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In our reading today, we meet Lydia.

The first thing that we need to know about Lydia is that she is fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.

The second thing that we need to know about Lydia is that she is on the thread that has been woven into this summer sermon series—this series where we have heard some of the stories about some of the women in scripture—she is a woman in an extremely patriarchal society.

Lydia has lived under Greek custom and Lydia has lived under Roman law. And, under that custom and under that law, she has never had any discernible rights over her property… or her children… or herself.

We don’t know her story… but… probably…

When she was young… when she was really young… when she was a kid… her father chose a husband for her: a man who was ten or fifteen years older than her, a man who could pay the dowry, a man who made the family stronger. And she went from her father’s house to her husband’s house. And then—once her husband had… planted a seed—he decided which of her children lived. 

And maybe her father was a good man. And maybe her husband was a good man. But she has always, more or less, belonged to the men in her life.

But somewhere along the line, despite the fact that everything has always been stacked against her, she became a seller of purple cloth. And purple is a luxury product. Purple is worth more than its weight in gold. Purple is reserved for the elite and worn by the wealthy.

There are rules: a Roman senator can wear a stripe of purple; an emperor can wear an entire toga of purple. And there are counterfeiters: there are con artists who try to pass lavender off as purple. And, of course, there are people with the money to break the rules and an eye that looks past the knock-offs.

Armani? As if. Prada? Please. Ferragamo? Pfah. Tyrian Purple is style… is class… is very Vee-Eye-Pee.

And we don’t know how… but somehow… this woman who had spent her entire life belonging to someone else… got this business selling purple cloth… and it is hers.

The third thing that we need to know about Lydia is that she is a gentile. She is not from Israel. She is not Jewish. Her ancestors are not Abraham and Isaac and Jacob.

But somewhere along the line, she heard stories about the God who called the worlds into being, who made a covenant with Abraham, and who led people out of slavery in Egypt. Somewhere along the line, she heard stories about the God who reigns with justice and rescues the oppressed, who defends orphans and protects widows, who brings the powerful down from their thrones and lifts up the lowly.

And somewhere along the line, she started worshipping that God.

In our reading today, we meet Lydia… who is fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love… who is a woman in a world that works against women… who clawed her way up… and who is a gentile who worships the God of Israel.

Women are more religious than men. That is a fact. It is the kind of fact that social scientists study… and websites write articles about… and people develop theories about.

Women are more likely to attend worship. Women are more likely to say that religion is very important to them. Women are more likely to pray. Women are more likely to tell the stories and sing the songs and pass the faith on to the next generation.

And while that’s true in a lot of religions, it is especially true in Christianity; it always has been.

Under Greek custom and Roman law…

Daughters were undesirable and left to die: one study that reconstructed six hundred ancient Roman families found that only six had raised more than one daughter. 

The daughters who were allowed to live were married young. They were often twelve of thirteen when their fathers chose a man who was significantly older for them to marry. And widowing, divorce, and remarriage was not uncommon. One fairly elite young woman was married at 16; widowed at 22; remarried at 23; divorced at 28; married again at 29; divorced again, while pregnant, at 33; and dead, soon after the birth of her second child, at 34.

And, of course, those daughters had no discernible rights over their property… or their children… or themselves.

But in Christ…

Christians cherished their daughters. Those daughters married later, and had a say in who they married, and had more stable marriages. And those daughters could be leaders and patrons in the church… and could raise and teach their children… and had power over their own bodies.

I need to be careful here. I am not saying that the early church was perfect. I am not saying that the church has ever been perfect. Those daughters still married too young. Divorce was too difficult and damaging. Misogyny still crept in and women were still treated as second-class.

But the promise was there. And the difference was stark. In the middle of a world where women were treated like nothing and less than nothing, there was a movement that said, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.”

Since the moment when Mary sang about God’s mercy and strength…

Since the moment when John cried out about the salvation of God…

Since the moment when Jesus stood in a synagogue and told the people about his mission to bring good news to the poor and proclaim a time of God’s favor…

…there has been a thread of our faith that has told the marginalized and the oppressed—no, better, there has been a thread of our faith that has shown the marginalized and the oppressed—“You are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.”

And people have found a home in that. Women have found a home in that. People of color have found a home in that. Queer folks have found a home in that. Young people have found a home in that. Senior citizens have found a home in that. People without a dime to their name have found a home in that.

Even straight white cis-gendered able-bodied neuro-typical well-educated English-speaking professional middle class men between the ages of 18 and 49 who live in the United States of America have found a home in that.

Because, in a world that so often treats people like nothing and less than nothing, there is no better news—there is no greater gospel—than the one that starts, “You are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.”

That gospel is irresistible.

Women are more religious than men. That is a fact. At least, it was.

Among Generation Z—that group of people who are in their late teens and early twenties—women are less religious than men. And almost everyone is less religious than the people in the generations that came before them. That is a fact. It is the kind of fact that social scientists study… and websites write articles about… and people develop theories about.

Fewer women attend worship. Fewer women say that religion is very important to them. Fewer women pray. Fewer women tell the stories and sing the songs and pass the faith on to the next generation.

And no one knows why that is. But I suspect that—at least a little bit—it’s because too many churches walked away from that irresistible gospel.

I suspect that—at least a little bit—it’s because too many churches pursued power… and got cozy with comfort… and emulated empire. I suspect that—at least a little bit—it’s because too many churches started preaching a gospel that starts, 

You could be fearfully and wonderfully made… you could conform to the image of God… you could become loved and worthy of love… if you just did what we told you to do, and lived how we told you to live, and were who we told you to be.

And if you don’t. Well, then you’ll just be nothing and less than nothing.

And that gospel is no gospel at all. It is resistible. It is repugnant. It is repellant. And no one can find a home there.

So people started walking away. And some of those people are women. And when women—who are more religious than men—start walking away…

After worship today, we are having a congregational conversation about inviting people to church. And that is important, because a congregation is the people who congregate, and if we want this congregation to be here in a generation, we need more people to congregate.

But there is something even more important than that.

We live in a world that so often treats people like nothing and less than nothing. We live in a world that so often builds systems of inequality and inequity and iniquity. We live in a world that so often maintains systems of oppression and marginalization and suffering. 

And we live in a world that so often tells people that this is how things are and how things have to be. And that is a lie.

You are not nothing; you are definitely not less than nothing. You are fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love. 

And that means that you can dismantle systems of inequality and inequity and iniquity. That means that you can tear down systems of oppression and marginalization and suffering. That means that you can be allies and co-conspirators… and nurture the kingdom of God… and tend to the reign of love… and help make a better world where everyone knows the truth…

…where everyone knows the truth… deep in our bones…

…that we are—each and every one of us, no matter who we are, and no matter where we are on life’s journey—fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.

In our reading today, we meet Lydia.

She’s gone down to the river to pray with some of the other women in Philippi. And this little band of believers—Paul and Silas and Timothy and Luke—come over to them and start preaching. And we don’t know exactly what they said, but I’m willing to bet that somewhere in there was a simple message about how these women were fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.

And Lydia—this woman who lives in a world that works against women… who clawed her way up… who sells purple cloth—believes.

She becomes the first convert in Europe. She has her whole household baptized. She hosts this little band of believers. She starts a church in Philippi. She supports Paul on his missionary journeys. And no man stands in her way… 

Because she is a leader and a patron and a force of nature.

Because she is fearfully and wonderfully made, created in the image of God, loved and worthy of love.

Because she has some good news and she is going to make sure other people have it, too.

Thanks be to God!

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