourselves, but we are called by the Spirit to share God’s love with others. It’s why we exist—to take God’s love into the world— at home, at school, in our community, around the globe. Maybe our renewal will come through our existing programs. There are other needs in our community we might address as well. Is there something we can do with the resources we have to help others? Let’s think and talk about how to share with others in the weeks to come, even as we continue to consider and work on our vision for the future. Why? Because it will be in our sharing with each other, with our community, with the world, that we grow in faith and love,

8 love for one another, love for our neighbor, love for God. Through sharing we will grow into God’s future for us. I hear inward groans—we’re doing so much already! And many of you are—I know. God knows. Yet, are we able to hear the Spirit’s call, not to do more work, but perhaps to shift the focus of our work out into the world? There are others of us who could do more— others who have the skills to take leadership of a simple outreach project on behalf of our congregation. I have some ideas . . . I’ll bet you have some, too . . . They’re not huge, unreachable plans, but ideas to fit our congregation. God doesn’t call us to do more than we are able; God calls us only as we are able. Our call may not be to a complex project such as opening a food bank, maybe our call is only to make certain the children among us have food on the weekend for the summer. Lydia and Paul tell us of God’s inclusive love. The angel shows us the river of the water of life. Jesus promises us the Holy Spirit. God’s love, the water of life, the Spirit of Christ: we have it all. Now, even now, especially now, as we consider the future of our ministry, we hear God’s call to share love, life, and Spirit! Amen


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