Sermon - 28th August 2011
The Colour Purple
Scripture - Acts 16:6-15
Rev Dwayne Morgan
As Manchester celebrates Pride this weekend, you’ll no doubt see an extra abundance of rainbow flags about. The gay rainbow flag has 6 stripes—red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet. I’ve always been disappointed that it doesn’t have a purple stripe. I mean, seriously, what says ‘homosexual’ more than a bright brilliant purple?
I like the colour purple. That’s one reason I like our scripture reading so much this morning. Taken from the sixteenth chapter of the book of Acts the reading introduces us to a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. Paul, along with Silas and Timothy meet her in Philippi, but she’s actually from Thyatira. Thyatira was a city known for its production of the colour purple.
The statement that Lydia is a dealer in purple cloth is important. Unlike today when most colours are easily mass produced, the colour purple that Lydia most likely dealt with was known as Tyrian Purple, also known as Imperial Purple as it became a sign of royalty because only the very wealthy could afford it. The colour came from small sea snails, was rare, and very expensive. One historian writes that twelve thousand of these tiny little sea snails would yield no more than 1.4 grams of pure purple dye, enough to colour only the trim of a single garment. Indeed the colour purple was rare and extremely expensive. This implies that Lydia was probably wealthy and that she had connections, if not personally, at least business connections to royalty.
It does make me wonder though why the royalty of the day and the very rich would spend all that money on the colour of their clothes. Seems like quite an extravagance for the colour of your outfit. Why do people spend so much of their wages on what they wear? I’m sure there are many reasons, but I think one of the biggest reasons is they want to be noticed and accepted; to be liked and appreciated. No one wants to be the odd one out and not part of the in crowd. Even those who try to rebel against the norm, like those who call themselves Goth and dress in all black, all dress alike so that they can be accepted by other Goths.
We as humans all have this innate need to be accepted by others. The need to be appreciated, to feel like we matter to someone. God did not create us to live alone. God created us to be loved.
Back in 1985, Steven Spielberg made a move called The Color Purple based on the novel of the same name written by Alice Walker. The film starred people like Whoppi Goldberg and Danny Glover, and was the acting debut of Oprah Winfrey. The story is set in the state of Georgia, in the deep South in the US. It follows the lives of several black women from around 1900 to the 1930s. They all live a hard life in very unfair times. Not only are they black and facing the discrimination of the south but they are also women who have very few rights or ability to survive or exist without men in their lives.
One of the characters in the story who seems to have managed to do well in spite of her gender and the colour of her skin is Shug Avery. Shug has made quite a good career for herself as a singer. Although in her day the only places she could sing were Jook Joints. Jook Joints in the deep south were places for black people to go to let their hair down with a drink, music, dance and gambling; and they could often become quite rowdy and disorderly. They were usually quite dire places, ramshackle, decrepit buildings that were nothing more than a small little shack, often out in the rural woods. During the Prohibition years of the 20s and early 30s they had to be quite hidden and were the only place a black person could get an alcoholic drink, usually illegally produced moonshine.
Shug’s life not only consisted of singing, but the lifestyle of the jook joints, and included a number of sexual dalliances. While her lifestyle afforded her money to live a bit more comfortably and not have to worry about being taken care of by men, it led her into a life that was seen as unacceptable by many, one of those who disapproved was her father.
[Video clip 1 – Confrontation between Shug and her father in church.]
Because of Shug’s chosen lifestyle, her father a devout and pious Christian, and the local pastor, has shunned her and cut off any association with her. And even though Shug has done well for herself and can provide for herself, the one thing she misses is the acceptance of her father. She has relied on her singing talent to gain the appreciation of others. She dresses in the finest outfits to gain the approval of others. But what she really wants, what she really misses, is being loved.
[Video clip 2 – Shug and Celie walking through the field of purple flowers.]
Everything want to be loved. Just like the trees wave in the wind to be noticed and the colour purple glimmers in the sunshine to be appreciated, we do so many things in our lives just trying to be loved.
We impress with our talents.
We exhibit our skills.
We deck ourselves in the latest fashion.
We date the most attractive person.
We increase our education in order to add multiple letters after our name.
We step on others as we climb the corporate ladder.
We’ll even drink ourselves into a stupor, drug ourselves into oblivion, and sleep with those we can’t stand, just to be accepted, acknowledged, appreciated.
But what we really want is to be loved.
Lydia in our reading from Acts found the secret to love. She was a worshipper of God which meant she was a Jew. She was there on the riverbank that Sabbath day with other women, talking about their faith and praying together. As Paul, Silas and Timothy came along and began to talk to them, it says that Lydia listened eagerly to them. They would have told her about Jesus, the Messiah who had come. About how he had taught the disciples and opened up the truth of the scriptures to them; about how he had given his life for them that they might have forgiveness for their past and find not only meaning for their lives but also the love of God, the true love they desired.
Throughout our lives, God attempts to speak to us often in many ways in order to draw us to God and to the true love we desire.
When we find the true love of God then we can truly love others.
When we realise that God loves us and accepts us, then we are liberated from the need to live our lives in such a way as to seek the acceptance or approval of others.
When you finally realise that God not only loves you but God also likes you, then you are truly liberated, free to love others.
Some of us still struggle with believing that God loves us. Others of us believe in the concept that God loves us, but we fail to believe that God also likes us, that God is pleased with who we are. After all, God made us; how can God not like us.
Our lack of believing in God’s approval of us often leads us to disapprove of others. Just like those who walk past a field of purple flowers without noticing, we turn our noses up at those who don’t dress like we think they should, or work in jobs we think are ok, or have relationships that we think are appropriate. And, sadly, some of us, especially in MCC, even disapprove of other followers of Jesus Christ because they disapprove of us. We’re often quick to write off those who disagree with us and we ignore the knowledge that God loves them too.
God was trying to tell Lydia something that day by the river, using Paul, Silas and Timothy to get the message to her. They were on their way to Asia to preach the Word of God there until Paul was given a vision in the night of a man pleading with him to go to Macedonia to help them. God gave Paul a vision in order to get Lydia the gospel message of Christ’s love. Lydia realised the truth of the good news and accepted God’s love for her. But she didn’t stop there. She reached out to help share this love with others. She opened her home to Paul, Silas and Timothy, so much so that the scripture reads ‘she prevailed upon us’ to stay with her and accept her hospitality. Later in chapter 16, Paul, Silas and Timothy are arrested and put in prison. After they are set free from prison, it is Lydia’s house to which they go.
God sought out Lydia. God had a message for her of God’s mercy, forgiveness and love. But Lydia didn’t stop by just accepting it, she offered what she had to help spread the message of God’s love to others. She learned to appreciate the colour purple in others.
God has a message for all of us. God is trying to tell us that God loves us, and that we should rid ourselves of our pious attitudes and learn to love others.
[Video clip 3. When the screen goes black, volume down so the music can just be heard in the background to maintain the emotion/mood, but soft enough that I can speak over it.]
Is God trying to tell you something this afternoon? Maybe it’s your first time at MCC and God has led you here today to tell you that you are loved by your creator. Are you listening? Will you hear?
Maybe you couldn’t sleep last night and you’re wondering why. May God is trying to tell you something.
Maybe you’ve been coming to MCC for years. Maybe you believe that God loves you, but you really don’t think that God likes you. God’s trying to tell you this afternoon that you’re ok, God approves of you, God accepts you, God admires you. God really does like you.
Or maybe you’re here this afternoon and, like Shug’s father, you’ve looked on someone else with disapproving eyes. God is speaking to you this morning. It’s time for you to stop your judgemental attitude to others by your list of what’s ok, what’s acceptable. It’s time for you to leave the judging to God and start loving others as Christ commanded you.
God is trying to tell us something this afternoon.
May our response today be, “Speak, Lord. Your servant is listening.”