Let’s just say from the outset, that one should be careful what one chooses for a sermon title…
A few months ago I was asked to be a guest preacher. I love to preach, so I said yes.
Usually when asked to preach, I take a look at the lectionary text for the day, the ‘assigned passages’ from the Bible. Sometimes I choose to preach from the lectionary passage, other times I don’t.
For this particular Sunday, May 9, one of the texts was Acts 16:6-15. I read it and knew it was the passage I wanted to use. It is a story of the apostle Paul and it is a story of Lydia, considered to be the first European convert to Christianity. It is not a long passage, and, on first glance, one may be tempted to think that there is not much going on in it. But if you dwell in the text for a bit there is a lot more going on than meets the eye. Oh wait, I just started into preacher mode, and this was supposed to be, not the sermon, but the story of how the sermon itself became a detour. Right.
So, as I had been working on the sermon one of the things that struck me was that, in the text, God prevented Paul from going where he wanted, prevented Paul from going back where he had already been. It was God who sent Paul somewhere new (through a dream) and that lead to a meeting with Lydia and a group of women outside the city gates, alongside a river. They were in Macedonia, the city of Philippi, which is modern day Turkey, in the European part. But Lydia was from Thyatira, which is actually in Asia.
I was so excited to have stumbled upon this little gem…the first European convert was actually an immigrant, and a woman at that! The few times I’ve heard the story of Lydia (which is not all that common of a story, actually) I’ve never heard anything about her being an immigrant. In this time of anti-immigrant laws and feelings, it seemed like an interesting piece, that the first European convert actually talked about Jesus with an accent.
I happened to post something about the Lydia passage on facebook. Fellow pastor Steve Yamaguchi commented on the passage, how it was one of his favorites. We exchanged comments back and forth about how cool the passage was, and how we both had noticed and appreciated this ‘immigrant’ piece within it.
Cut to… Sunday morning, a few minutes before I was to preach this sermon about Paul and Lydia, entitled Detour, at the First Presbyterian Church of Downey. I arrived at the church a bit late due to an encounter with Jesus in a parking lot (see previous post) and was discussing the service with the Associate Pastor, Alfredo.
Offhand, I made mention of the text, of Lydia, and of my ‘punchline,’ that Lydia was actually an immigrant.
“That’s great,” said Alfredo, “but Steve Yamaguchi just preached on Lydia a few weeks ago.”
What?! Oh no. What was I going to do? Having just been emailing back and forth with Steve, I knew what he must have preached about Lydia. There went my punchline.
“Um, should I preach on something else then?” I asked Alfredo.
“Do you have something else?” he responded.
“Well, then I guess God wants us to hear this passage again,” said Alfredo.
I guess so.