The Door Will Be Opened: No Exceptions
Have you ever had a vision from God? Be honest. Some of us have, but aren’t so sure we should claim it as “from God.” Some of us haven’t had such a vision, but want to believe we have. I tend to believe that you have had a vision from God even if you haven’t realized it was from God.
I think we know we have had a vision from God when something pulls us up from our life and calls us to open a door that has been closed. For example, a few years ago, former friends and partners in Lincolnton came to Joanie and me and said, “Our life is in shambles, so it’s time for you to go.” Joanie and I pretty quickly saw a door open to return home to be with family. That door had been closed for almost a decade for many reasons. There is no doubt in my mind that this was a vision from God. In the midst of this difficult news, God planted a seed in our minds. That’s what God does. God opens doors that have been closed to people.
Last week, we read about a vision that came to Peter that called him to open the church to Gentiles. Today, we are going to read about a vision which came to Paul that called him to go to Europe for the first time and open doors there.
But first, I wonder: in your visions, do you hear the call to open the door? If you haven’t had such a vision from God, then I beg you – I challenge you – to start praying for one. God has amazing things set out for you to do. Open your heart, open your eyes, open your ears and listen.
Now to the book of Acts, chapter 16:
They went through the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia. When they had come opposite Mysia, they attempted to go into Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them; so, passing by Mysia, they went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
Pay attention to this vision. Paul and his troupe are traveling, and it’s like the spirit is guiding them. Sorta, at least. The Spirit is sounds more like a pinball machine bouncing the band of missionaries around from place to place. The ball heading in one direction, but then the Spirit swats it back in another direction in an effort to beep the ball moving towards a final goal.
Then, all of a sudden there’s this vision which comes to Paul. A vision of a who? A man, right?! (Remember that.)
And where is the man from? Macedonia.
And Macedonia is in Europe, what we now call Greece. So, this European man is calling to Paul to do what? Come on to Europe and help.
And what does Paul do about his vision? Immediately, he heads to Europe!
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.
Ironic that when it’s prayer time, the women are there, but not men! (Might this true today? Men, we need to get together more, to pray together more!)
It’s also ironic that men go out looking for something not really knowing where it is and end up talking to a woman who gives them directions to her house. Sounds a lot like men who don’t want to stop and ask for directions, and need the help of women to find the way!
Also, remember they came to Macedonia because Paul had a vision of a man asking them to come. But, do they find this man? No, they find Lydia. Not a man, but a woman. What might this mean?
Perhaps the Spirit knew that Paul and his band of travelers wouldn’t respond if it had been a vision of a woman. Perhaps, the Spirit – recognizing the male dominated society of Paul’s day – used the vision as a strategy to get Paul to Macedonia to meet Lydia because she was just the person to crazk the door of the early church open to women. Sometimes we have to be pulled by someone we trust to discover the amazingness in someone we wouldn’t have otherwise trusted.
Now, a little about Lydia. From the scripture we learn that she is:
- A business woman (dealer in purple cloth – a material that was expensive, difficult to make, and affordable only to the elite)
- A gentile – she is not Jewish
- A foreigner – from city of Thyatira and living in Macedonia (Greece, Europe)
- A God worshipper – maybe not Jewish, but certainly worshipping the God of Abraham
This last point is very interesting. The word used for Lydia is sebomai (σέβομαι) which refers to a Gentile who accepted the one God of Judaism and attended the synagogue but did not follow all the details of the Jewish way of life. Paul approaches this Gentile God worshipper, and shares the good news of Jesus Christ. The result: Lydia decides to be baptized as a Jesus follower.
Now, this is Paul’s first trip to Europe. So, some scholars speculate that Lydia is the first European Christian! Many of us here have ancestry in Europe. Well, let me be the first to tell you that you better thank Lydia…cause she was the first! Without this amazing woman leader and minister, you might not be here! Perhaps we should call her Mother Lydia!
Another intriguing piece of this story from verse 15: now that you have judged me to believe…
Lydia was already a god worshipper, but Jews didn’t necessarily believe Gentiles could be Christ followers. The church is still being opened to Gentiles, but not fully open yet. The problem with Lydia isn’t that she wasn’t a Christ follower (bad grammar, sorry!). The problem is that she was not judged (believed) to be a Christ follower.
So Lydia calls Paul and his companions to believe that she is a Christ follower. She calls them to believe that a Gentile, woman who is the head of her household is truly a God worshipping Christ follower.
Lydia invites them to come to her house. Remember just a few chapters earlier Peter got in big trouble for going to a Gentile house. So some things are changing now.
This change is good. But it’s not finished. It’s not complete. There are more doors to open.
And yet this whole story almost didn’t happen! First, there was the obstacle of opening the doors of the new Jesus community up to Gentiles. Second, (as noted above) Paul almost doesn’t get to Phillipi. Twice Paul goes the wrong way and scripture says the Holy Spirit had to redirect him back towards Phillipi. And if finally takes a vision of a Macedonian man to get Paul and his band to finally get up and go to Phillip, a city in Macedonia.
Even with these challenges, Lydia – this amazing Gentile-business-woman-of-God is able to crack open doors of the early church to embrace women leaders and to grow and expand in Europe.
In fact, if not for God working through Lydia and these other women, the church in Phillipi might not have started! One of the things we know about Lydia is that she helped fund Paul’s missionary journeys. She might literally be called the Paul’s missionary sugar mama! Because of Lydia, a new church is born.
But the truth is today, some Christians and some churches have been restricting women. I was just reading this week the views and statement about woman of a large Raleigh mega-church. The pastor exposed his reasoning for keeping women out of the pastoral and preaching role. It was bad theology which cherry picked verses out of context to try to prove women are not called to preach. And it completely ignores women leaders, teachers, pastors and preachers like Lydia.
So let’s be clear: there are women all over the Bible who we see working in every role that might be correlated to the way churches do mission and ministry today. Lydia is a great example. Mary and Martha – the first preachers in the Bible to preach the gospel of Jesus’ resurrection – are two other great examples.
So, today, I call on every church in our community to open the door and embrace the amazing women teachers, pastors and preachers in our midst.
I want to close with an example of how God works and how we so often misread what the Bible says about how God works. It is from a passage that the lectionary invites churches around the world to read today.
And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life. – Revelation 21: 23-27
There is something pretty crazy going on here that is far too easy for us to miss today. How is it that nothing unclean enters the city? Is it because the city gate is closed to uncleanness?
No! Not at all! The gates are open. And yet nothing unclean will enter. How is that possible?
The only way is that nothing unclean tries to enter the gates. This is a redefinition of what is clean and unclean. What is clean steps foot inside the gate. What is unclean doesn’t even try to enter. There is nothing to keep people out of this open door. So, the only way they do not enter is that they do not try to enter. They don’t knock. They don’t ask. They don’t seek.
Scripture says: ask, seek, knock…and the door will be opened. That is the way God works. I invite every church and every Christian around us to live into this truth. Start opening your doors to people, not with strings attached, not with rules about who can come in and who cannot, but instead open your doors to embody the love and grace of Jesus which invites us all in. Sinners and Saints, we are all welcome. No exceptions.