Sixth Sunday of Easter Year C
May 9, 2010
Let us pray: Ever-guiding Spirit, open us to the paths you call us to travel. Open us to the ones with whom you would have us minister. May we welcome one another with hearts of grace, that together we may be hospitable to your purposes. Amen.
The most famous security blanket is probably the one that Linus has with him all the time. You know, Linus Van Pelt, Lucy's brother and one of the lovable characters of the Peanuts comic strip. In fact, my research suggests that it was Linus' blue blanket that gave name to the term security blanket. We all get the point of a security blanket, not just from Linus, but as part of growing up for many of us. It brings comfort, familiarity and reassurance in the face of new experiences and scary situations.
I first thought about security blankets this week not as something positive, but rather from a different perspective. I wondered what security blankets we have with us in our life's journey and whether those security blankets are preventing us from taking a step in faith away from what is comfortable and safe, but also preventing us from making new discoveries, and learning more about what it means to be in community with all of God's people.
It's kind of a following on from last week's message the one which came about as a result of Peter's vision a vision which expanded the comfortable notion about who should be included among the community of followers of Jesus who could be counted as a person of the Way.
We hear a similar vision described in today's reading from Acts. This time it is Paul who has the vision a vision which prompted him to make a journey to other parts. He is called to make a trip to Macedonia and there he meets Lydia a faithful woman and a dealer in purple cloth. It happens at a gathering of women who had come to pray by the river. Lydia is among them. The purple cloth reference suggests that she moved among the wealthy class because purple cloth was highly valued as a sign of nobility and wealth. She is credited with the beginning of the Christian church in Philippi, and made more well known because of Paul's letter to the Philippians.
The point of course is that Paul's vision was experienced as a call from God to draw the circle wider to travel to new places and tell the story of the gospel to a new group of people not only defined by geography but also social class.
I spoke last week about the vision of Peter and how it was a game changing vision moving the focus of the community away from being a small group of people who shared a common faith history to a much wider community which included people who had a different faith story. Paul's visit to Macedonia was a visit to an area under the influence of the Roman Empire, where there were other communities of faith in existence. We are told that Lydia was a person of faith, but that she was also open to hear the message that Paul was telling of Jesus and the community of followers of Jesus that was growing all around the countries which surrounded the Mediterranean Sea.
I also spoke last week about my attendance at a meeting of the Ethnic Ministry Committee of our conference. The General Council of our church at its meeting last summer made important decisions about the journey we are called to make, a journey to continue to work toward becoming an intercultural church. During the meeting last week we several times used that story of Peter's dream as a basis for our own dreaming and our own commitment to work towards the vision that the commissioners to the General Council offered to the church. The dream is a great one, but like anything that requires change, we can get sidetracked and afraid by the details. What could we lose? What of our ideals and closely held traditions will we have to forsake? How far will we be called to go in trying to understand different and new ways of being in relationship? How closely are our practices misunderstood as the just way, when really they are just one way, and what will we be called to give up, or adjust on this journey? These are all the kinds of questions that come to mind when I consider this journey. I can be inspired by the big dream, but I can be discouraged and worried when I think about what it will mean to me in all kinds of little details. I can worry about the adjustments I will have to make in the comfort areas of my life and wonder whether they are worth the effort in the journey towards the bigger, more inclusive dream.
And thus, I think about security blankets. I think about all the things that bring comfort, familiarity and even peace to my life and wonder whether I want to disrupt them in favour of a more inclusive vision of what it means to be the community of God's people.
I also could not help thinking about Lydia and her purple cloth. What is it about her occupation that deserves mention in that story from Acts? Why do we need to know that she is a dealer in purple cloth? Couldn't it be a throw-away line? What purpose does it serve in the story? The story itself says nothing more about it. Lydia we are told was a woman of faith the particular faith expression we are not told and a dealer in purple cloth. One paraphrase gives a bit more detail a dealer in expensive textiles, but that's all . No explanation, no reason given as to why that's important.
It's my interpretation that one reason is that this was a sign that the message was transcending not only geographical boundaries, but also boundaries of class and social status. Presumably as a dealer in expensive textiles, she was in relationship with people of more means. And presumably with her enthusiastic acceptance of the message she would share that message with those with whom she did business.
But I also wondered about the significance of cloth. Blankets are made of cloth, as are all our clothes. Just like we have comfort food, I know we all have comfort clothing the kind of garments that we wear to feel safe and comfortable and relaxed. Certain textures appeal to us I know, but I expect also different colours. Some of us are attracted to bright colours, while others of us would rather climb into soft, dull or dark colours. I wonder how much of this is nature, and how much is nurture one of the age-old questions about meaning in life. And so, was purple a comfort colour for the rich and famous of the Roman empire and did it help to establish place in society? Well, all this conjecture out of a simple little reference, and yet a reference that has survived centuries of redaction and interpretation. There has to be something to it.
Well, you've had a brief journey with me along the path that my thought processes travelled this week as I tried to put together my experiences with the Ethnic Ministry committee, the vision of Peter, the vision of Paul, the call to become an intercultural church, my own desire to live the big dream and my anxieties about the details of what it will take to get there, and my ponderings about a reference to purple cloth.
But finally, I thought about Linus and his security blanket a bit more. Linus did not retreat from things into the security of his blanket. Instead he used the blanket to provide comfort to him in the face of new experiences. In other words, it was a kind of shield to protect him from the worst that he thought life might present him with. The blanket actually helped him to face more than he might have wanted to without it.
And so rather than see a security blanket as a place of retreat, perhaps it might be a symbol of home that we can take with us as we face new challenges and experiences on the road towards fuller inclusion in the community of God's people. What of our own traditions and knowledge are important for us to hang on to without preventing us from being open to insights and perspectives from the wider community?
Ultimately we know however that the security blanket can outlast its usefulness. Linus' blanket may be over fifty years in use, but there comes a time in our lives, when we have to take a step away from the safety and comfort and trust in God and the journey which God is calling us to follow a journey of ever widening circles of inclusion and and mutual relationship.
And like I said last week, this story is not over. In fact I have a feeling that it will never be over, for it is really our story told in different ways in different times, but really the same story. People like Lydia and her people are just around every corner. Amen.