of thy majesty,
and of thy wondrous works.
The Lord is gracious,
and full of compassion;
slow to anger, and of great mercy.
9 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."
10 When he had seen the vision, we [Paul and Timothy] immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 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. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate to a riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
14 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. 15 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.
Most major cities originated and then grew up alongside a river; waterways are strategic nodes of communication, commerce, immigration, and exchange of ideas. The early church always baptized in the flowing water of a river; a river is a dynamic, open system. How about our walk by faith? If you've been baptized in the Los Angeles (San Diego, Amstel, Cumberland, Chicago) River, why not identify with the city beside the river banks, especially seeking the well-being of that river and that place?
If you haven't lived in your current town or city forever, it's still possible to claim the nearby river, stream, or estuary, pray for its well-being, participate in its cleanup days. Visit the river as a friend!
In addition, does the river with its water of ever-changing composition, potability, and overall usefulness form a valid model for our daily lives? With the cascading variety of plants and animals its deeps and its banks host? As humans we're not healthy, ultra-productive, and "on" all the time. We absolutely aren't always in a position to be hospitable to persons, ideas, and tasks. Think about it!
Church Planting in Philippi
Today's second reading comes from Paul's letter to the nascent church at Philippi. I love envisioning its serendipitous start that Acts 16 describes. Paul and Timothy went to Roman colony Philippi in Macedonia, then to the river on the sabbath, hoping to find an ad hoc synagogue. If there was no local synagogue, Jews would gather at the river to form a minyan or at least to pray together. They met Purveyor of Purple Cloth Lydia by the riverbank, finally they baptized Lydia and her entire family. Aside from God's reign of grace, did you know verse 15, When she and her household were baptized… is one of the scriptures cited for infant baptism?
I appreciate scholarly ambiguity regarding Lydia's social and economic status. Because purple dye came from rare and therefore costly seashells, they used to assume Lydia's vending anything purple indicated wealth, yet recent historical evidence has revealed that wasn't necessarily so.
21 For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which I prefer. 23 I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; 24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. 25 Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, 26 so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again.
27 Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, 28 and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation.
And this is God's doing. 29 For God has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— 30 since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Paul as Pastor
The lectionary schedules readings from Philippians four weeks in a row.
Paul/Saul of Tarsus was founding pastor of the Philippian assembly—probably along with Timothy, his probably younger sidekick. Although travels took him away from being with them in person, after leaving them he continued – virtually as we'd say – as mission developer and as a lovingly concerned shepherd. The apostle Paul wrote this letter from jail or prison or (most probably) house arrest. Philippians is his "epistle of joy" to that church in that colony where the Roman caesar was the default divinity. Philippians uses the word joy 16 times, Christ 50 times.
In 1:27, Paul counsels the Philippian Christians to live out their baptism via their public, political lives "in a manner worthy of the gospel" as witnesses to Jesus' death and resurrection, and not to Rome's death-dealing imperialism. How about us? As I frequently observe, even the smallest actions add up to big ones; they're synergistic: more than the sum of their individual parts.
of the gospel of Christ, so that I will know
that you are standing firm in one spirit,
striving side by side with one mind
for the faith of the gospel.