Meditation on Acts 16:9-15
First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, NY
Pastor Karen Crawford
Sept. 18, 2022
Link to livestreamed service: https://fb.watch/fDhUJBtRPO/
The first child I baptized was an infant. His name was Sam. I came to church a day or two before the service to set up what I needed and practice the baptism, without anyone but my husband watching. I used a folded-up blanket as my prop for the baby.
I was serving my first congregation in rural Renville, Minnesota, with corn, soybean, and sugar beet fields surrounding the church and manse. I don’t remember the details of that baptism at Ebenezer Presbyterian Church on June 14, 2012 —except that he didn’t cry. And I was so happy to carry him around the sanctuary and introduce him to the congregation, saying, “Let us welcome our newest member.” It was their tradition to give out handkerchiefs embroidered with the child’s name and dates of birth and baptism.
I will post a photo of Sam’s baptism at my blog:
I have lost count of how many people I have baptized since then. I have been blessed! I never forget them or the sweet expressions on their family’s faces as we baptize. I follow on Facebook some of the children I have baptized. It’s fun to watch them grow. Seeing them always reminds me of that important day in the life of the child and the Church.
Sam celebrated his 10th birthday on March 20.
Baptism is about beginnings: the beginning of our life in Christ, our welcome and initiation into the congregation and the Body of Christ. We need only one baptism for the washing away of our sins, forever. In baptism, we participate with our crucified and risen Lord in his death and resurrection. We become a new Creation, united with Christ, something even more beautiful, powered by his Spirit.
Baptism is a sign of God’s Covenant and the present and coming Kingdom of God and of the life of the world to come. It anticipates the day when every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
Baptism is a gift from God and our faithful response to God’s gift. It is always administered in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
No one has asked me, yet, why we baptize children before they are old enough to fully understand or express their faith. If they did, I would say because of the love and grace of God. The Second Helvetic Confession in our Book of Confessions says that we baptize infants of the faithful “for according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God, and they are in the covenant of God. Why, then, should the sign of God’s covenant not be given to them? Why should those who belong to God and are in His Church not be initiated by holy baptism?” (5.192)
Today, we move away from the scheduled lectionary scriptures to be encouraged by the conversion of Lydia, who is baptized immediately after she hears the gospel preached by Paul and embraces it as truth.
Why does she do this? Why does she believe? Because the Spirit opens her heart, and she listens eagerly. Her conversion is part of God’s plan for the Church.
Paul has embarked on his second missionary journey with Silas and Timothy, stirred by a dream he has had after his group is blocked from missionary work in Asia and Bithynia, in present day Turkey. Paul credits the Spirit for putting up roadblocks that prevent them from going to these places.
This is a lesson for us. When we encounter obstacles or challenges in our ministry, we are quick to be discouraged—when it may simply be the process of the Holy Spirit revealing God’s will to us. God’s way is revealed AS we travel the journey by faith. Sometimes the answer to our prayers is “No” or “Not yet” or “Wait, and I will show you a better way.”
Paul’s dream is of a man from Macedonia, standing and appealing to him, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” This is a good reminder to us that Paul’s ministry isn’t merely about offering people intellectual answers to life’s questions or a new system of beliefs. His missionary work is stirred by compassion to share the life-giving gospel to help others! This serves to inspire us to do the same.
They sail to Macedonia, to Philippi, a Roman colony, to plant Paul’s first church in Europe. It is Paul’s practice, when he enters a new city, to attend the local Jewish synagogue and look for an opportunity to share his message. There doesn’t seem to be a synagogue in Philippi, possibly because there weren’t enough Jewish men; women could not be counted in the 10 people required to hold synagogue services.
But Paul and his companions find Lydia and this group of Gentile, God-fearing women gathered for Jewish prayer on the Sabbath on the riverbank. “Lydia” might not really be her name. She is known as “the Lydian woman” from Thyatira in the ancient kingdom of Lydia in western Asia Minor, again in present day Turkey. The people of that area are known for their skill in the manufacture of purple dye extracted from the juice of the madder root. This will still be used for carpet dying at the end of the 19th century.
Lydia came to Philippi as a trader of dye—and became Paul’s first convert in Europe.
She and her entire household are baptized—and her household is probably large, with children and servants. Although she is possibly a widow since no husband is mentioned, she is a woman of considerable wealth. For after she is baptized, she urges Paul, Timothy, and Silas to come and stay in her home, so there must be plenty of room and food for guests.
She prevails upon them. She doesn’t take no for an answer!
The story of the Lydian woman being baptized with her household reminds us of God’s promise to include our children in this New Covenant of grace in Jesus Christ. For “of such is the Kingdom of God.”
To have Debbie’s parents, Karl and Ethel Kraft, longtime members of our congregation, here in worship to witness the baptisms of two great grandsons makes this sacred occasion even more special and memorable.
While the majority of those I have baptized have been babies like Diego Jr. and Grayson, I have had the blessing of baptizing teens and older adults, as well.
I baptized a lady in her 90s before I left Ohio. She wasn’t sure if she had been baptized, though she had been a faithful believer since she was a girl. She served the church by crocheting prayer shawls for people who were sick or grieving. She wanted to make she was baptized before she went home to be with the Lord. And she wanted me to do it.
Her name was Betty.
I recall with joy the baptism of a 16-year-old boy in Florida. We came to know one another through a children’s performing arts program hosted at our church, led by his grandmother Mary Lou. He asked to be baptized as a sign of his new-found faith.
When I was baptizing him—he and I wiped away tears.
His name was Jason.
I wonder if this happened for Lydia on the day that she was baptized? Did she wipe away tears as she came up out of the water?
Did she weep with joy when her household was baptized in the river with her?
Would Paul always remember this woman of Macedonia, his first convert in Europe, who eagerly embraced the truth of the gospel that he shared?
Paul and his companions did accept the Lydian woman’s invitation to stay with her after they were released from jail for casting an evil spirit out of a slave girl. By this time, Lydia had a small church gathered in her home. When Paul and his friends visit her at the end of chapter 16, we read how they “encouraged the brothers and sisters there.”
Baptism is about beginnings—and Lydia was just beginning her new life in Christ, seeking to live out the gospel, open her home and her heart, and share her faith and hospitality with the world.
For the woman who traded in purple dye had prevailed upon them to stay with her and her household after they were baptized.
She wouldn’t take no for an answer.
Holy One, thank you for your Spirit that stirs us to baptize generation after generation in our congregation. Stir us to compassion for those who need the help of the gospel, a treasure that you have given us that we share through our lives. Encourage us when we struggle and have trouble seeing our own spiritual progress. Give us your vision, dear Lord, as you did for Paul, and strengthen us for this journey with your gentleness and patience. Open our hearts, like you did for Lydia, to hear your word eagerly, as if for the first time. May your word take root in us and bear fruit so that others may see and want to know our hope for all eternity. Lead us to walk more faithfully with you and accept your answers to prayer—yes, no, and wait and let me show you a better way. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit we pray. Amen.