I believe the baptism of a certain woman named Lydia, and the baptism of a certain woman named Traci, have much to teach us this day.
Luke tells the story the baptism of Lydia. It begins with Paul and Silas sharing the good news of Jesus in Troas, an Asian town situated across the Aegean Sea from the European district of Macedonia. Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia pleading: “Come on over and help us.” Convinced by the vision that God was calling them to go and proclaim the good news in Europe, without hesitation, they sailed to Macedonia, went through Samothrace and Neapolis, eventually settling in the leading city of Philippi.
While they were there, Paul and Silas heard about a group of women that had been gathering for worship down by the river outside the gate. So when the Sabbath came, they went and found the women, sat down with them, and engaged them in a conversation.
Then Luke says that it was obvious that this one woman in the group, this woman named Lydia, was really paying attention to what Paul had to say. And then he says some very remarkable things about this woman. First of all, he points out that she is an Asian business owner from Thyatira. Secondly, because he says that “she and her household” were baptized, it’s evident that she was the head of her household.
Now, remember, this is the first century. It’s not a period known for women working outside of the home. Females were treated as second-class citizens and even as “property.” Males were the leaders, the heads of business and the heads of households. And yet, here is a woman who is the head of both.
And since she is the only one who is pointed out to be really paying attention to what Paul was saying, she also appears to be the head of that community of faith which gathered there each week by the river.
And this says Luke, this baptism of a foreign woman who shatters all cultural expectations, this baptism of a woman who lived life two-thousand years ahead of her time, the baptism of this woman as the first European Christian, is the result of a vision from God that came to Paul.
So, what in the world was God trying to say to Paul and Silas through that vision of a man saying, “Come to Macedonia, because I need some help!”
Could it be that God was saying: “Paul and Silas, I know you are clear across the sea on another continent, but I need you to get in a boat right now and set sail to Macedonia. I need you to come over here to Europe, make your way through Samothrace and Neapolis, all the way to Philippi, and help me, once and for all, show the world that through my love revealed in Christ Jesus who continually lifted up the status of women, elevated the foreigner, accepted the Eunuchs, and did something almost daily to shatter all cultural expectations, destroying the stigma of status, race, ethnicity, class, and sexuality, that in my kingdom, there no longer Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female. Help me clearly make the statement that in Christ all are one.”
It is as if God is saying, “I know people have heard the stories of Jesus calling women to be counted among his disciples. I know the word is out that Mary and Joanna were the first ones to proclaim the good news Easter. I know many have heard about my disciple Tabitha and her works of kindness and gifts of charity. And I know that folks are hearing about the good work of sister Phoebe leading the church at Cenchreae; however, I am still afraid I am going to need some more help here in Europe. Because I have this bad feeling that if I do not do something as radical as making the first baptized Christian on this continent a strong woman like Lydia, some of these Europeans, not to mention their descendants, are still going to argue, even two-thousand years from now, that a woman has no business being at the head of a communion table, or being the head of a household, or even being the head of her own body.”
“And I know people have heard the story of the Good Samaritan, that despised foreigner who proved to be a holy neighbor to the Jewish man who who was beaten and left dead on the side of the road, but I have this terrible inkling that if I don’t make a foreigner the first European convert, some Europeans, not to mention their descendants, even two-thousand years from now, may still harbor all kinds of prejudices against those who are not of European descent. So, get yourself over here to Macedonia as fast as you can and help me baptize this certain woman named Lydia!”
I believe Paul may have Lydia in mind when he penned the following words to the church at Ephesus: “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace; …and has broken down the dividing wall… So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (Ephesians 2).
Then, there is the baptism of Traci. Like Lydia, Traci is also a certain woman; however, fortunate for her, she has joined a church that has learned a thing or two from Lydia. For, here at Central Christian Church, the gifts of women are valued just as much as the gifts of men. Traci will be encouraged here to use her gifts to freely follow Christ wherever the Spirit leads.
Traci is not a foreigner. However, since she was not raised in our church, she was a stranger, an outsider to most of us. Therefore, I believe the baptism of Traci reminds us that we have been called by God to reach out beyond our walls and embrace others like Traci who did not grow up in this church, or any church for that matter, so that they will no longer be strangers.
It is as if God is saying: “I know people have heard the Great Commission of the Risen Christ to “be witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” making “…disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…” But I have this bad feeling, that if I do not stir the hearts of people like Traci, and draw them into the renewing waters of the church, enlarging and changing the congregation, then the church might be tempted to become so comfortable with the status quo that they grow apathetic, just uninterested in reaching out to welcome the stranger.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson Jr. told a story at the recent men’s retreat that reminded me of something that happened to my wife Lori a few months before we came to Oklahoma. Rev. Jackson said that he went to a Popeye’s Chicken restaurant one night to get him some chicken. He went through the drive through and ordered a Chicken Combo plate. And lo and behold, the person working the drive thru window told him that they were out of chicken.
Lori had the same experience with a Bojangle’s Chicken and Biscuit restaurant in North Carolina. She went to Bojangles, which is similar to Popeye’s or a Golden Chick, to get her some chicken, only to be told that they were out of chicken.
Lori came home and said, “I am so mad. Bojangle’s Chicken and Biscuits told me that they were out of chicken. She said, “I can understand if they run out of the mashed potatoes. I can maybe even sympathize a little with them if they run out of biscuits. But Bojangle’s, like Jesse Jackson said of Popeye’s, has got no business running out of chicken!”
The baptism of Traci reminds us what the church is all about. If a church is not continually working to break down dividing walls and to build bridges and relationships with those outside the church, with the goal of having several baptismal services a year like this one a year, then the church is like a Rib Crib opening their doors for business when they’re fresh out of ribs! Might as well close down and put a chain on the doors.
After Lydia is baptized, notice the first thing that she does. She extends a gracious welcome to Paul and Silas inviting them stay at her home. Her words following her baptism remind me of our identity statement as Disciples of Christ, “We welcome all to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed us.”
I was on facebook Friday night, and I read these words from Traci’s timeline that are so so reminiscent of Lydia’s words: “Please come and visit Central Christian Church. The service starts at 10:15 am. It is a great church.”
Lydia and Traci remind us that each person in this room who has been baptized, who has been welcomed by God through the gracious hospitality of Christ, should feel compelled by the Holy Spirit of Jesus to go out from this place and welcome all people.
Through the baptisms of a certain woman named Lydia and a certain woman named Traci, I believe God is saying to each of us: “Go out, reach out, tear down a wall, build a bridge, connect, engage, get on facebook, get in a boat if you have to, travel through the streets of places like Samothrace and Neapolis and Philippi and Enid and North Enid and East, West and South Enid, because I need some help! I need some help sharing the good news that all are welcome at my table.”