When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat which doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals, and say we’ve no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I’m tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick the flowers in other people’s gardens
And learn to spit.
You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.
But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers.
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Lydia is one of the many mothers of Christianity. Lydia was the first European convert to Christianity. Lydia was the founder of the church at Philippi. The Scriptures tell us that before Paul and Silias proclaimed the Gospel to Lydia, she was a “God Fearer”. God Fearers, was the name given to people who were not Jewish but who were so intrigued with the God that the Jews worshipped that they lived their lives as if they were Jews. Indeed, most God Fearers followed all the Jewish laws except for circumcision. Circumcision, for adult males, living in the first century, when sanitary conditions were primitive and no antibiotics were available could lead to death. So, most male converts to Judaism, were not called Jews but God Fearers. Generally women were given the same designation as their husbands or fathers.
So right from the beginning of the story, Lydia is described in an unconventional way. We are told that Lydia was “a God fearer; a worshipper of God and a dealer in purple.” Now an introduction like that may not seem very unconventional to us but we have to remember that for the writer of the Book of Acts to have described a situation where, Paul and Silias, two strange men in town meet a woman, any woman was in and of itself unconventional.
When the Acts of the Apostles was written sometime between at the end of the first century, (most scholars date it between 80 to 100) this sort of encounter would have been considered outrageous; women and men, especially strange men, simply didn’t have encounters in public. And as for Lydia being a dealer in purple; well people hearing this story in the first century would have been amazed at the very idea of a women conducting business. And as for the colour purple: it took thousands of mollusks; mollusks are tiny little crustaceans…shellfish; and you’ve got to crush and treat thousands of the little suckers just to make enough dye to make a yard or two of purple cloth. So it was very expensive, worth its weight in silver. Wearing purple was a statement of status and wealth. Purple was the Gucci handbag or Rolex watch of the first century. Lydia is selling purple; purple cloth, purple robes, the power of purple. She’s not local. Lydia’s is from Thyatira, a town well know for making purple cloth. Lydia seems to be the head of her household, there’s no man mentioned and that alone is remarkable, because Lydia is traveling in the public realm, to trade her wares. As a seller of purple, she’s not poor; a poor woman wouldn’t be able to afford that kind of stock. She’s not Jewish, but she believes in God. She’s not part of any organized religion.
According to the story, when Paul and Silias arrive in Philippi to proclaim the good news about Jesus Christ, they begin by looking for a synagogue. They figure a synagogue is a good place to begin because that’s where the folks who already believe in God hang out. But to have a synagogue you need ten men who will meet together to say prayers. Philippi, it seems, didn’t have a ten men to form a synagogue. So if there’s no synagogue, then any Jews or God Fearers that happen to be in the town or passing through know to meet down by the river on the Sabbath to pray.
So, Paul and Silias head down by the riverside, hoping to preach the gospel to the men; and down by the river they find only women. And the scripture tells us that Paul and Silias, “sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to them; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. We’re told that, “The Lord, opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.” And then we are told that Lydia and her household were baptized and Lydia invited Paul and Silias to come and stay with her.
Many scholars agree that the church that was formed in Philippi, the church to whom Paul address his letter to the Philippians; this church, the first church in Europe was in all likelihood founded and then led by the first European convert to Christianity; a woman named Lydia.
Looking back to a time when we have been lead to believe that conventions demanded that women to stay out of the public realm, we see that even the Apostle Paul, who down through the centuries has been credited with trying to keep women silent in the churches, even Paul promoted the proclamation of the Gospel by entering into all sorts of ministries that were actually lead by women. Lydia was one of several women, named and unnamed who established the first congregations in their homes. Most of these women were wealthy women of means who saw to it that the church had what it needed to grow and flourish.
From the very beginning Christianity has flouted convention. Yet so many of those of us who call ourselves Christians, spend so much of our time content to be conventional. Christianity is not about preserving the status quo. Christianity is not about being conventional. Christianity is dangerous. Those who call ourselves Christian need to put away our desire to play it safe. We need more purple hues in our lives! We need to dare to step out of bounds, and take some risks. Christians need to colour outside the lines!
Don’t shun the unconventional. Remember Lydia and ask yourself: are you old enough to wear purple; how about a red hat that doesn’t go, and doesn’t suit you?
Do you think your ready, to make up for all those years of following the rules? Do you want to go out in your slippers in the rain, or pick the flowers in other people’s gardens and learn to spit? NO. Well maybe you’re right; maybe you’re not old enough just yet. But maybe you ought to practice a little now? So people who know you are not too shocked and surprised when suddenly you are old, and start to wear purple. Come on, what have we got to lose, listen to the ways the Spirit of God is moving in you. Come on let’s take a chance and mosey on down by the riverside!
Let’s dare to wear purple! Perhaps, in daring to be unconventional we will know the peace the promised peace of Christ. So, let’s mosey on down by the riverside…
Lydia’s band of women down by the riverside reminded me of Sister Rosetta Tharpe; an unconventional woman who dared to be who she was. There’s another sermon here somewhere about the peace that Christ offers. Preach it!
For more about Sister Rosetta click here