FAITH: Making space with gracious hospitality
15When she [Lydia] and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." ~Acts 16:15
A 328-unit development is going in across from Prineville Presbyterian Church. This reflects the growth all of central Oregon is experiencing.
Prompted in part by thoughts of new neighbors, we had fun recently with the question of whether we prefer to extend an invitation or accept an invitation. Understandably, many replies had to do with circumstances specific to that moment of "invitation."
In the above Bible passage, we hear an invitation extended from Lydia; and it was quickly accepted by Paul.
We know a lot about Paul. First known as Saul, he belonged to an extremely rigid religious sect. He was so dedicated to keeping every one of the 'I's dotted and 't's crossed, Saul did everything he could to crush the early Christian church…until he came against an even more determined grace-filled forgiveness in his encounter with the resurrected Jesus Christ -- an encounter so powerful Saul changed his name to Paul, and he devoted the rest of his life to getting the early Christian church on its feet.
However, Lydia? She has only two verses written about her. Yet, what we know in light of those times reveals so much more. She commands enough respect that we know her name. That might not seem like a big deal today, but when examining the Bible for how often names are used, men are 12 to 20 times more likely to be named than women.
Plus, for that "named" lady to also be quoted happens only 49 times in more than 31,000 Bible verses. Furthermore, Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth, an extravagance affordable only to the wealthy that required very specialized work and extensive labor. Additionally, she is in full command of her property. In short, Lydia is a sharp businesswoman of impressive standing.
Also, she's a God worshipper, which attracted her to a gathering where she met Paul. And from this point on, while there's nothing more about her, Lydia is credited with helping start the Christian church in Europe.
The overlapping point here is that Paul and Lydia both added vitality to the young Christian church.
And in light of Paul's previous background (Saul), Lydia's generous hospitality had to make an impression on him; and that invitation would have included a meal. What do we suppose that table conversation was like?
Lydia and Paul each had backgrounds very different from the other, yet in the offer and acceptance of this invitation; what did they learn about each other, and what did they learn from each other?
Paul's (as Saul) previous background was to prevent organizations from being built. Did Lydia share hard-earned wisdom with Paul about how to build organizations?
From here, Paul would embark on two more church-building trips that came with a good deal of struggle and challenge. Did Lydia's gracious hospitality inspire him to keep going when times turned tough?
And today, offering gracious hospitality to new neighbors — what might that lead to?
They may be like Paul, having left a church habit and home looking for another. Or, having opted out of previous church habit and home, grace makes space for an invitation to a new religious experience.
Still others may be like Lydia; gifted in their own lives marked by significant accomplishments, yet, in these new surroundings, they're also open to something more.
With people on the move bringing new faces and fresh vitality into communities and churches, may we be open to bringing richer life to new neighbors, while in the very same breath recognizing they may bring fuller life to us, too.
Mike Wilson is the pastor at Prineville Presbyterian Church. He can be reached at 541-447-1017.
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