Deadbeat Disciples & Foremothers of Faith

by susan on May 9, 2016

acts 16During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”10When 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. 11We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, 12and 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. 13On 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. 14A 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. 15When 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. -Acts 16:9-15, NRSV

Whether we want to admit it or not, we like to fit in. I remember many awkward adolescent moments where my desperate desire to fit in took a terrible turn. Like the time I fell down an flight of stairs in high school, watching helplessly as my folders and books scattered for what seemed like miles. Like the times I was called on unexpectedly in class and my face turned 50 shades of red from embarrassment. And, even as an adult, I’ve had my fair share of not-fitting in moments like at my niece’s 2nd birthday party.

In the midst of the celebration with family and friends, my husband and I were interacting when a distant relative overheard us. I can’t recall exactly what we were saying to one another, but it wasn’t an argument and it wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. Whatever was said or done, this distant relative felt the need to share her observation: “Well, I can tell who wears the pants in your family.”

Although I certainly had the feeling I was the more assertive one in our relationship, it was the first time anyone had ever publicly critiqued me for it. I did not grow up being told that women should keep silent, but I got the idea that we were not supposed to be in charge. Hearing her words, I felt ashamed and embarrassed and like there must be something wrong with me. Don’t worry though, I’ve gotten over it since :).

This commentary on my behavior may have in part, come from cultural norms. Norms tell us what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

family valuesTake a look at the image to the right. What are some of the norms that are suggested in this image?
Now, what happens when this become not only a cultural ideal, but also a “Christian” one?

What happens to single mothers? People who can’t or choose not to have children? Lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender people?

We know what happens. Some real problems arise. We start shaming, excluding & even discriminating against people who don’t fit in. All in the name of Jesus.

Ironically, when we look to scripture, no blueprint for this way of following Jesus exists. Instead, especially in the book of Acts, we find the opposite. We find followers of the Way, who were in constant contradiction with the norms of society & religion. Instead of blending in neatly, they stuck out like sore thumbs.

Think about it. Men were expected to marry, have children and manage the affairs of their households. This was not just an expectation, it was social policy. According to New Testament scholar Greg Carey, Emperor Caesar Augustus issued penalties to unmarried adults and childless couples. Yet, here are Paul and most of the apostles traveling from place to place, most of them unmarried with no mention of any children. These disciples would have been considered deadbeats by most in society.

Not only did they abandon their social roles, they also seemed to have no idea where they were headed in life, much less on this journey recorded in Acts. They had originally set out for Asia and wound up somewhere completely different. After encountering multiple detours, Paul has a compelling vision and his vision become the community mission and off they go to Macedonia.

Philippi was a Roman colony in Macedonia, a place where Roman societal values would have been non-negotiable. It was a place where Paul and his posse would have been considered criminals because of their foreign way of life. This may explain why on the Sabbath, they do not go to the local synagogue, but rather to the riverbank where they’ve heard about a place of prayer.

It’s there, that they meet Lydia.

Lydia is an exception to the norm.
She’s a working woman,
a dealer of purple cloth.
She’s a worshiper of God, yet
she is not  identified as a Jew.
Today, we’d label her “spiritual, not religious”.

As she listens to these followers, she hears something that captures her attention. We don’t know exactly what they are saying. Maybe they are not just talking about a new, narrow religion that has no room for her ambitious dreams. Maybe she hears them talking about Jesus and the Spirit that he has led them onto an ever-unfolding adventure. Now that, she can believe in. She becomes a follower and is baptized into the Way.

Lydia’s first act as a new disciple is not to sell her fabric supply company and find a good man to marry. Her first act is to offer hospitality to these strangers passing through town. The Message translations describes her response this way:

After she was baptized, along with everyone in her household, she said in a surge of hospitality, “If you’re confident that I’m in this with you and believe in the Master truly, come home with me and be my guests.”

We hesitated, but she wouldn’t take no for an answer.

She wouldn’t take no for an answer? Or according to the NRSV translation, she “prevailed upon us”. The Greek means she compelled by force. I don’t remember hearing that in Sunday School…

These are the leaders of the early church and this is what their movement looked like. It involved disciples who would have been labeled deadbeats and included not only forefathers, but foremothers of faith.

The good news is this: Life is not about fitting in and neither is following Jesus. 

The God that we see in scripture will not be held captive by society’s norms, by traditional gender roles or anything else. The Spirit of God is not about putting people in their proper places. Instead, She is busy opening hearts and overturning expectations.

What expectations do we need to let go of &
what new possibilities do we need to consider?
What might happen, if instead of trying to conform
or trying to get others to conform,
we opened our ears & hearts and followed the Spirit of God?

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