Acts 16

Sermon Date: 
9 May 2010
Bible Base: 
May 2010 Acts 16:9-15 and John 14:23-29

David Jeans

I don’t know what your favourite parable is; I think mine is the parable of the prodigal son, or better of the forgiving or waiting father. I love the sense of homecoming in it. When you have lived away, homecoming becomes something very special.
So my favourite prayer – when we were still far off you met us in your Son and brought us home.
These two readings are both about homes and hospitality.
The first in Acts 16 is I believe the story of a home, a household, coming to know God in Christ, and probably becoming the place where the church in Philippi first met.
Paul has been going around Asia (modern Turkey) strengthening the churches that he founded on his previous missionary journey. This has been going well, but Paul, being the evangelist he is, is looking to preach the gospel in new places. They try to go to other parts in Turkey, but the Spirit forbids them – circumstances? Word of knowledge or prophecy? Then Paul has a vision of a man from Macedonia (northern Greece) saying ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’. There is a place in our mission for strategy and planning – but there is also a place for listening to God to direct our paths. I hope that in our ten days of prayer we may be able to hear God’s voice directing us. In this case Paul recognises the voice of God in this vision – Jesus said my sheep know my voice and follow me – and straight away they are off by boat to Macedonia, arriving at Philippi.
There seems to have been no synagogue in Philippi (apparently it needed 10 Jewish men to start a synagogue); so on the Sabbath they go down to the riverside hoping to find a place of prayer. And they found some women there who clearly met there regularly to pray. (Good principle in mission – where do people meet ? That’s the place to be!) Now we don’t register the full implication of what is happening here. Remember that Paul had been a Pharisee. There is a Pharisee’s prayer that thanks God for not making him a woman. There were some schools of thought that it was wrong even to teach women the Torah, the Jewish law. So here we have the preaching of the gospel to women, and the response of Lydia, who already has some faith in God, but now comes to full faith in Christ, and is baptised with all her household. (Very interesting that the NT had baptism of households). And she now offers the hospitality of her home to Paul and his colleagues. It is highly likely that Lydia’s home was the site of the first house church in Philippi, the place where people met to worship, to pray and to hear the gospel preached.
One of the things that struck us in New Zealand (and particularly among Maori and Polynesians) was their high concept of hospitality.
(Powhiri hospitality; hospitality at a tangi).
The early church would have largely met in homes; I often wonder what Paul (and indeed Jesus) would make of our way of church being to go to a large building often empty for much of the week! One of the things we need to re-discover is hospitality; we seem to value our privacy above opportunities to welcome others into our homes. I often wonder what that is about!
Lydia’s hospitality was a key part of the founding of the church in Philippi. Paul may have been the one doing all the dramatic following of God’s call and travelling all over the place; but Lydia was called by God to provide hospitality for Paul and a base for the church to meet.
We often portray the call of God as being called to go somewhere else as of course it often is – Abram leaving Ur, Moses leading the people through the wilderness, Jesus telling the disciples to go into all the world to make disciples, to be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the ends of the earth. But sometimes God calls people to stay put. I read a book last year by an Australian who made that very point. Those of us in full-time ministry often travel around – but those of you who remain in one place may equally be following a call of God, and you often have a greater understanding and feel for a place. Those who travel and those who stay put need each other!
So Lydia opened her heart to God and her home to her fellow-disciples.
Our Gospel reading contains a remarkable verse. Verse 23
If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.
The Greek word for ‘home’ in this verse is the same as the word used in the more familiar verse 2, where it is often translated ‘in my Father’s house are many dwelling places’. We are perhaps familiar with the idea of God preparing somewhere for us to go and be with him, and it’s no accident that that verse is often used as funerals. The meaning of the word is a dwelling place, a place to stay permanently, even a resting place.
In verses 2 and 3 the familiar (though wonderful) thought is that God is making a resting place for us with him. It is about God’ s hospitality opening up his house to us. But the thought in verse 23 is even more wonderful.
Archbishop William Temple writes about this verse:-
As Christ prepares a resting place for us, that where he is, we also may be, so here the love of Him prepares a resting-place for Him, and not for Him alone but for the Father also. There is no emphasis here on the resting-place as a temporary abode; but there is clear expression of the thought that the Father and the Son come to the disciple to be his guests. This is a thought even more wonderful than the other. That I should somewhere find a place, a little place, prepared for me in the Father’s house is wonderful, but my memory of God’s love makes it not incredible. But it would be incredible in any other connexion than that of this divine discourse, that the Father and the Son should come to lodge with me.[1]
 We sometimes speak of God’s mission being to invite us to join in the dance of the life of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. But here the dance takes place in us!
This all made me think of a couple of carols
From ‘In the bleak midwinter’
Our God, heaven cannot hold him, nor earth sustain. Heaven and earth shall flee away when he comes to reign. In the bleak midwinter a stable-place sufficed. The Lord God Almighty, Jesus Christ.
He does not just stoop to live in a stable – he stoops to make his resting-place with you and me.
God calls us to be hospitable to one another – but even more remarkable he calls us to be hospitable to him.
So come to my heart Lord Jesus, there is room in my heart for thee.

[1] William Temple Readings in St John’s Gospel (Macmillan 1947) pp245-6