The Story of St. Lydia
In the Acts of the Apostles chapter 16, we have the story of how the Apostle Paul came to start a church in Philippi, the most important city of Macedonia, centuries before Christ.
Macedonia is now part of Greece (or, officially known, The Hellenic Republic), but it was under Roman occupation and rule then.
The city, founded by King Philip of Macedonia (father to Alexander the Great), had become, under Roman rule, a metropolis filled with loyalists to the Empire.
The Romans granted land rights to retired soldiers, so there was no shortage of the cult of the Emperor---meaning Caesar was worshipped like a god there with great enthusiasm.
There was also no synagogue in Philippi, which made Paul's mission there even more challenging. In every city where Paul would visit to share the Good News of Jesus, he would always start at the local synagogues.
So when he and his companions arrived in Philippi, they decided to go to the river near the city to worship. Jewish custom required that they worship near water, either in a mikvah in a synagogue or a river.
When Paul approached the wide, muddy waters of the Krenides River, he discovered a gathering of women already there, worshipping in the Jewish tradition, even though they were Gentiles.
The group leader was a smart, capable, and wealthy businesswoman named Lydia, who had settled in Philippi to run her successful "purple cloth" company, catering to the rich Romans in the city and beyond.
Lydia and her entire household eventually would be baptized by Paul and became followers of the Way of Christ. She was an instrumental leader in the church in Philippi and someone whom Paul came to rely upon heavily.
When I visited the baptismal site on the Krenides River recently, I got to stand in the water barefooted and let it rush over my feet.
As I stood there, I reflected on how, in the Orthodox tradition, Lydia is considered an "Equal to the Apostles," which is not the case in neither the Roman Catholic Church nor the few Protestant denominations that honor the saints.
I also reflected on how many Christian traditions use a few questionable quotes from Paul in his letters (some of which scholars debate whether he even wrote) to deny women ordination as ministers and elders within the Church.
Yet, throughout the churches that Paul planted around the Roman world, there were more than a few leaders like Lydia, some of whom we know preached and made decisions with Paul's blessing.
Lydia stands as an example of how God's calling falls upon people, even when they don't meet the man-made criteria for leadership. She was a Gentile and a woman, which also meant Paul was stretching beyond the boundaries of his own traditions to reach out to her.
Recently, I had an anonymous critic post something beneath a sermon video where I had stated how unbiblical it was to assume that Paul didn't want women leading in the church.
They put me on blast for my comment and then stated, "It's in the Bible!" I responded that they should probably read and study the Bible more carefully, which I presume would never happen.
Herein lies the issue with assuming biblical interpretations that exclude and dehumanize others. Most people who make these claims never do the work to study the Bible well. In fact, I think they're afraid to do so.
We should never be afraid to have our opinions and interpretations of what the Bible says be challenged and changed. And as I sat there in the water of the Krenides, I re-committed myself to that very thing.
May we all do so, and may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and always. Amen.