Horizons — Lydia’s encounter

Rosalind Banbury's eighth reflection on the 2023-2024 Presbyterian Women/Horizons Bible Study.

Sacred Encounters: The Power and Presence of Jesus Christ in Luke and Acts
Lesson 8: Acts 16

The following is an imaginative retelling of Acts 16.

Most days, she wears silk power suits cut to drape well on her body. Her handbag is Gucci.  The contact list on her phone includes clients of the one percent wealthiest people. When she has a new product, the rich take her calls, and she is seen with them at country clubs and art galleries. Though she will never be part of the inner circles, she makes it her business to supply clients with the most expensive fabrics in the world, including vicuna wool, which costs $400-$600 for two pounds. Her home has a large gathering space, and her staff ensures her business runs smoothly.

Lydia Thyatira is fluent in several languages, and in her travels, she has met people whom she has come to respect who are Jewish. Though she has not converted, she is drawn to the God of the Jews and their moral teachings and has been studying the translated Hebrew scriptures. At home in Philippi, there are not enough Jews to have a synagogue, so on Sabbath mornings, she dresses in jeans, and she goes with her household to the small river with lush growth gracing the banks. They find a quiet, shady spot. The river is a common place to meditate. They listen the water’ flow, the birds’ songs, and they watch jewel-winged dragonflies dance. They read and discuss Scripture. They pray.

One Sabbath, Lydia is joined by some Jewish men. After respectful introductions, one of the men – Paul Tarsus – says, “I see you reading from the prophet Isaiah.”

“Indeed,” Lydia replies, “The prophet has such hard and wonderful words.”

As the sun climbs in the cerulean sky, they talk intensely about the texts in Isaiah. They share lunch of excellent cheese sandwiched in an olive loaf. Paul gathers steam and sweeps through the Hebrew Scriptures, gathering all into the power of his words, speaking passionately about his persecuting the Jesus people — and how Jesus waylaid him. The group hardly breathes as Paul paints the picture of Jesus speaking to him in a blinding light.

You know how sometimes you feel as if your heart will burst out of your chest? Lydia feels her heart cracked opened by God, and a longing and a thirst to know Jesus pours in.

“It is as if my whole life was preparing for this moment,” Lydia says. “How can I become a follower of Jesus?”

Paul responds, “Through baptism your spirit will be cleansed and joined to Christ.”

There is a place where the water has pooled beside a rock ledge. Lydia and her household move into the pool, and, with a shell scoop, Paul pours water over each, saying “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. All who are baptized into Christ are clothed with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free; there is no longer male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”

Dripping on the banks, Lydia says, “If I may, I would consider it an honor if you would come to my house to stay.” Paul, Silas, Timothy and Luke accept her hospitality, staying some weeks as Paul continues to teach. But events turn ugly and tumultuous. Some locals tell lies about Paul and Silas, labeling them as foreigners. During an ensuing riot, Paul and Silas are beaten and thrown into jail. While imprisoned, they spend the time singing hymns —and also convert the jailer and his family to become followers of Jesus.

When Paul and the other men leave Philippi, believers continue to show up at Lydia’s house. They share a meal, which is scandalous because you just don’t sit down and break bread with people outside of your economic and social class. Lydia, in her fine apparel, sits beside an uneducated girl used by others to generate income. Well-educated Lydia says to a Hispanic police officer, who graduated high school, “Come right on in.” This shocking mixing of people who are unified by Christ, causes suspicion among the neighbors who think something bad is going to shake down. This tearing down of barriers between people in Christ is as radical now as it was in Lydia’s time.

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