The Lord Opens our Hearts

The Rev. Jimmy Abbott
Sixth Sunday of Easter
May 1, 2016

Acts 16:9-15

It’s been a busy past couple of weeks. Hasn’t it? Let’s go back to what all happened. We left here on Sunday, April 17 high and dry. And then it rained. And rained. And rained. And rained. And then it rained again. I know how much it rained, because it seems that most of it came into our kitchen.

On Tuesday night of last week, right after we heard that school was closing on Wednesday, I was about to plop down in front of the TV for the next episode of House of Cards. I know, I’m a little behind. Maggie said to me, “tomorrow is going to be three days without food for those kids on free school lunches.” Now, I don’t know about you, but when God speaks, it’s usually through another person. And when I heard that voice, I just couldn’t sit still. So I turned off Netflix – hard as that was – and emailed Carole Little at Northwest Assistance Ministries. In just a short time, we had arranged for a truck of food and water to be delivered to Holy Comforter. Our very own Kim Faasse was at Sam’s early on Wednesday morning buying non-perishable food, socks, bottles of water, peanut butter and jelly. People who showed up for Wednesday morning bible study started packing lunches. Other parishioners showed up to help. Many of you told me that you were praying for us. We helped our own parishioners whose homes were damaged. Holy Comforter went overnight from being a church to being a flood relief center.

And not only did people come here to get help, but we went out there.  The Church Left the Building. We helped do laundry for the poor. We worshiped at a local nursing home. We prayed for strangers. We shared our faith. We packed bags of food and water for the hungry. We got to know the homeless. We helped a man get his house back together. That man told us, “it feels like I have a whole new house.” That, my friends, is a sign of the gospel at work among us.

What has taken place here at Holy Comforter over the past two weeks is downright biblical. Look at this lesson from the Acts of the Apostles. You can pull it out and follow along with me if you want.

During the night, Paul has a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading to him and saying, “come over to Macedonia and help us.” See, until this time, the Church had only been in Asia. No Christian had crossed the Aegean Sea and made their way to Europe. But think of what that small journey accomplished. Because Paul had the courage to cross the Aegean Sea, Europe was gifted with the message of Christ. Surely, this is one of the most influential moments in the history of Christianity – when faith in Jesus ceased being an Asian religion, and became a global religion.

Holy Comforter had never replaced its Sunday morning worship services, with Sunday morning service projects. But we heard the call from our community – “come and help us.” We had the courage to do something different, to step out beyond the four walls of the church and to proclaim the gospel. What we did over these last two weeks was surely one of the most influential moments in the history of our parish – when we became not only a worshipping community, but a giving community.

Back to this story about Paul.

They take a journey. And notice how they don’t immediately find the right place to begin their mission. They go to Samothrace, to Neapolis, and then to Philippi. Finally they make their way to the river on the sabbath day to meet the people gathered there for prayer.

Hmm. This sounds like what happened here. On the sabbath day, that is Sunday, Paul and his companions met the people gathered by the river. Now, the river was probably where people did their laundry. So what we did by washing clothes last Sunday morning and praying with people is not a new idea, it’s an ancient idea. It’s a biblical idea.

Then look at what happens next. There is a certain woman there named Lydia. The Lord opens her heart to what Paul is saying, and she desires to be baptized. And then she opens her home and prevails upon Paul and his companions to stay with her.

Read this carefully. The first Christian in Europe is a woman. Think about this – all the popes in Rome, all the Archbishops of Canterbury, Henry VIII, Martin Luther, John Calvin, all the men who have shaped Christianity in Europe – well, they all fall in line behind a woman named Lydia from Thyatira.

This would be radical for a woman to hold such a place of honor in the ancient world. But for God, that is precisely how things work. God chooses the unlikely characters to be the most honored ones. Who is it that first hears of Jesus’ birth? Lowly shepherds in the fields. Who does Jesus reveal himself to as the Son of God? A woman at a well whose been married five times. Who are the first disciples to hear the message that Jesus was raised from the dead? A group of women. This doesn’t make much sense to us, but God always chooses the least likely.

I mean, who would expect that a bunch of Episcopalians would leave their pews, their Prayer Book, and their church to go out to the street corners and preach the gospel? I mean, we’re supposed to be the frozen chosen. But God chooses the least likely in the world as the instruments for God’s will.

And then finally, the Lord opens Lydia’s heart. And then she opens her home to Paul and his companions. The Lord opened her heart.

In hearing back from many of you, you have told me how the Lord has opened your heart over the past two weeks. How the Holy Spirit revealed something new to you. How you learned something about other people that you didn’t expect to learn. How you were surprised by how the Lord worked in your life.

Now, this morning, the Church has Returned to the Building. After a wild two weeks, it’s important that we spend some time together reconnecting; that we share our stories with each other. So here we go:

Take a few minutes to share with the people around you and answer this question: how has the Lord opened your heart over these past two weeks?

My prayer for each of us, is that the Lord continues to open our hearts. That we have the courage and the conviction to cross the Aegean Sea of our lives to meet new people, to proclaim the gospel to places its never been heard. To open our church to anybody and everybody who is seeking a place to call home. And when disaster strikes again, when we hear yet again the community calling us to come and help – we will answer the call, being convinced that God has called us to proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ.