Grace to you and peace from God our father and from our risen Lord and Savior Jesus the Christ. Amen.
I don’t know about you, but my dining room table tends to get filled up really fast. I’m sure that I am the only one that this EVER happens to. The minute I actually have it cleared off enough to eat on, it seems like the very next minute it’s suddenly covered with mail, bills, papers I need to file, extra keys, receipts, a cat toy or two, maybe a remote I forgot I put down, a water glass ready to be spilled, an extra phone charger, a book I’m reading, and probably my cell phone buried under everything. And this is all from just ME. Much of the time, it looks like I do everything BUT eat at the table. I would not be ready at all to be hospitable if someone dropped in at a moment’s notice.
This is so different from the table that I remember eating at my Grandma’s house. While she was alive, her table was always ready to feed people, and had expandable leaves so that it could become more than twice its normal size, ready to host my dad’s very large farm family during holidays.
In fact, there is a lunch bell that still stands in the yard next to the house at my family’s farm, a bell that used to be rung when Grandma was ready to serve the farm help lunch. “All is now ready,” that ringing bell would be saying. “Come and be served. All who here are welcome to the table.”
Do you have a table in your memories that’s at all like that? A table that’s always ready to be filled with good, homemade food, especially after traveling from a long journey away? A table ready to welcome you home? One that is perhaps not so much cluttered with our everyday worries and busy-ness as are our own tables and hearts?
Today we hear a story of a woman who’s heart AND table were ready to welcome and be welcomed. And I image that this woman’s table would have been a big one, with plenty of table leaves for expansion, covered in fine, rich food for weary travelers like Paul and his companion Silas.
This woman’s name is Lydia, and I think she was a pretty awesome lady. Not because we share the same name – well, not JUST because of that. But because we don’t often hear about the discipleship of women, even in such a women-friendly writer such as Luke – who also wrote the book of Acts, where Lydia’s story is found. And she is all the more extraordinary because her story is here, recorded for all of us to read afterwards, when there are so many tables that she would NOT be received at, tables where she would be considered too much of an outsider to be welcome.
Lydia is a woman, a foreigner, a resident of a Roman-occupied town, a savvy successful business owner, is wealthy, and runs her own household. Frankly, I lost count of how many strikes against her that would be. Lydia lives in an age where women were the property of their fathers, brothers, husbands, or sons, who’s only job was to take care of the household chores and have children, preferably more sons.
But Lydia also breaks the gender conventions of her time. She is financially independent – even successful. She runs her own business trading a luxury item – purple dyed cloth – that only the rich could afford. She also might have once been a slave, since Lydia is the name of a geographic region, and slaves were often called by where they were from.
Lydia is an influential woman runs her own household. This would not just have been her immediate family, but likely also her extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins – and also likely many servants, slaves, and perhaps some of her employees. So when Lydia goes to the river to pray, and runs into Paul and hears him preach about Jesus, it is not just her life that is forever changed. Dozens of people are baptized because of her open ears, because of her open heart, and because of her open invitation to her table. And so, her home became the home base that launched the church in Philippi, which is the same community that Paul writes to in his letter to the Philippians. Not exactly a coincidence.
Lydia received the gift of the good news about Jesus from Paul: that Jesus died for her. That Lydia – woman, foreigner, outsider – is a beloved child of God. And so Lydia then also gives the preacher PAUL the gift of hospitality at her table.
We hear about another table in our reading from the Gospel of John, though a table is not directly mentioned. Though we are in the season of Easter, after the resurrection of Jesus, we have narratively time-traveled back to the night before Jesus’ crucifixion, as Jesus sits around a table and shares his last meal with his disciples, his friends: those who would – in just a few hours – abandon, deny, and betray him.
We are back at this point in time, because the disciples are grappling with the same question that we ourselves wonder about today. So where is Jesus NOW? Though Jesus is resurrected, he is no longer walking around. So what does it mean for them and for us, that Jesus still promises to be present? How can Jesus still be with us, when we can’t see or hear him like we see and hear one another? How can Jesus still be with us when he says he has gone to be with the Father?
One of the ways is through the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, who Jesus sends to teach and guide us. The Holy Spirit very often uses people we encounter in our lives, who are sometimes at the “right place at the right time,” like Lydia and Paul. But Jesus also promises to be present in our lives in other ways, ways that in our tradition we call sacraments.
Hang on with me for moment, and use your favorite time traveling machine –TARDIS, Time Turner, DeLorean, Scooby-doo time machine – and let’s go back for a moment to confirmation class. Sacraments, if you recall, are how God shows grace and is present to us in our everyday lives. Some flavors of the Christian church have a lot of sacraments, and some have none. We Lutherans believe there are two sacraments, both of which we hear about today – baptism (in the baptism of Lydia and her household) and Holy Communion, which some of our young people will be participating in for the very first time today!
Why only 2? In the Lutheran church, sacraments have two parts. The first is a word from Jesus, the second is an earthly physical sign. Because frankly, we are human, and God understands that we also need something concrete to help us wrap our minds around the mysteries of God’s presence.
For baptism, Jesus said, “Go and make disciples… and I will be with you,” (Mtt 28:19) and the sign is plain, ordinary water. For communion, Jesus said, “this is my body and blood, given FOR YOU… do this in remembrance of me,”(Luke 22:14-23) and the sign is ordinary bread, and the most common drink at the time of Jesus, wine. Stuff you could find at the local first-century “Wawa” equivalent.
I invite you to take a look in your bulletin inserts at the sheet from Luther’s Small Catechism, the page that says “the Sacrament of the Altar” at the top. There you can see the “Lutheran recipe” for sacraments for Holy Communion: bread and wine, and words that were instituted, or introduced by Jesus.
The sacraments are where the God’s presence intersect our lives. Baptism is the welcome into God’s family, into the life Christian community, as we heard with Lydia. Holy Communion is what sustains us on this sometimes difficult journey of life. It’s not just for some of us, for the “completely put-together” of us, for the “doing-well-in-life” of us, for those of us who have it all figured out. Because if that were the case, I would bet money that there would be NO ONE around the Lord’s Table.
Our lives are disarray, and own tables are often so cluttered with things that distract us, with the busy-ness of life and hectic schedules. And too often we forget that we need to stop and be fed along this called life. And it’s so easy to miss where the Holy Spirit is at work, perhaps putting people in our lives for us to welcome and be welcomed by, like Paul and Lydia – people who might just change our lives forever.
And all too often we like to remove the extender leaves from out of the table, in order make the table smaller, so that we can control who is in and who is out, who is welcome and who is not, based on who we think is worthy to be loved and welcomed. But we DON’T have a say on who’s in and who’s out, who’s welcome and who’s not. We are simply invited to join the meal, to share it with Jesus and with one another.
But we are all invited to the table, right here, to feel the presence of Jesus in the bread that our kids used their own hands to bake themselves, and in the wine, to taste how the Lord is good: in ordinary, everyday things served through ordinary, everyday people.
Our first communion students learned a song these last few months that goes, “To the banquet, come. It’s not just for some. But for all, big and small, you may come.” Jesus never checked people’s credentials in order to invite them to the table with him, and so neither do we.
We don’t check anybody’s Lutheran card, green card, race card, sexual orientation or gender identity card at the door. We simply do what Jesus modeled for us and commanded us to: invite. Jesus welcomes. And so we welcome. We say, come to our Lord’s Table.
Come, taste and see that the Lord is good.
The disciples were welcome.
Lydia was welcome.
I am welcome.
You are welcome.
All are welcome.
Welcome to the table. Welcome home. Amen.