Sometimes, all an old house needs is a little fresh paint to be brought back to life. Other times, it might take some new windows and floors; perhaps a new roof.
The mission of “flipping a house” from a tired old shack into something sturdy, beautiful and more valuable is a time honored tradition that extends beyond the real estate market.
In this Sixth Week of the celebration of the Easter Season, we continue to read how the first apostles spread out among the various “houses” of mankind in order to spread the good news of the Gospel. It’s a task that we remain called to perform still today … different generations, different houses; but the same message.
A close reading of today’s Scripture also reminds us that the task of “flipping houses” for God extends back to the time of the Old Testament – back to the days of Elijah; again, a different generation, different houses, same message.
And it’s yet another reminder that the story of our faith journey as a people does not begin with Jesus Christ, but extends back to the stories shared in the Old Testament. Remember that the Old Testament was not forgotten, but instead fulfilled by the New Testament. Just as we continue today to struggle in what is often a society that wants to forget the New Testament, rather than working to see that it is fulfilled.
In our first reading, Paul and his group of “flippers for Christ” begin their mission in Greece by making their way to Philippi where they encounter the woman, Lydia, who is from the city of Thyatira. Interesting that both “Lydia” and “Thyatira” are said to be Greek for “uncertain” … or perhaps, searching?
At an encounter outside the gates of the city, Lydia listens to Paul and is convinced that his message of salvation was true. Although Greek and a gentile, she had been a recent follower of the Jewish faith … and has now become a Christian. This becomes a crucial point in our story as it illustrates an exemplary case of the success of what became a Christian “household mission” – flipping homes one at a time.
Let’s go back to where Lydia was from, the city of Thyatira, which had a history of being founded as the seat of a “cult” led by Jezebel – a cult that thrived on exploring the “deep things of Satan.” Jezebel first appeared some 500-plus years before Christ as the daughter of Ethbaal who married King Ahab and converted him to the worship of Baal – thus setting up a rather dramatic “flipping” of the house of Baal by the prophet Elijah that does not end well for the prophets or, eventually, of Jezebel.
The story is told vividly in 1 Kings 18; and then 2 Kings 9:30-37 – it includes a showdown between Elijah and the prophets, fire called down from heaven and the spilling of blood. It ends with the death of Jezebel … I encourage you to read it.
Why mention this today? It is the city of Thyatira which had embraced this culture of Baal. It’s quite likely that even after the dramatic events that took place in order to cleanse the community of evil prophets, there were likely some houses that continued to worship false idols. Maybe they felt comfort in them. Maybe they were unsure about Elijah and the prophets that followed. Or maybe, they were just uncertain.
Perhaps Lydia came from one of those houses on her own spiritual journey to Philippi, where she worked as a dealer in purple dye. Once there, she found what she needed first as a Jewish proselyte and thus a believer of the God of Abraham, only to have another experience when she encounters Paul at the banks of the river where people gathered to pray.
At this point, she became a follower of Christ.
Lydia was clearly open to a deeper journey toward salvation. She opened herself by embracing her faith and spending time in prayer. During one of these times, the Lord spoke to her through Paul.
Where are we on our spiritual journeys? Are we open to a deeper path of our loving God? Are we making ourselves available in prayer to the workings of Christ through others?
Are we alert, like Paul, to those we encounter? Do we take the opportunity to live by example, preach with a soft voice and a kind heart?
Indeed there are still many houses to be flipped for Christ. Grab your paint brushes, hammers and nails and seek out the path where Christ will lead us to help build the City of God.