Signpost 8th May 2016 (Easter 7): Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26.
One of the delights of the Easter season is the compulsory reading from Acts of the Apostles. Hoping that one of the better readers is rostered, I sit back to enjoy a good story.
Scholars, as is their wont, have divided the book into sections and note that each section relates the missionary journeys and ends with a summary of progress to date: “The word of God was increasing and the number of disciples in Jerusalem was being greatly multiplied” (6:7); “The Church then through all Galilee was having peace and …. being multiplied” (6:31); “The word of God was increasing and being multiplied” (12:24 – Antioch); “The churches …. were abounding more in number daily” (16:5 – Asia Minor and Galatia). It is at this point Paul has the vision of the man pleading with him to “come over to Macedonia and help us”.
But when Paul and his companions get to Philippi, the leading city of Macedonia, there is no “man” there to welcome them; there is no synagogue; and they appear to have wandered around for a few days before coming upon Lydia, the dealer in purple, at the place of prayer (last week’s story). As a result of her conversion Lydia prevails upon them to accept her lavish hospitality, and she continues to host them after they come out of prison in his week’s story.
They continue to visit the place of prayer and in doing so are harassed daily by a slave girl with a spirit of divination who recognises that they are “slaves of the Most High God who would proclaim to you a way of salvation”. This annoys Paul intensely, and it almost seems as though it is on account of this annoyance that he cures her of her possession. Surely he had his reasons? In so doing he incurs the wrath of her owners who realise that they will no longer be able to make money out of her. We are not told that the slave girl became incorporated into the Christian community, we hope so, but we do know that her owners in their wrath succeeded in having Paul and Silas arrested, maltreated, and placed in stocks in the inner dungeon. And then follows the miracle of the unfastening of the chains and the conversion of the gaoler.
You may by now be wondering why I précis a Bible passage that you have known for ever and any way must of necessity have re-read this week. I am trying to show the contrast between the anonymous numbers who are converted in the earlier part of Acts and the individuals we meet at Philippi. Lydia is even mentioned by name. We can empathise with them as they are real people, then and now, quite a cross-section of society and of the Church – the business woman who is already a worshipper of God, the gifted slave woman who is being taken advantage of by her owners, and the heathen gaoler who is conscientiously carrying out his job. Lydia’s first action is hospitality: the brutal gaoler’s a complete turnaround to compassion: faith leading to works, which is what we hope to aspire to today.
The lectionary reminds us it is the 71st anniversary of VE Day – what a joyful day that was..