Sunday, May 1, 2016

An Open Heart

John 14: 23-29, Acts 16:9-15
May 1, 2016
First Presbyterian Church, Sterling IL
Christina Berry

Our gospel reading is a part of what is known as Jesus’ “farewell discourse” a long parting speech that was probably originally more a dialogue than the monologue it looks like in John’s gospel. In any case, Jesus is giving some assurances, and some instructions, to his disciples before he takes his leave from them. You can imagine it like a very loving parent, about to leave the kids on their own, making sure they know how to handle things, reminding them of the important stuff, and reassuring them that they will be just fine. The question that precedes this particular section is in John 14:22, when Judas, not Iscariot, but the other Judas, asks Jesus, “‘Lord, how is it that you will reveal yourself to us, and not to the world?” Let’s listen for Jesus’ answer in John 14:23-29.

23 Jesus answered him, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me. 25 "I have said these things to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, 'I am going away, and I am coming to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father, because the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you this before it occurs, so that when it does occur, you may believe.

Our second reading is yet another story from the book of Acts, and we are now once again tracing the journey of the Apostle Paul. We’ll leave Peter in Judea for a while and travel with Paul toward the Roman colony in Macedonia, in the town of Philippi. Here, Paul encounters Lydia, a God-fearing gentile, probably Greek, who is the leader of a group that has gathered to pray. Let’s listen for God’s word to us in Acts 16:9-15.

9 During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, "Come over to Macedonia and help us." 10 When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
11 We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12 and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days. 13 On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. 14 A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. 15 When she 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." And she prevailed upon us.

Did you know that this week, starting tomorrow,
is teacher appreciation week?

I have to admit that I didn’t even know there was such a thing,
much less when it was, until I started looking for some teacher stories.
I was looking for teacher stories because I was thinking about this encounter
between the Apostle Paul and this woman, Lydia,
down by the river where Lydia gathered with other women to pray.
This story usually is labeled in Bibles
with the heading “The Conversion of Lydia.”
And I suppose that is one way to see it.

It’s a pretty vague outline, really, not too much of a narrative.
We get a little travelogue from Paul,
and a little geography lesson,
and then just three verses about Paul and this woman, Lydia.
There is apparently no synagogue in Philippi,
or Paul would likely have gone there.
So he goes down to the river, supposing he will find a place of prayer.
He sits down and talks with the women, particularly with Lydia.

We can only imagine what the conversation was,
but we can pretty well guess
that it must have been profound and life-changing,
because it culminated in Lydia and all her household being baptized,
and in Lydia insisting that Paul come and stay with her.
It isn’t that hard to guess, in fact, given what we know about Paul,
and what we can conjecture about Lydia.
She was a Gentile, probably Greek, but she was a God-fearer,
someone who was connected to or interested in the Jewish tradition.
She was clearly a leader, a woman of some means, head of a household.
She must have been a thoughtful and intelligent woman.
And she was a person who was willing to listen and learn.

Amy and I were talking this past week about teaching and learning,
and a piece we heard on the radio on the Dunning- Kruger effect.
That’s the term for when incompetent people don’t know they’re incompetent.
Or, to put it more bluntly, the Dunning-Kruger effect
is when you are too dumb to know how dumb you are.
The study showed that, for a given skill, incompetent people:
  • fail to recognize their own lack of skill
  • fail to recognize the extent of their inadequacy
  • fail to accurately gauge skill in others
  • recognize and acknowledge their own lack of skill only after they are exposed to training for that skill.[1]

As any of you who have ever taught surely know,
the hardest people to teach
are the ones who think they don’t need to be taught.

I expect most of us have displayed the Dunning-Kruger effect at least once,
but generally I’ve found that Presbyterians are pretty teachable.
We’ve found that if we don’t overestimate our knowledge,
we can learn an awful lot.
When we don’t think we already know everything, we can listen better.

Certainly, in our story from Acts,
Lydia was ready to learn and change.
Even though she was already a leader, she was also a spiritual seeker,
open to listening eagerly to Paul.
There’s that mention – in verse 14 – that the Lord opened her heart.
And so the heading is the Bible “The conversion of Lydia” is a good one.
But I think Paul was also open to listening carefully to Lydia.
And that’s where I think the Holy Spirit comes into the story.

In Jesus’ farewell discourse,
he explains that God is revealed to us through the work of the Holy Spirit,
and that love and peace are ours as a gift.
When hearts are open, love and peace can flow in,
and it is the Spirit that opens hearts.

Paul must have sat with Lydia with his heart open,
ready to hear her, to know her, and to be heard and known.
I think Paul sat down with Lydia and talked, with an open heart.
That’s the basis of sharing faith,
of testifying, if you don’t mind that word –
an open heart.

I mentioned that it is teacher appreciation week.
If you think about teaching, and teachers you’ve appreciated,
you’ll probably think of a teacher with an open heart –
someone who was just as interested in you as a person
as they were in the subject – whether it was geometry or Western Civilization.

An open heart is what makes the space for genuine conversation about faith.
Talking about our faith is simply bearing witness
to what God has done in our lives.

Sharing our faith is simply having a genuine conversation
with someone we care about
on the topic of something that matters to us and to them.

We don’t need a three point sermon,
or a list of doctrinal truths to read through.
We just need our own lives, maybe some little moment that happened today,
when we sensed God’s love, or God’s presence.

We’re not required to have a testimony of a blinding light out of nowhere
smacking us down in the middle of an otherwise ordinary day,
followed by the audible voice of God calling our names.
We just need our own lives, maybe some little moment that happened today,
when we sensed God’s peace coming as a gift,
and we knew that we have never been alone.
We don’t have to have a story that reads like a lurid crime novel
that ends at the altar with confession and miraculous transformation.
We just need our own lives,
maybe some little moment that happened today,
a little short story about something God has done for us.

I ran across this the other day in a magazine called “Outreach.”
It struck me that when we teach and learn,
when we sit down to talk together like Paul did with Lydia,
when the Holy Spirit opens our hearts,
it’s kind of like this.

If you read the entire thing,
it is a good way to talk yourself out of ever sharing
your own faith story or your own God sightings with anyone.

Just my luck, he’s coming this way.
Today is the day I promised I would

tell him about my beliefs.
Wait. Does my breath stink?

Someone would have told me, right?
Maybe I should wait. I’m not sure

how to do this. Smile. Don’t stare.
I’m staring. Help me,

Jesus, to say the right words.
Oh, here he comes back. Yep, he

changed direction. So nervous!
Stop sweating and grinning! You’re holding

your breath. And sweating.
Maybe I should wait. It’s not like his

life depends on this.

But it isn’t that complicated.
I’m fairly sure that very few people come to a life of faith
in response to a learned theological discourse
on the person and work of Jesus.

I’m fairly sure that most people come to a life of faith
in response to a person – or persons –
who demonstrate the love and peace that Jesus gives,
who live with an open heart,
with space for love to flow out AND in.

Our identity in Christ is shaped by God through the Holy Spirit,
who is teaching us everything – if we are willing to open our hearts.
So that’s who we are – people with open hearts,
open to learning as well as teaching,
to listening as well as speaking,
to sharing that love we have received,
that deep peace – that shalom, with the world.

With actual people.

People with open hearts, willing to speak and to listen.
That’s who we are.
Just tell someone how Jesus changed your life.
Just tell someone how Jesus changed your life.
Just tell someone how Jesus changed your life.



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