Concepcion A Taste of God
Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; May 22, 2022
6th Sunday of Easter
Psalm 67; Acts 16:9-15
During the Easter Season we have been taste-testing stories of the newborn church, particularly through the palates of Peter and Paul, and today’s story is especially enticing. Since the best meals begin with an appetizer, we will start off with a delicious selection of pita chips, hummus, and a cheese board adorned with assorted cheeses, berries, olives, grapes, pickles, and of course, peanuts and pecans from South Georgia. The appetizer provided in our story comes in the form of a vision, for Paul is, once again, experiencing extraordinary things. In many ways, Paul seems hard-wired into the Holy Spirit, even though his plans sometimes go awry, even though he sometimes ends up in places he never expects. But the important thing to remember is that no matter where his journey takes him, Paul remains faithful. He does what he believes is his to do, and the Spirit takes it from there. This time, through a vision, he is urged to take the message of the gospel into Europe. “Come, help us,” a man from Macedonia begs and the Spirit sends Paul to do just that. When Paul and his companions arrive, they case out the city, which has no synagogue—perhaps because there is not a large Jewish population in Philippi, and ten Jewish men are required to form a synagogue. So, when the Sabbath rolls around, Paul decides to look for believers in the next best place—down by the river.
A good meal calls for balance and beauty. How about a leafy green salad with spinach, strawberries, walnuts, and cucumbers, lightly dressed with a balsamic vinaigrette? Tasty! It appears that Lydia and the other women at the river have had a taste of something good, too—a taste of God. That’s why they gather to pray. Lydia is a dealer in purple cloth, accustomed to dealing with the elite class of Philippi. We know this because only the elite are allowed to wear purple. As a businesswoman, responsible for her household, surely there are other things Lydia could have been doing that day. Assuming she is not a Jew, the Sabbath would be like any other workday. But what Lydia craves will not be satisfied by more work or more riches. So, down by the river she goes with the other women to pray.
Somewhere, somehow, Lydia has gotten a taste of God. She hungers for more and more is what is about to be provided through the main course. For our culinary pleasure, we have on the menu, a delightful and hearty red lentil stew, cornbread muffins, garlicy red potatoes, and steamed asparagus. The main course is what Lydia has been craving, so Paul sits down and serves it up, just so. With all the passion he can muster, Paul tells the story of Yahweh, who has come in the flesh into the world as Jesus, to show us how to live in accordance with God’s will. Love has come to us, Love lived among us, Love died for us, Love rose again, Love ascended into heaven where Love prays for us, and Love lives on through Christ’s Spirit, who is available to every man, woman, and child who says yes to Love. You can enter into a relationship with Love through the waters of baptism. You can be sustained in your faith through bread and wine—Christ’s body given for you, Christ’s blood shed for you. Lydia listens with rapt attention. She is done with appetizers. She is finished with salads and greens. She is ready for the main course. She eats and is satisfied. God’s grace and Lydia’s longing meet on the banks of the river, and she and her whole household are baptized. Lydia, who becomes the first Christian convert in Europe, is so filled with gratitude, she immediately opens her home to Paul and his friends. Because of her conversion and her gift of hospitality, the church now has a home base for the gospel to spread throughout Philippi.
But the meal, it is not over. Surely you have saved room for dessert. Since I know that some of you are die-hard chocolate lovers and others are not, you have two choices before you—key lime pie with homemade whipped cream or a melt-in-your-mouth chocolate cheesecake—and no, you cannot have both. In our story, dessert comes through a second glance at the mystical power that propels the early church forward. Did you know that in the 1990’s George Gallup asked Presbyterians if they had ever experienced a vision from God? Half the church members and over half of the clergy answered yes.[i] Are you as surprised by that statistic as I am? And why are we surprised? Maybe it’s because visions from God and nudgings by the Spirit—well, it’s just not something we talk about. People might get the wrong idea. They might think we have joined a cult or something. Furthermore, if we did talk about such things, if we did talk about how God is involved in our everyday lives, we might be expected to live as sold-out, all-in, grown-up Christians, and who wants to make that kind of commitment?
In last week’s sermon, I spoke about how stories have the power to change lives. When it comes to visions and dreams, not only do they have the power to transform and direct our own behavior, but they may also be confirmation to the world that God is still working among us. Over the years, I have had dreams and other promptings that can only be described as mystical experiences. I daresay many of you have, too. But when and where do we share our stories? Why are we so hesitant to talk about matters of a spiritual nature? We have plenty to say about most anything else! As a minister, I can’t help but wonder what would happen if Presbyterians started sharing our stories of experiencing God through deep, intimate, even mystical ways. I wonder!
In his letter to the church in Corinth, Paul laments that when he was there, he could not speak to them as grown-up Christians. He had to speak to them as infants because they were not ready for solid food—only milk would do. Friends, the church needs grown-up Christians now more than ever. The time to be sustained by baby food, by watered down Christianity, is over. It is time to step up to the Table where God invites us to a feast that will nourish us in our life as a community of believers. This feast will nurture our relationships with family and friends and strangers. We may even find ourselves creating new dishes to share with others—dishes flavored by the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Dear church, if we belong to Christ, we live by the Spirit. We are guided by the Spirit—sometimes through visions and dreams, often through other means. Crucified with Christ, we refuse to rely on mother’s milk anymore. We don’t require a watered-down version of the gospel to make us comfortable. We are ready for the feast. Like Lydia who enthusiastically accepts the truth of the gospel and responds with generosity and hospitality, we are eager to respond to God’s love, mercy, and grace. We want to live as joyful, committed Christians who proclaim the good news in word and deed, who worship with believers in Spirit and in truth, who lift one another up in prayer and show kindness to each other, who study Scripture independently and together, who support the ministry of Jesus through time, talents, and treasures, who demonstrate what it looks like to live a transformed life in the church and in the world, who care for God’s creation, and who work for peace, justice, and freedom for all people.
This is the heavenly banquet that is ours to share. Make no mistake, there are still people in the world like Lydia who hunger for spiritual food. Might they be nourished through us? Might our story be just what they need to help them on their faith journey? As believers in the God of Love, let us look for opportunities to invite others to the Table of Grace. “Come,” we might say. “Come, taste and see, the Lord is good.”
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
[i] David G. Forney, Feasting on the Word.
*Cover Art “Lydia of Thyatira” by Harold Copping via Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain