Wearing Purple

Sermon from May 26, 2019, St. Andrew Lutheran Church, Whittier, CA.

John 14:23-29

23Jesus answered [Judas, not Iscariot], “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me.

25”I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace 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.

28You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I am coming to you.’ If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.”

Dear friends, grace and peace to you this day from our loving God, through the risen Christ.  Amen.

As has been the case the last few weeks, we have a rich collection of scripture before us today.  A story of a woman’s faith, a vision of the new Jerusalem, and the promise of the Holy Spirit from Jesus.

At the beginning of the Easter season, we were reminded that this season is a week of Sundays, seven in all.  It is a season of abundance and today is no exception.

Let us begin with Lydia – a woman living in Philippi, and we are told she is a “dealer in purple cloth.”  Purple is, of course, a color generally reserved for royalty in ancient civilizations, and Rome was no exception.  So Lydia is a successful businesswoman.  But it’s doubtful she could have been this successful selling only to Roman nobility.

Lutheran songwriter John Ylvisaker imagined the situation of Lydia, borrowing from that well-known poem “When I Am an Old Woman, I Shall Wear Purple.”

At Thyatira in Macedonia there was a lovely woman wearing purple

She had a clothing store, so very popular, and all the women there were wearing purple

(Refrain) So difficult to choose the colors and the hues; Lydia thought the blues very dull

She loved to praise the Lord, and generally ignored the ones who spoke against her wearing purple

I have a feeling we’re all thinking of [congregation member who wears purple ALL.THE.TIME.]  I have it on good authority that Jan did not wait until what the song says, she’s been wearing purple for a long time.  And I think that may be what’s been going on in Philippi.  And these women gathered near the river, friends of Lydia’s – maybe they too were wearing purple.

So it’s rather interesting when Paul is prevented from going where he’d planned, but instead the Spirit via a vision sends him to Philippi in Macedonia.  And Paul is drawn to the river, where he meets this group of women.

St. Paul and all his friends, in holy confidence, went looking for the women wearing purple

He found them deep in prayer, and soon became aware that these were Christian women wearing purple

(Refrain) So difficult to choose the colors and the hues; Lydia thought the blues very dull

She loved to praise the Lord, and generally ignored the ones who spoke against her wearing purple

And for all of Paul’s misogynistic reputation, he knows this whole thing is happening because of the work of the Spirit.  Lydia and her household are baptized and she offers gracious and abundant hospitality.  It is a model of church.

Keep in mind, Lydia is female, a Gentile, and rich.  None of these are considered the places where Messiah would reach.  But we’ve started to see those barriers comes down, first with Jesus’ life and ministry and now with the experiences of the apostles.  And we’ve also started to see what the church could be:  a place of real welcome for all, particularly the ones who’ve always been considered “not one of us.”

Our Revelation reading takes this yet a step further: not only what the church can be, but what the church is called to move towards:

“…..for the glory of God is its light…..”

“The nations will walk by its light…..”

“Its gates will never be shut by day…..”

“….. the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal…..”

“On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

A church where we are led by God’s light, where our doors are always open, and whose people (the leaves) are for the healing of the nations.

It’s a tall order.  But don’t we need this?  Doesn’t our broken and hurting world need this?

We are doing a writing prompt each week in confirmation in these last weeks of the year, and one of the prompts was “imagine a church.”  I wanted them to not be bound by anything, but write what their idea of a wonderful church would be.

Dear friends, you can be joyful in these young people.  Each in their own way, they imagined a church very much like Lydia’s house and the picture in Revelation: a peaceful place, good food, good music, helping all in need, and making everyone feel like they have a place at the table and a part in our work together.

Imagine a church.

When the disciples began their work, as is related in the Book of Acts, they had no idea what they were doing.  None.  No seminary, no online blogs to read, no conferences to help them figure out the next steps.

But Jesus’ words to them in this gospel story are the key – not only to them, but to us:

26But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.27Peace I leave with you; my peace 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.”

The Advocate will teach you everything and remind you of all that I have said to you.

There is a statue in the Riverside Superior Court, in the historic courthouse on Main Street, called “The Advocate.”  It is a statue of an attorney making an argument for his client.  An attorney advocates for his client, or represents their interests, by teaching or reminding the court of the facts of the case.  It is a bedrock of the judicial system in our country.

In our story from Acts we see that the Advocate’s case load is by no means limited to the disciples, but has been expanded.  Paul has been affected, as has Lydia.  We heard last week about Peter’s realizing the breadth of God’s love, thanks to the Spirit’s work in his life.

The Holy Spirit is on the loose in these stories.  We are getting hints of this in these lessons leading up to Pentecost.  Peoples’ ideas of what following Jesus means are being radically re-shaped and re-imagined into something that has very little to do with power and control, and very much to do with love and all the aspects of being together in community.

And I don’t think Jesus is just saying pretty words when he says “don’t let your hearts be troubled, and don’t be afraid.”

These are very important words to remember.  They were important for the disciples, and they are critically important for us today.  The presence in our world of things that can trouble our heart is undeniable, just as that presence was real in first-century Palestine.

And perhaps Jesus is also making a distinction.  That our hearts ought not be troubled, because they rest in the Lord.  But our spirits – well, I wonder if that isn’t what the Spirit is up to, troubling our spirits for the sake of the world.  Untroubled hearts can make room for the work of troubled – maybe we should say activated – spirits on the path of peace.

Jesus leaves to make room for the Spirit, and in turn to give rise to the community of the church – the movement that will go on to this day, in the midst of messy humanity, seeking to follow Jesus.

Imagine a church.  A church of mutual indwelling.

What would this look like?  It would look like Jesus, and at the same time it would look like us – that is, it would look like us being true to ourselves, the people God made us to be.  In a word, it would look like love: incarnate, tangible, down-to-earth love. And from another angle, it would look like peace: not just any peace, but what Jesus calls “my peace,” the shalom of God, a buzzing, blooming, fruitful community, coming and going, alive with the Spirit, healthy and whole.

This is the church for which the Spirit seeks to activate us, and towards which Jesus leads us.  We get a taste of it at this table, sharing a common meal, and we are fed with holy food.  Bread for our journey.

A journey of peace from Christ.  What a gift.

Amen.

 

 

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