Call and response- Lydia's story

Acts 16:9-15

I had a pleasant surprise after boarding the first leg of my flight to Virginia a

couple of weekends ago. I had just found my seat and gotten settled when I

looked up to see my uncle Mark walking down the aisle. As it turns out, quite

serendipitously, his seat was next to mine. Perhaps it was not surprising. He’s

living in South Whitley now, with his new wife, Anne. He was planning to attend

the funeral and weekend with the extended family. There are relatively few flights

that originate in Fort Wayne and can connect easily to Charlottesville, where we

were both ultimately heading.

But still, it was a pleasant surprise. And after Mark settled into his seat and I

named the happy coincidence that brought us together early that morning – it

was a 6:45 flight after all – he offered an expression I’ve heard before – ‘I don’t

believe in coincidences.’ Our flight passed quickly, partly because the first leg was

from Fort Wayne to Chicago, and partly because he’s an easy conversationalist. It

was a welcome diversion from the solitude of traveling solo for that weekend,

and we talked about a number of things we had not discussed before.

Still, I kept coming back to his statement – ‘I don’t believe in coincidences.’

His response reminded me of that Albert Einstein quote – “God does not play dice

with the universe.” These reflections imply that God leaves nothing to chance, or

at least, nothing important to chance, and to their greater extent, that God is in

control of everything that happens around us. Perhaps that is true. There are also

some who believe that everything happens by chance, that everything is a

coincidence, that all of life is random and when an unexpected blessing happens,

we simply should recognize it for what it is, and be thankful for it.

Which are you? Or are you somewhere in between, believing that there is

equal parts chance and design that weave together the happy surprises or

unexpected encounters of our existence? I don’t think any of these perspectives

are entirely wrong or right, or bad or good, for there are elements of faith and

hope whichever of those outlooks works for you. We sometimes find ourselves

needing to reflect on how we engage the encounters with God and the ‘beyond

us and our understanding.’ Because no matter which of these perspectives is truly

true, we won’t know for certain, unless we can get an answer from God directly

and definitively. And that’s not the way that God typically responds to us.

This encounter did cause me to think about our text from Acts today. This

story continues a series of texts we’ve studied from this history book about the

early adventures of the early church. One of the parts of Acts that I love is that

the book gives us the stories of people beyond those who are widely known.

Saul/Paul, Peter, Timothy, and Barnabas are several of the focal people in these

stories, but it is the encounters they have with faithful people like the Ethiopian

eunuch or Dorcas or Ananias or in this text, Lydia, that offer inspiration to the

church, then and now.

The story of Lydia is one that is not often told from the Christian scriptures.

It is a story of openness, of faithfulness, of willingness to follow the leadings of

God’s Spirit, without a clear and definitive direction of where following God’s

Spirit may take her. The way that Luke the writer of Acts introduces Lydia offers

us a clue to her importance in the story. ‘There was a certain woman called Lydia

who was listening to us.’ Luke is notable as a writer for his inclusion and notation

of women, both in his gospel and in this book.

Yet I was also struck by the second part of that phrase. The story notes that

Lydia was ‘listening to us.’ That phrase carries extra meaning, due to the fact that

there were some leaders in the early church who would have been resistant to

Paul preaching to Lydia at all, both because of her gender and because she’s a

Gentile. Listening is an important attribute of faith, no matter who you are or

when you lived. Not the physical act of listening, but the spiritual act of listening.

Jesus’ primary fault with his disciples was that they did not listen to him. Peter’s

primary struggle with the church elders is that they did not listen to him. Paul’s

primary struggle with some of the churches to whom he wrote letters was that

they did not listen to him.

But Lydia listened. And interestingly, listening is the second step. The first

step is opening our hearts, spirits, and minds to the possibility of God doing a new

thing in one’s life. That observation takes even greater precedence in today’s

world than in Lydia’s. There is so much more to distract us, and so much that we

allow ourselves to be distracted by. Lydia must have prepared herself to listen, to

be open to what God might be doing in her, and then actually listened to what

she was being taught.

The final step we witness in this story is response. It’s one thing to prepare

oneself for God to enter our lives. It’s another thing to listen to the call God has

placed upon us. But it takes a strong degree of courage to step out in faith and

respond to that unexpected call. Vicki McGaw is the director of Christian

education at a church in Cleveland. One day, she was attending a church meeting

and struck up a conversation with a woman. Vicki learned that the woman’s

husband, Bob Fortney, was in dire need of a kidney transplant. As they talked,

both became teary-eyed. 

And then Vicki asked the woman, “What do I need to do to be

tested?” Vicki had a clear sense that this was what she needed to do. Although

she had never met Bob Fortney, she immediately made the decision to donate

one of her kidneys to him. She was tested for compatibility, and ended up being

more of a perfect match than any of Fortney’s family members. The surgery took

five hours, and was a complete success. Vicki returned home in two days, and

resumed her job in five. The following Sunday, her pastor told the congregation

about Vicki’s generosity. It was an “ultimate act of hospitality,” he said. 

Bob Fortney has also recovered well, and he is enormously grateful to Vicki.

His family calls her a “miracle from God.” The entire experience has had an impact

on Fortney’s congregation, and the pastor of the church has observed, “I’ve

witnessed something unexpected. People are asking, where is God in their lives?

They know it was no coincidence Vicki was a match for Bob and the generosity

and compassion she displayed were extraordinary. They know God was

involved.” 

Vicki McGaw chose faith over fear, and practiced extraordinary hospitality

instead of ordinary self-concern. “I really felt this is what God put me here to do,”

she says. “A person can find 20 million reasons not to do something, but there is

usually one reason that sticks with you as to why you should.”

We have our own Beacon Heights version of that same story, except with

Kathy Fry-Miller, a former long time church member in Vicki’s position, and Dave

Kiracofe in Bob’s. Kathy donated her kidney to Dave not long after I arrived here

at Beacon Heights, and I remember being so inspired by a congregation and

families who would offer that kind of Christ-like love to one another. It’s one thing

to pray for each other – most churches do that; but it’s another to put that prayer

into action by giving literally of oneself to save and prolong the life of another.

It’s been 11 years since the kidney transfer, and I asked both Dave and

Kathy to share their memories and reflections about it. Dave wrote, ‘There are

really two main feelings that I had and still have. The first was not seeing or

believing how things could possibly work out for me and wondering what was

going to become of me. The second was that when things did come together, just

not believing that so many people would care so much about me to offer to

donate their kidneys, and that Kathy actually did it. I am tearing up with gratitude

even as I think about it.’

Kathy wrote, “One thing I'd say is that I, too, am deeply grateful for the

experience of giving a kidney to Dave. It was an amazing time in my life, truly

trusting in God for the well-being of both Dave and I. I feel like I received such a

wonderful gift also. It's profoundly humbling to have been chosen to donate a

kidney. It's been such a pleasure to see Dave and Sandy's enthusiasm and the

many compassionate gifts they share with others. It's fun to share our numbers,

our creatinine levels, each year! I will always cherish this experience.”

So, what is it that God has put you here to do? Where is God at work in

your life … right here, right now? Whether you believe in coincidences or God

moments or are somewhere in between, how do you open yourself to the

possibilities that you encounter? It’s not only being open to the possibilities, of

course. It’s also centering our minds, hearts, and spirits to be prepared when

those moments take place. For God moves in our lives in often surprising,

unexpected ways. We are not only called to respond, but also called to have the

courage and faithfulness to do so. Amen.