A Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter

Sunday, May 22, 2022

By: Eleanor Wellford, Priest Associate


How many times has something unusual happened to you and you’ve thought – hmmm…what was that about? Maybe it was just a coincidence or good luck or being at the right place at the right time – or – maybe there was something else at work.

So, see what you think about this. On a hot day in the middle of July, two people meet for the very first time on a public tennis court in Fort Collins, Colorado. One was from Richmond, Va and the other one from Boulder Colorado. Two years later they were married in Bath County, Virginia. What was at work for the two of them to be at that tennis park at the same time?

One of the tennis players was my daughter, Beth and she had a best friend from college named Haley who lived in Fort Collins, Colorado. When Haley became engaged, she asked Beth to be in her wedding in early June of 2017. Instead of traveling to Fort Collins just for the wedding, Beth thought – for some reason – that it would be fun to stay there for the summer. But where would she stay? Since Colorado State University is in Fort Collins, she thought that there might be a student there looking to sublet an apartment. Well, there was and she did. Her lease started in June.

The other tennis player in this story is Devin Copenhaver. How did he happen to be in Fort Collins in mid-July? Well, after he graduated from college, he went to work in San Francisco for a start up. Devin had always wanted to travel to India, and in the summer of 2017, he went there with the idea of working remotely for a couple of months. For reasons that he still doesn’t understand, he decided to leave India early and come back to Boulder where his parents lived. That put him there in early July.

Boulder and Fort Collins are about 50 miles apart – which is significant. So, how did Beth and Devin get together? Well, there’s this dating app called Tinder. After the wedding, Haley set Beth up on it as a way to meet people. At just about the same time, Devin put himself on that app.

Neither of them had ever been on a dating app before and Beth wasn’t entirely sure that she wanted to be. But Haley insisted and persisted and kept checking Beth’s phone for anyone who responded to her picture. And when Devin did, Haley liked what she saw and without Beth’s knowing it, set up a date for Beth and Devin to play tennis at a park in Fort Collins on a hot afternoon in the middle of July – and the rest is history.

Devin could have stayed in India for the entire two months as he had originally planned, but he didn’t. Beth could have gone back to Richmond right after Haley’s wedding, but she didn’t. Was it just good luck or good timing that they met? Were there coincidences along the way, or was there something else at work?

In this morning’s reading from Acts, we heard that Paul had a chance meeting with someone named Lydia and it happened by the river bank outside the gates of Philippi. They were perfect strangers with completely different agendas. What had to happen so that they would meet?

Well, we don’t know much about Lydia except that she had become a prosperous business woman as a dealer in purple cloth which apparently was more valuable than either gold or silver. Lydia lived and had her business in Philippi and was well known there. She was also a seeker and worshipper of God which meant she was a Gentile interested in Judaism. And she led other women in prayer meetings on a regular basis. They would all meet by the River outside of the city.

So, how and why was Paul there? As we heard from Luke, Paul had had a vision, and in that vision, Paul heard a man pleading with him to come to Philippi in the district of Macedonia to proclaim the good news of Christ to the people there.
Before that vision, Paul and his companions had encountered all sorts of resistance to the gospel. Paul had even been put in jail for disrupting the public. It’s a wonder that they all hadn’t given up and gone home. But they didn’t and Paul’s vision gave them the inspiration they needed to keep going.

So they set sail across the Aegean – which was never an easy trip – and finally arrived in Philippi. A few days after their arrival, it was suggested to Paul that he should meet someone named Lydia, but Paul wasn’t interested in doing that since he thought he was on a mission to meet a man from Macedonia, not a woman.

While they were there on the Sabbath, Paul and his companions were seeking a quiet place to pray. The place they found happened to be the same place by the River where Lydia was leading her prayer group.

Paul could have picked somewhere else or some other time to pray, but he didn’t. Lydia could have been put off by a group of strangers, especially men, interrupting her prayer time, but she wasn’t.

Was it just good luck or good timing that they met? Was it merely a coincidence, or was there something else at work?

Considering that this chance meeting at the River ended up being the place where Lydia and her entire household were baptized surely means that the Holy Spirit was at work. This was no coincidence. Lydia was ready to hear about the God who was seeking her through the gospel and Paul was ready to preach it to her.

The longer I live, the more I believe that there is no such thing as a coincidence and the more bizarre the circumstances leading up to something unusual happening, the harder the Holy Spirit has been at work and the more we need to pay attention to what’s going on because apparently the Holy Spirit uses anything at her disposal – including a dating app and persistent friends!

In his book called Wishful Thinking, Frederick Buechner whom I respect and quote alot, suggests that what we often dismiss as “coincidence” might instead be evidence of something going on behind the scenes. He concluded that coincidences are God’s way of getting our attention. I love that!

What did it take for all of us to be right here, right this minute instead of being somewhere else or doing something else? What had to happen? We had all sorts of possibilities for how to spend our morning – yet here we are. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence or even good timing. God simply had His way with us and we happened to be paying attention. We have been caught up here at St. Mary’s in the blessing and work of the Holy Spirit – and to that I say: Praise be to God!