I am not sure if any of you saw the movie Spiderman… the first one, a while ago now… Anyway there is a line in that movie, where Uncle Ben tells the young Peter Parker, who will one day become Spiderman, that “With great power comes great responsibility.”
It is a great line, it is actually a lot older than Spiderman, the French philosopher Voltaire wrote it down centuries before; but I am pretty sure it has been around in some form or another forever… Take care of your younger brother… if you are going to borrow the car you have to drive your sister to soccer. We all learn that as we get more freedom, more power, more life, we also have more responsibility…
Perhaps we do not stop and think about it spiritually all too often. What does it mean that the more power we have, the more responsibility we have? We usually think of it the other way – when we read the Bible we see ourselves as one of the poor, one of the powerless, one of the great majority of people who Jesus was talking to when he said, God will come and make it better.
And the heroes of the Bible… Moses Stutters, David is the youngest and smallest son, Jesus is just some small town carpenters son; and almost every other person we encounter comes from the poorest of the poor, shepherds and fishers…
But what about the other side… what is God saying to the people who have it all? And I don’t necessarily mean money, I mean resources, influence, lifestyle… which, to be fair, most of us have more of than most people in the world… What is God saying to us.
With the Kids – Comfort
Thinking of Comfort
I have often read the John passage at funerals. It is one of my favourites to preach on. I guess probably that is because I hope to be as brave as Jesus when I die. You see, he knew what was happening, he knew this was the end, and his last thoughts were about making it all right for his family and friends.
Don’t worry, he tries to say them. I am always with you, and I will send another to comfort and guide you, you do not have to go through it alone, God will be with you, in one way or another…. It is their future, their pain, their life that concerns him the most as he is losing his.
Imagine what it would feel like to know that someone was there who would teach us how to get through it, who would help us to feel at peace with the world even when tragedies happen… That is what Jesus is offering his followers. He is saying that no matter what comes, there will be someone who is there for you.
That is a pretty powerful promise.
So here is our hero for today, Lydia… as important a person as ever there was for the early church, but another person for whom we only have one brief story; and so I want to tell you that story again, in a more dramatic way… I have to admit that I got a little help from a book called Women of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Jean Syswerda.
The wind rustled the branches overhead until they became a swaying canopy whose shadow danced across the circle of women bowed in prayer. It didn't matter that Philippi had too few Jews to support a synagogue; the river's edge had become their place of worship, a green sanctuary where they gathered each Sabbath to pray.
A woman named Lydia was there that day, on the edges, watching it all unfold. Lydia was not Jewish, but she had come to believe in this God they spoke of. She had come to Philippi from Asia Minor and was a prominent businesswoman who sold fine cloth to those who could afford it. The cloth was prized for its purple colour.
Now Lydia listened as a stranger from Tarsus began the morning prayers; "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one, Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength." Such prayers were like a gust of wind, fanning her longing. Though not a Jew, she wanted to know this God powerful enough to part the sea yet tender enough to yearn for the love of his people.
Paul did not stop there, he spoke of a God whose Son, Jesus, had been murdered for love. This Jesus had risen from the grave after suffering the most agonizing death imaginable. He was the Messiah, the merciful and holy One.
The women sat quietly as Paul told the story. Even the branches overhead had stopped their noisy rustling. But in the stillness, Lydia felt a strong wind rushing through her. Tears rolled down her cheeks even though she felt like singing. Afterward, she was baptized in that same river she had come to pray at. In fact, so strong was her faith that her entire household followed her example and were baptized; then Lydia insisted that Paul and Silas and probably Timothy and Luke too accept her hospitality.
Philippi seemed an unlikely place to plant the gospel. It was a prosperous Roman colony located on the main highway linking the eastern provinces to Rome and its citizens included large numbers of retired Roman soldiers. Despite its size, however, Philippi hadn't even enough Jews to provide the requisite quorum of ten reliable men to form a synagogue--and it had always been Paul's habit to preach at the synagogue first. Even so, Philippi did have its group of praying Jewish and Gentile women.
Shortly after Lydia's conversion, Paul and Silas had been thrown in prison for upsetting the Roman authorities. After they were released, Lydia once again extended hospitality and invited them into her home and cared for them. In the short time that they had been away, Lydia had started a house church and the faithful were gathered there. Her home may have become the very center of the church in Phillipi.
I am sure that Lydia did not fully understand the power that she held. Luckily, she took her responsibility to be a good person seriously. This affected all of those around her and her simple actions of commitment, love and hospitality helped to set the church on a certain path.
All You Need Is Love
I guess we all know that John Lennon was right when he wrote, all you need is love… after all, he got that from some good sources, like Jesus, and the Apostles, and… well… God.
But perhaps more to the point, that is what we are talking about once again… whether you are rich or poor, whether you are young or old, all you need is love.
Why is that true?
Well, in this letter, which is thought to be written by the person who wrote the Gospel of John, we have a long passage about love. And essentially it says something we already know, that God is love… but then it goes on to say we should then be acting out of a spirit of love… and the ultimate reason given is that love conquers fear….
So it is more than just loving because you are nice, it is more than just making the other person feel good, it is more than just doing the right thing… it is a concrete way to conquer fear.
This, when you think about it, is a pretty good tool to have; because who of us is not afraid, I mean, really, we are afraid of death, of sickness, of speaking in public, of being alone, of speaking our mind, of being judged, of spiders…. Fear is at the heart of a lot of our decisions… maybe most of our decisions.
And what would it be like if we overcame that fear with love? Could that not be what drew people to the faith, whether they were rich or poor? Could that not be why Lydia is recognized as a Saint, that she did things, like bring in Paul the prisoner, despite her fear… she acted out of love in the face of fear…
So what about that whole “great power leads to great responsibility” thing?
I think that we have to realize that we all have choices to make, that is what Lydia is all about – she had the power and the resources to make a difference and she used them for good. And perhaps if you do find yourself with more than other people, that should be your guiding principle.
Did you know Bill Gates, certainly one of the richest people on the planet, what with basically owning the concept of computers, is also one of the biggest givers to charity in the world, like, giving more than a lot of countries….
God calls us to be responsible, and in that, to live out of a place of love.