I grew up in Ballard First Lutheran Church; a beautiful old Scandinavian church in Seattle. I have memories playing tag in the halls, being an acolyte and lighting the same alter candles that are there today. In fact, I was confirmed in that church, grew up in the youth group, had sleepovers where we played in the sanctuary till the wee hours of the morning. My grandmother was the church administrator when I was a child, my uncle Ed has been the organist there my whole life, Pastor Erik graciously loved and cared for my family as he spoke at my father’s memorial service when I was twelve, and Pastor Laurie officiated my mom and step-dad’s wedding there. Over the years I have come back to visit, usually at the 11pm Christmas Eve service where I stay way too late and catch up with Pastors Erik and Laurie when they just want to get home and go to bed. But every time I visit I am moved by what this place means to me.
The meaning of Ballard First Lutheran Church was never more clear to me than when a few years ago I had returned for my annual pilgrimage to the Christmas Eve Service. After the service I waited around until I could catch up with Pastor Laurie. She saw me, gave me a big huge, and said how great it was to see me. Right then her eyes lit up as if she remembered something and said, “Stay right here. I have something for you. I’ll be right back.”… I couldn’t imagine what it could be. With great anticipation I waited in the narthex for her return. After several minutes she returned with something hidden in her fist. I had no clue what it could be. She slowly opened her hand to reveal a white ball of wax. I was confused. She asked if I remembered it…. I paused and said, “no.” She said, “When you were a teenager you gave this to me after a Christmas Eve service. It was your candle from the service, remember!?” Right then, I remembered! Over the course of that service, I warmed the little wax candle in my hand and slowly, so as not to break it, curved the whole candle into a ball.
Here I was, almost 15 years after my adolescent prank, and Pastor Laurie had kept that ball of wax in her office! I couldn’t believe it. For as silly of an example as it seems on the surface… This was actually deeply meaningful to me and illustrated the gift of Pastor Laurie’s ability of being present with me both as a teenager and also as an adult.
We live in a world where being present in the moment is incredibly difficult. Our lives are busy; we are usually being pulled in several directions at once. I’m not sure if you’re like me but when I do have some down time, my phone usually comes out to check the news, sport scores, or Facebook. There is a joke I read on Facebook where someone mused, “I’m sitting in a coffee shop and there is a guy sitting at a table…not on his phone, not on a laptop, just drinking his coffee… LIKE A PSYCHOPATH.” The idea of just being present today is not only difficult but feared!
In Acts 16, we are introduced to a woman named Lydia, whose heart was opened by God. Luke, the author of Acts tells us that she was a Gentile woman who had become a convert to Judaism at some point in her life. She was a seller of purple cloth and considering purple cloth was one of the most expensive cloths of its day, there is great speculation that Lydia was very wealthy. However, based of Lydia’s name, there is a very good chance she wasn’t always wealthy. Although Luke tells us that she is from the city of Thyatira, Thyatira was in a region named “Lydia” in Asia Minor. Therefore, Lydia was from Lydia… This is significant.
In the ancient world, women had little to no value. In fact, the ancient Roman world did not have many women and suffered a major population crisis because parents would often let their baby daughters die. Women were seen as an economic obligation and if they made it past childhood, they would often die in childbirth.
Lydia was a common name in the ancient world because many female children from the region of Lydia were given that name. Their identities were simply from place they were born… just another “Lydia.”
Lydia did not have much hope for her future.
However, something happened that allowed Lydia to break out of the ancient cycle of female oppression. Although Luke never gives us her detailed biography, when we meet her she is a strong business leader who chose into the Jewish faith.
Lydia was a woman who pulled herself up by her own boot straps and made a way for herself. But more than being a strong business leader and influential woman, Luke records that Lydia listened to Paul’s Gospel teaching.
It was Lydia’s willingness to create the space in her busy life to listen to Paul’s teaching, ultimately opening her heart to receive the gift of the Gospel message, that makes her story so inspiring.
I want to suggest that an open heart is very often a present heart. Like Lydia, we can create the space for God to open our hearts by giving God space. Who knows what kind of busy schedule Lydia had planed for that day… but what we do know is that Lydia was willing to be present in the moment. The day that Lydia stopped to listen to the gospel message was also the day her whole household was baptized. And it was also the day she was able to host Paul and his companions at her home. Imagine the stories she must have heard around her dinner table that night!
In the rush of our daily modern lives we have the opportunity this Lenten season to slow down. To listen, to ponder, to consider the Gospel message.
By creating margin in our lives we allow God to open our hearts. And we soon find out that an open heart is often an others focused heart -– to see who we might not have otherwise seen and to hear who we otherwise would not have heard.
Lydia’s open heart has been an example to help show us the way. Pastor Laurie’s willingness to slow down enough on a busy Christmas Eve Service to see me and hand me a silly ball of wax was a beautiful example of someone with an open heart. And her open heart reminded me that I am seen, heard, cared for, and loved. What a gift.
In this Lenten season of intentionally slowing down, caring for the poor, and reflecting on our humanity may we be a people who have open hearts.
May we see people as gifts uniquely created in the Image of God,
May we hear the grace in the Gospel message like never before,
And may we have open hearts to “the whole ball of wax.”
Thank you Pastor Laurie for teaching me what an open heart looks like.