Monroe Congregational Church, U.C.C.
May 20, 2001 - Pastor Diane Schmitz
Listen to this story from a long time ago: It is an early summer morning !-- SermIndex -->in the Roman city of Philippi when Lydia awakes. In the next room she hears the sound of her toddler playing with his toys. Outside are the sounds of a city coming awake. Vendors are gathering, the birds are singing; it feels like it will be another hot day.
Lydia groans. She didn't sleep well as she tossed and turned worrying about some new problems with a particularly difficult client at her work. Lydia generally enjoyed being a successful dealer of highly valued purple cloth sold throughout Macedonia. She loved her work because of all her interactions with people but there were times when she simply got fed up with a few of the persnickety rich folk who always wanted more attention and time than was reasonable to expect. It seemed like the business took more and more of her time; it'd been months since she'd had any real time off. She was getting cranky.
Lydia's 8-year old daughter came into her room. "Mommy, are you going to be able to finish my special dress for the birthday celebration next week? Inwardly, Lydia groaned again. " That's right, the gathering is this week; when am I going to have time to finish that sewing?" After reassuring her daughter and sending her out to play, Lydia turned over in her bed and put the pillow over her head.
Her upper back and shoulders were tight, even this early in the morning. As hectic as the last week had been, Lydia had not had time for her daily walks and the tension of her life had settled into her body.
Tomorrow several of her friends were coming over to continue making clothes for the widows in the area. This was good work, important work, but Lydia felt she scarcely had any energy left over for it.
The household expenses needed to be attended to soon. They should have been taken care of last week. Maybe she could do them today.
Then she remembered; today was the Sabbath. A part of her cringed; she had so much work to do; how could she take time out? Another part of her eased into a smile; today was holy time; time to praise her God; time to be with God and pray.
She gathered up the children and they made their way down to the side of the river where she and other women gathered weekly to worship. As she sat by the water she felt her whole body relax. The beauty around her soothed Lydia; she was nurtured by the sound of laughter coming from the children off playing. It felt so good to be still. Her heart no longer felt tight but open and joyful. With a sense of expectancy she, along with the other women present, began to pray.
As the women were praying, a couple of men approached the group. One introduced himself as Paul. "We are Christians," he said. Lydia and her Gentile friends asked them to share what that meant. Paul and his friends shared stories of Jesus and about the resurrection. It was a pivotal moment for Lydia. As she listened she felt something respond in her to an invitation to dwell with God in ways she had not yet imagined. Lydia felt an enormous sense of peace come upon her. She asked that she and her household be baptized. Enthusiastic about her new sense of life she invited her new friends to be guests at her home.
Lydia's life was transformed that morning. Not because she worked harder, not because she sewed her daughter's dress, did the bills or even made clothes for the less fortunate. Her life was changed because she made time to dwell with God. In that dwelling time, with her heart open, she heard a "new word" and had a different experience of how life could be.
We are surrounded by words in our day but they are often words from the media, words from the billboards, sly words from politicians, empty words from marketers. Where do we hear a word of hope, where do we feel a word of peace?
Lydia heard it from words about Jesus that morning. She heard it because she took herself away from the normal day-to-day bustle and created some dwelling time with God. In our passage from John this morning Jesus says, "I do not give to you as the world gives." When he talks about leaving his peace with us, it is peace that comes through dwelling in the arms of a loving God.
This was something he experienced and practiced. We think of Jesus as an active person, healing and teaching. But, he honored the need for rest, for time away to purposefully dwell with God. Listen to these scripture passages: "And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray." (Matthew 14-23) "But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But he withdrew into the wilderness and prayed." (Luke 5:15-16)
Jesus did not wait until all-important work was done; everyone healed, and everyone satisfied before he rested, before he prayed. It was that kind of dwelling that renewed him and gave him the energy and wisdom to continue on his path.
We live in a culture that is always on the move. We seldom stop long enough to see where we are; our focus tends to be on where we are going and how we're going to get there.
Thomas Merton wrote: "There is a pervasive form of contemporary violence. . . (and that is) activism and overwork. The rush and pressure of modern life are a form, perhaps the most common form, of its innate violence. To allow oneself to be carried away by a multitude of conflicting concerns, to surrender to too many demands, to commit oneself to too many projects, to want to help everyone in everything, is to succumb to violence."
These are strong words but I think they speak accurately of the temptations that surround us all daily. Such violence is not compatible with dwelling with God.
The concordance in my Bible lists 33 references to dwelling and only 10 to journey. Jesus talks of "the Father who dwells in me (John 14:10). In Colossians we are reminded to "let the word of Christ dwell in your richly" (3:16). The psalms speak of how we "dwell in the shelter of the Most High "(91:01) and in Romans we are told that "the Spirit of God dwells in you." (8:9).
We all know that relationships require an attentiveness if they are to thrive. We're aware we must spend time nurturing those relationships. And yet, we often forget such foundational things when it comes to our relationship with God?
"Be still and know that I am God," says the psalmist. The phrase echoes: "dwell with me, be with me." There is a saying: God is home; it is we who have gone out for a walk. God calls us back: "Dwell with me, be with me."
Dwelling is an experience of intimacy and can be threatening to us. To commune with God, to discover God and be discovered by God is a deeply human desire, but it can also be a human fear. It asks deep questions about who we think God is and what right relationship with God should be.
To be silent and dwell with God may push our comfort level. What might we hear? What might we come to know - about ourselves, our relationships, our world, our faith. It takes courage to move past our limited understanding of what God is and open ourselves to ever deepening experiences of God's love in our lives.
Lydia, even in the midst of her busy life, took time out to be in prayer, to listen for God's voice and her life was transformed. She honored the vital importance of Sabbath time to rest in God's arms trusting that the rest of her life would be taken care of in due time.
In a couple of weeks we will celebrate Pentecost acknowledging the power of the Holy Spirit to move through our lives creating new possibilities for God's expression. God asks that we open our hearts and listen for which way the breath of the Holy Spirit is guiding us. God is calling each one of us to come and dwell in God's loving presence. May we answer that call by making time and space in our lives to dwell with God. Amen.