[Note: The significance of the RCL readings on Easter 6 (C) is getting to hear the story of Lydia, a woman of our tradition who has heretofore not appeared in our Sunday lectionary.]
Jesus is pictured in Johnâs Gospel as giving us something: his Peace, or his Shalom.
As our collect for the day asserts, this gift exceeds all that we can desire. And it seems that in this world, and in our American culture, we desire an awful lot. Since we already desire all that the world can give, it is difficult for us to imagine that which exceeds all that we can desire and that the world cannot give.
Yet, that is Godâs gift to us in Christ: Godâs shalom, Godâs peace, is greater than anything we can desire or imagine. For it is tied to Godâs vision of Sabbath and Jubilee. It encompasses justice and peace among all people. It demands respect for the dignity of every human being. Shalom, Godâs peace, means becoming a people who seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving our neighbors as ourselves. It means no longer asking the question, âWho is my neighbor?â As we sing in Hymn 602, âall are neighbors to us and you.â
In the indivisible totality of his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus embraces and lives Godâs vision of Shalom for all people. Jesus gives us this Peace. That is, Jesus makes us stewards of Godâs shalom. It is his parting gift as we approach the day of his Ascension on Thursday of this week.
Just so we wonât forget, and so our hearts wonât be troubled at his returning to God, Jesus and the Father will send an advocate, the Holy Spirit, who âwill teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.â
We are not alone in being stewards of his parting gift. The Holy Spirit will teach us and remind us of this vision of Shalom for all people.
It is like the song of the Psalmist: may all the ends of the earth stand in awe of the God of Shalom. May all the peoples praise God! May all the nations be glad and sing for Joy! May Godâs ways be known upon earth, and Godâs saving health among all nations.
This vision runs all the way through to the very end of the Bible in the Revelation of Saint John the Divine: There will be a New Jerusalem whose gates are open and never closed to anyone or anything. It is a vision of opening our doors to peoples and nations beyond ourselves. And through it all runs the river of the water of Life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.
Beside this river is a tree with all kinds of fruit. And the leaves of this tree are for the healing of nations: for the healing of nations: no HMOs; no Cost Containment; no Co-pay; no troop deployments; no carpet bombing; no coercion by violence, no threats of domination. Just pluck the leaves of the tree and be healed. It is a new kind of healing. It is a new kind of reconciliation. It is a new kind of health care delivery system. It is a new kind of Peace. It is Godâs own Shalom.
When Jesus says, âPeace I leave with you; my peace I give to you,â he is commissioning us to be those who bring this vision of Godâs Shalom to all people and to all the nations. In giving us this parting gift, Jesus invites us to bathe in this river that flows through the New Jerusalem.
Do we come here today to bathe in this river bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb?
Lydia does. She who sells purple cloth, expensive, royal, purple cloth, sold only to those who can afford it. She is an entrepreneur, a successful merchant! Lydia and the women of Philippi are down by the river at a âplace of prayerâ outside the gates of the city.
God opens Lydiaâs heart, just as we pray for God to open our hearts, âPour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you in all things and above all things, may obtain your promises, which exceed all that we can desire.â
Lydiaâs heart is opened, and Paul helps God to pour in this love we pray for. Lydia and the women welcome this foreign missionary who interrupts their prayers and shares with them the Gospel of Jesus Christ. They are baptized in the river. Lydia and her entire household are baptized.
Lydia is the first European to be baptized! Lydiaâs may be the first gentile house, that is non-Jewish, that Paul has ever entered. Paul had read the Bible and had been taught to avoid any contact with people like Lydia. Paul had been instructed and believed he should bar the gates and shut off the flow of the water of life to any and all gentiles. Paul had been taught not to be seen in public with women, let alone gentile women.
Paul is making a leap of faith. Paul is entering into a life of Shalom, Godâs peace that passes all understanding. Just as Peter had entered the home of Cornelius the Centurion, Paul is welcomed into Lydiaâs household.
And Lydia makes a leap of faith in offering this Jewish missionary the hospitality of her home.
All distinctions of clean and unclean, acceptable and unacceptable are passing away. Healing is indeed taking place, down by the river. God is doing new things through Paul and Lydia. This healing and these new things exceed all that we can desire or even imagine!
All of this comes about because Paul has a dream, a vision. He imagines he can go to Macedonia. He goes expecting to find a man there, but surprise: he finds Lydia. And as a result, the world is changed down by the River of the Water of Life.
Down by the river of the water of life, all things are possible. It is even possible that we, too, can be changed. We, too. can lay aside long held assumptions, preconceptions and prejudices. Like Paul, we too can lay aside old understandings of the Bible. Like Paul we too can have the vision to go to people beyond the four walls of our church, beyond the boundaries of our community, beyond state lines, beyond the United States of America, and let Godâs ways be known upon the earth, Godâs saving health among all nations.
We may notice the location of all this activity: Jerusalem and Macedonia, two pieces of Godâs real estate still under dispute and heated contention. We are invited to imagine Godâs Shalom, Godâs peace, even in Jerusalem and Macedonia.
We are those people who can imagine all of this and more because we have these stories. Paul and Lydia had to be scared silly down by that riverside, breaking with all convention. Lydia is baptized only because she and Paul were able to suspend their understanding of what their cultures and the Bible had taught them. They were willing to suspend all the rules, regulations, and customs that governed their world.
They had to let go and sing the new song God was calling them to sing. And they had to open their hearts and minds to see everything in a new light. That light is the light of the Lamb. That light is the light of the Paschal candle. Saint John the Divine imagines a day when âthe nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring it glory.â
Paul and Lydia were not extraordinary people. They were just like us. Can we imagine all of this and more? Can we see ourselves opening our hearts and minds to strangers? Can we imagine old hurts and old wounds being healed by the banks of the river of the city of God? Can we open our hearts to let the Light of Christ shine into all its dark corners and drive all fear and anxiety from our midst? Can we allow ourselves to be drawn closer and deeper into the world of Godâs Shalom?
Jesus wants to give us all of this. Jesus wants to give us all of this and more than we can either desire or imagine. Listen as he calls us: My own shalom I give to you; I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Peace I leave with you. It is yours to have and to give to the rest of the world.