God needs to crack your heart – the center of all you are – open, and pour God’s word of love inside; then everything is transformed.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Sixth Sunday of Easter, year C
Texts: Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Consider a new sidewalk, six inches thick, six feet wide, a stream of solid concrete running the length of a block.
There’s no green; whatever warm earth was there is covered up by cold, hard, walking surface. But during the winter the earth resists, heaves, and a tiny crack is made. A seed falls into that crack. In spring, against all odds, a plant rises from the midst of that barrenness, eventually breaking it. Life happens. Green reaches to the sun.
That’s what God did to Lydia on the banks of the river. Luke says God “opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.”
God opened her heart. Now, the ancients understood this better than we do. We divide heart from head, often pitting them against each other. For the Greeks, the heart was the center of your being, where everything – mind, spirit, emotions, thoughts – dwelt. God opened Lydia up at her very center, to make her eager to hear Paul.
That means this conversation with Paul wasn’t merely a question of convincing Lydia’s mind; her whole being was opened to hear. Her mind, her feelings, her desires, her hopes, everything that made Lydia Lydia was opened to hear about Christ and the Good News of God’s love.
There is a Hasidic story that speaks of this.
“The disciple asks the rabbi, ‘Why does Torah tell us to “place these words upon your hearts”? Why does it not tell us to place these holy words in our hearts?’ The rabbi answers, ‘It is because as we are, our hearts are closed, and we cannot place the holy words in our hearts. So we place them on top of our hearts. And there they stay until, one day, the heart breaks and the words fall in.’”
If we stop separating heart from head, stop acting as if we are divided beings instead of the unified, beloved children of God that we are, we can understand the rabbi. Whether it’s a closed mind, or a closed-off love, we know what it is to be resistant to God’s Word.
We need God to break open our hearts – sometimes through suffering, sometimes through compassion, sometimes through confusion, sometimes through insight; there are many ways God does this – and open us up to eagerly hear what Christ is calling to us.
We need God to break us open like Lydia so God’s Word of grace and life and love falls into our hearts. When that happens, when we are broken open and God’s Word drops in, when we realize we follow a vulnerable God, whose own heart was broken open for the world, whose very woundedness heals the universe, we grow into people willing to be broken open for the sake of the world.
And when God does this, everything changes. Healing begins. Our lives are transformed.
Look at Lydia. She’s an outsider, a “God-worshipper,” someone who’s found hope in the God of Israel, but isn’t yet Jewish. Together with other women – probably both Jewish women and God-worshippers like Lydia – she comes to the river to pray because as women they aren’t considered part of the synagogue, they didn’t count, and weren’t welcome to pray there. God has already opened her heart to know God through these other women, and now as Paul and his companions come, God opens her even more.
And see what she becomes: this story is the birth of the Philippian congregation, and Lydia almost certainly is the head of that congregation. The congregation Paul loves so much, whose letter is still beloved to us, all this rises from Lydia’s openness. From her heart, her being, cracked open by God, the life in Christ that grows from there.
This is the transformation we saw with Peter and Paul last week, too.
Their whole beings were cracked open by God in Christ to see things differently, to center their lives on following the Spirit of God, wherever the Spirit led. Jews and non-Jews, all were loved by God in Christ, they learned. And Christ’s mission exploded across the Mediterranean world.
Even today, Paul’s center, Paul’s heart is broken open again. This wasn’t a head decision to go to the women gathered by the river. There’s no strategic advantage in that culture for Paul to convert women. He could have, as he often did, just gone to the synagogue. But he goes here, is opened to these women, and God makes a new congregation that becomes a source of deep love and grace for Paul in his later imprisonment.
You can’t know what your transformation will be like until you’re open to God doing it at all.
So today pray for these two things: first, that Christ give you the peace he promises the disciples today, a harmony that will bring your whole being – mental, spiritual, emotional, physical – into one center, one heart.
And then pray that God crack open that center, that heart, breaking through both your rational and your emotional objections, anything that is closed off, so you can, like Lydia, “eagerly hear” what Christ is calling to you. The breaking of your heart will hurt. Vulnerability isn’t always fun. Having all your defenses knocked down and your protections moved aside will be frightening. But the opening made in your heart will allow God’s Word of life and love, sitting on the outside, to fall through the cracks into your center and start to grow and blossom.
Lydia had the right idea: let’s find a beautiful place, maybe by a river, maybe in this room, and pray together. And God will make an opening for the Word to flourish in you, for your healing, and the healing of all things.
In the name of Jesus. Amen
 Jacob Needleman, as told to Parker Palmer, and related by Palmer in “The Broken-Open Heart: Living with Faith and Hope in the Tragic Gap,” Weavings XXIV:2, May/June 2009.