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ACTS 16:11-15|“DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY”

July 9, 2018
Posted by Office Staff

“DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY”

ACTS 16:11-15

JULY 8, 2018

 

THE WINDS WERE FAVORABLE, AND THE VOYAGE TO MACEDONIA WAS COMPLETED IN JUST TWO DAYS, WITH A STOP AT THE ISLAND OF SAMOTHRACE.

 

PAUL, AND THE MISSIONARIES WITH HIM WENT DIRECTLY FROM NEAPOLIS, THE SEAPORT, TO PHILIPPI, A MAJOR CITY AND ROMAN COLONY.

 

PAUL’S STRATEGY HAD ALWAYS CALLED FOR ESTABLISHING THE CHURCH FIRST IN IMPORTANT CENTERS, FROM WHICH THE GOSPEL COULD BE SPREAD INTO THE SURROUNDING TERRITORIES.

 

HIS STRATEGY CALLED FOR AN APPEAL TO THE JEWS FIRST.  BUT IN PHILIPPI THERE WERE NOT ENOUGH JEWS TO FORM A SYNAGOGUE.

 

ACCORDINGLY, ON THE SABBATH, PAUL AND THE OTHERS WITH HIM WENT OUTSIDE THE GATES OF THE CITY, TO THE RIVERSIDE, HOPING TO FIND A SMALL JEWISH GATHERING THERE.  THEY WERE NOT DISAPPOINTED.

 

A GROUP OF WOMEN GATHERED THERE FOR PRAYER.

 

PRAYING AT THE WATER’S EDGE IS COMMON IN MANY RELIGIONS; SYNAGOGUES WERE OFTEN ERECTED NEAR FLOWING RIVERS; AS MANY CHURCHES HAVE BEEN, OVER THE YEARS.

 

MANY CHRISTIANS, ESPECIALLY IN RURAL AREAS, HAVE BEEN BAPTIZED IN THOSE RIVERS.

 

AMONG THE WOMEN THAT DAY IN PHILIPPI WAS A WOMAN BY THE NAME OF LYDIA.

 

LIKELY, SHE WAS NAMED FOR THE REGION FROM WHENCE SHE CAME, ALSO CALLED LYDIA.

 

LYDIA WAS A GENTILE FROM THE CITY OF THYATIRA; APPARENTLY A WIDOW WHO MADE HER LIVING BY SELLING THE PURPLE GOODS FOR WHICH THYATIRA WAS FAMOUS.

 

PURPLE DYE BEING RARE, AND THUS THE REASON PURPLE HAS OFTEN BEEN ASSOCIATED WITH WEALTH AND ROYALTY, LYDIA WAS LIKELY WELL-TO-DO.

 

ATTRACTED BY THE JEWISH SCRIPTURES, SHE WAS A WORSHIPPER OF GOD, A PERSON ON THEIR WAY TO BECOMING A BELIEVER;

 

AND WHEN SHE HEARD THE WORDS OF PAUL, AND THE OTHERS, SHE ASKED THAT SHE AND HER ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD, BE BAPTIZED IN THE NAME OF CHRIST.

 

THIS BAPTISM LIKELY INCLUDED NOT ONLY HER OWN CHILDREN, BUT THE SERVANTS IN HER EMPLOY.  IN ANCIENT ISRAEL, FAMILY SOLIDARITY WAS STRONG.

 

GOD’S COVENANT ALWAYS INVOLVED THE WHOLE FAMILY, CHILDREN AND SERVANTS INCLUDED.

 

IN THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH THIS SAME FEELING PREVAILED, AND WHILE LYDIA’S ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD BEING BAPTIZED IS THE FIRST MENTIONED IN THE NEW TESTAMENT, IT IS NOT THE LAST.

 

SO MOVED WAS LYDIA BY HER NEWFOUND FAITH THAT SHE INVITED PAUL AND THE REST TO RESIDE IN HER HOME DURING THEIR TIME IN PHILIPPI.

 

WHAT THIS ACCOMPLISHED FOR PAUL AND HIS MISSIONARY BAND IS THAT THEY DID NOT HAVE TO WORK TO PROVIDE FOR FOOD AND SHELTER FOR THEMSELVES, BUT RATHER, COULD DEVOTE THEMSELVES, FULL TIME, TO ESTABLISHING THE CHURCH IN PHILIPPI.

 

THIS HAPPENED ELSEWHERE, FROM TIME TO TIME, FOR PAUL AND THE OTHERS, AND LATER, IN FACT, IT IS THE PHILIPPIAN CHURCH WHO SUPPORTS PAUL FROM AFAR, WITH THEIR GIFTS, SO THAT HE CAN CONTINUE HIS WORK IN OTHER COMMUNITIES.

 

(THIS IS, BY THE WAY, THE MODEL OF WHAT YOU DO TODAY, PROVIDING FOR MINISTERS AND THEIR FAMILIES, SO THAT THEY CAN ENGAGE IN FULL TIME MINISTRY IN THE COMMUNITY.)

 

LYDIA’S HOUSE BECAME HEADQUARTERS FOR THE MISSIONARIES AS LONG AS THEY WERE IN TOWN, AND THE PHILIPPIAN CHURCH WAS ESTABLISHED.

 

SO, A QUICK REVIEW.

 

LYDIA IS ONE OF THE FIRST, AND FEW, FEMALES MENTIONED BY NAME TO BECOME A CHRISTIAN, AND A CHRISTIAN LEADER IN THE CHURCH.

 

SHE IS RICH, SHE IS A BUSINESS WOMAN, SHE IS A HOMEOWNER;

 

SHE EMPLOYS OTHERS BOTH IN BUSINESS, AND IN HER HOME;

 

SHE IS A MOTHER, SHE IS A WIDOW.

 

SHE IS ONE OF THE FIRST TO HAVE HER ENTIRE HOUSEHOLD BAPTIZED, AND THUS, A PROOFTEXT, IF YOU WILL, FOR INFANT BAPTISM IN THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH.

 

BY PROVIDING HER HOME AS A BASE FOR THE ESTABLISHMENT OF THE PHILIPPIAN CHURCH, SHE IS CHURCH BUILDER.

 

SHE IS A BELIEVER, WHO WORSHIPS GOD, WHO PRAYS, WHO PUTS HER MONEY WHERE HER MOUTH IS, WHO STARTS BY BUILDING FAITH IN HER HEART, IN HER HOME, WHILE AT THE SAME TIME TAKING THE WORD OF GOD TO OTHERS.

 

SHE IS, BY DEFINITION, WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A FOLLOWER OF CHRIST, AND A PARTNER IN MINISTRY.

 

SHE IS, BY EXAMPLE, WHAT WE SHOULD ALL BE, IN OUR OWN WAY, AS A BELIEVER IN CHRIST, AND A SERVANT OF HIS KINGDOM.

 

PAUL’S LATER LETTER BACK TO THE PHILIPPIANS, ONCE HE HAD MOVED ON, REVEALS HIS SPECIAL LOVE AND AFFECTION FOR THEIR CHURCH, AND LYDIA’S HELP MUST HAVE BEEN A CHIEF CAUSE FOR THIS UNIQUE RELATIONSHIP.

 

UNFORTUNATELY, THE WOMEN OF THE BIBLE GET LESS THAN THEIR FAIR SHARE OF PRESS, BUT WHEN THEY DO, AS IN THE CASE OF LYDIA, THEIR STORIES ARE OFTEN MOVING AND UPLIFTING.

 

A LACK OF APPRECIATION FOR THEIR GIFTS AND SERVICE IN THE CHURCH HAS BEEN AN HISTORICAL PREJUDICE, AND UNFORTUNATELY, IN MANY CHRISTIAN CIRCLES, CONTINUES TO THIS DAY.

 

IF NOT PERFECT, WE IN PCUSA CAN BE PROUD OF THE FACT THAT WE DO BETTER THAN MOST CHRISTIAN COMMUNITIES, BUT THERE’S ALWAYS MORE WORK TO BE DONE.

 

BUT ONE OF THE WONDERFUL MESSAGES FROM THE STORY OF LYDIA, AND SEVERAL OF THE OTHER STORIES OF WOMEN IN THE EARLY CHURCH, IS THAT THEY ARE SHOWN AS PARTNERS WITH THEIR MALE COUNTERPARTS.

 

A MORE CAREFUL READING OF ACTS REVEALS THE ROLE OF MARY, THE MOTHER OF JESUS, AND THE OTHER EARLY FEMALE FOLLOWERS OF JESUS, IN ESTABLISHING THE FIRST CHURCH IN JERUSALEM.

 

IT IS PRISCILLA, WITH HER HUSBAND AQUILLA, WHO TEACH EVEN PAUL A FEW THINGS ABOUT WHAT FAITH AND THE CHURCH MEANS UPON HIS ARRIVAL IN CORINTH.

 

PRISCILLA AND AQUILLA WERE NOT ONLY HUSBAND AND WIFE; THEY WERE BUSINESS PARTNERS; AND TOGETHER, EQUALS, AS WORKERS IN THE CHURCH AT CORINTH AND BEYOND.

 

AND TIME AND TIME AGAIN, AT THE END OF SEVERAL OF PAUL’S LETTERS, AMONG THOSE MENTIONED, AND THANKED FOR THEIR PRAYERS AND SUPPORT, FOR THEIR WORK IN THE LOCAL CHURCH, AMONG THE NAMES, ARE THOSE OF SOME OF THE MOST PROMINENT WOMEN IN THESE CONGREGATIONS.

 

AGAIN, IT’S NOT FAVORING ONE OVER THE OTHERS, IT IS THE WAY IN WHICH THESE STORIES, THESE PASSAGES, REVEAL A PARTNERSHIP OF WOMEN AND MEN IN THE WORK OF THE CHURCH.

 

AND THIS IS LIKELY DUE TO JESUS’ OWN EXAMPLE OF HOW HE TREATED WOMEN, INVITING THEM TO FOLLOW HIM, AND ENCOURAGING THEIR PARTICIPATION IN THE WORK OF GOD’S KINGDOM.

 

THESE EXAMPLES, AND OTHERS, OF ACTIVE, PRODUCTIVE, CONTRIBUTIVE PARTICIPATION BY WOMEN IN THE LIFE OF THE EARLY CHURCH…

 

ARE AMPLE PROOF, COUNTER PROOFS, TO BE EXACT, TO A FEW SPARSE VERSES ON THE REDUCED ROLE AND PLACE OF WOMEN IN THE CHURCH;

 

WHICH, UNFORTUNATELY, ARE STILL USED IN SOME CHRISTIAN CIRCLES, AS A WAY OF KEEPING WOMEN IN THEIR PLACE.

 

THIS IS NOT JESUS.  IT IS NOT EVEN AUTHENTIC PAUL.  AND IT IS NOT CHRISTIAN.

 

LEST WE FORGET, IT IS THE WOMEN WHO STAND AT THE FOOT OF JESUS’ CROSS;

IT IS THE WOMEN WHO RECEIVE HIS DEAD BODY AFTER HIS CRUCIFIXION;

IT IS THE WOMEN WHO WISH TO PREPARE HIS BODY FOR THE TOMB;

 

IT IS THE WOMEN WHO ARE BOLD ENOUGH TO BE FIRST TO THE TOMB ON EASTER MORNING; AND THE FIRST TO TELL THE GOOD NEWS: HE IS RISEN!

 

PERHAPS, MOST APT OF ALL, ARE PAUL’S OWN WORDS IN GALATIANS 3:27-28

 

“FOR ALL OF YOU WHO WERE BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE CLOTHED YOURSELVES WITH CHRIST.  THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.

 

IT IS THE CHRISTIAN MESSAGE OF LYDIA’S HOUSEHOLD.  THE MESSAGE THAT TURNED HER HEART FROM GENTILE GOD-FEARER TO FOLLOWER OF CHRIST.

 

IT IS THE MESSAGE THAT PAUL AND HIS MISSIONARY PARTNERS SPREAD ALL OVER THE KNOWN WORLD AT THE TIME.

 

IT IS THE MESSAGE IN WHICH WE OURSELVES LIVE AND SERVE TODAY.

 

DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY” (ALSO KNOWN AS “DOWN IN THE RIVER TO PRAY,” “DOWN IN THE VALLEY TO PRAY,” “THE GOOD OLD WAY,” AND “COME, LET US ALL GO DOWN“) IS A TRADITIONAL AMERICAN SONG.

 

VARIOUSLY DESCRIBED AS A CHRISTIAN FOLK HYMN, AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN SPIRITUAL, AN APPALACHIAN SONG, AND A GOSPEL SONG; THE EXACT ORIGIN OF THE SONG IS UNKNOWN.

 

RESEARCH SUGGESTS THAT IT WAS COMPOSED BY AN AFRICAN-AMERICAN SLAVE.

 

(CAN WE TAKE A MOMENT TO LET ALL THOSE WORDS SINK IN – CHRISTIAN FOLK HYMN, AFRICAN-AMERICAN SPIRITUAL, APPALACHIAN SONG, GOSPEL SONG…)

 

IN A FEW MINUTES, I’M GOING TO PLAY ALLISON KRAUSS’ VERSION OF THE SONG, MADE POPULAR IN THE MOVIE, O BROTHER WHERE ART THOU, AND I WANT US TO KEEP ALL OF THOSE VARIOUS ORIGINS IN MIND WHILE WATCHING THE VIDEO I’LL SHOW…

 

LOOK AT ALL OF THE DIFFERENT AND VARIED PEOPLE WHO COME DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY.

 

“FOR ALL OF YOU WHO WERE BAPTIZED INTO CHRIST HAVE CLOTHED YOURSELVES WITH CHRIST.  THERE IS NEITHER JEW NOR GREEK, SLAVE NOR FREE, MALE NOR FEMALE, FOR YOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.

 

“NEITHER BLACK NOR WHITE, NOR BROWN; NEITHER AMERICAN NOR OTHER;

NEITHER LGBT NOR STRAIGHT; NEITHER REPUBLICAN NOR DEMOCRAT;

NEITHER CONSERVATIVE NOR LIBERAL;

 

NEITHER THIS NOR THAT NOR THE OTHER THING;

 

FOR YOU ARE ALL ONE IN CHRIST JESUS.

 

“WHAT YOU HEAR WHISPERED,” JESUS TOLD HIS FOLLOWERS, “PROCLAIM FROM THE ROOFTOPS” (MATTHEW 10:27), OR TO PUT IT ANOTHER WAY;

 

JESUS TELLS US THAT WHAT WE TALK ABOUT QUIETLY AND PRIVATELY IN WORSHIP WE SHOULD ALSO TALK ABOUT OPENLY AND PUBLICLY IN OUR JOBS, OUR POLITICS, OUR CIVIC LIFE.

WE TAKE OUR CUES, THEN, ABOUT WHAT WE SAY OUTSIDE THE CHURCH FROM WHAT IS SAID INSIDE THE CHURCH IN WORSHIP.

 

ONE OF THE MOST PROMINENT CHRISTIAN LEADERS IN OUR TIME, BISHOP DESMOND TUTU, WAS A POWERFUL FORCE IN THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION IN SOUTH AFRICA,

 

WHICH INVOLVED AN EARNEST QUEST TO TELL THE TRUTH ABOUT ABUSES IN THE APARTHEID SYSTEM AND TO SEEK NATIONAL HEALING AND RECONCILIATION.

 

THOUGH IT WAS OFTEN PORTRAYED IN SECULARIST TERMS, THE TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION COMMISSION DREW ON DEEP CHRISTIAN RESOURCES IN SOUTH AFRICAN CULTURE AND WAS BASED ON THE BIBLICAL PROMISE:

 

“YOU SHALL KNOW THE TRUTH, AND THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE.”

 

TUTU WAS PRAISED FOR HIS EFFORTS, BUT HIS CONSTANT TESTIMONY THAT CONFESSION AND REPENTANCE CAN LEAD TO FORGIVENESS STIRRED HARSH CRITICISM AS WELL – FROM ALL SIDES!

 

AS ONE CRITIC PUT IT – “YOU WOULD THINK THAT BY THE TIME ONE HAD GOTTEN TO BE TUTU’S AGE, HE WOULD HAVE LEARNED TO HATE MORE.

 

BUT THERE IS THIS PROBLEM WITH DESMOND.  HE ACTUALLY BELIEVES THE GOSPEL.”

 

GOD IS PRESENT.  GOD REMEMBERS THE POOR AND OPPRESSED.  GOD OFFERS HEALING AND FORGIVENESS TO ALL OF US;

 

GOD SUMMONS THE WHOLE CREATION TOWARD A NEW AND HOPEFUL FUTURE.

 

THESE ARE THE WORDS WE HEAR IN WORSHIP, AND THESE ARE THE WORDS WE OFFER IN TESTIMONY TO THE WORLD.

 

LIKE LYDIA, LET US TAKE THEM TO HEART, BEGINNING WITH US, WITH OUR FAMILY, IN OUR HOMES, IN OUR BUSINESSES.

 

LIKE PAUL, LET US TAKE THESE WORDS TO OTHERS.

 

LIKE JESUS AND HIS DISCIPLES, INCLUDING HIS FEMALE DISCIPLES, LET US SHOUT THEM FROM THE ROOFTOPS!

 

LIKE DESMOND TUTU, LET US LIVE THE WORDS, NEVER GIVING UP OR GIVING IN!

 

LET US ACTUALLY BELIEVE THE GOSPEL, AND PRACTICE IT FOR ALL WERE WORTH!

 

AND LET US REMEMBER, ALL OF US, ALL PEOPLE, EVERYWHERE…

 

OUR NEED TO COME DOWN TO THE RIVER TO PRAY.

 

 

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