The Old Dinner Bell

Sixth Sunday after Easter

Immanuel Lutheran, Chicago

I live in an old house. It was built in the 1870’s and has had seven additions.  The last one was sometime around 2005 before Kari and I moved in.  So, it’s more accurate to say, I live in a house that is a combination of very old, medium-old, and almost new. Old houses have odd quirks. Our house features a cast iron dinner bell.  I have no idea when in the past 150 years it arrived.  I only know it was there when we moved in. It looks as though it’s been there from the beginning. In my experience, every kid who has lived in our house (we’ve had five of them) has liked to ring that bell.  That dinner bell is loud. That dinner bell rings out for everyone, in every corner, to come.  Come to the table.  Its message is urgent. Come now. Come find your seat, fill your plate, eat your fill, all that is mine is yours.

Our scriptures today are like that old dinner bell. With one voice our scriptures today announce a welcome for the entire human family. It is an urgent plea ringing out from the days of old. God invites all the children to come, sit, eat, and be filled.  Psalm 67 was written 2500 years ago by an unknown poet from an insignificant tribe, and yet it shouts praises to God who is anything but territorial or parochial. The psalmist’s God is global. In seven verses they mention some variant of “all the peoples” ten times.  They imagine God’s salvation to “all nations.” God “rules the peoples justly and guides the nations of the earth.” The psalmist thanks God for the harvest and asks that “all the ends of the earth” be similarly blessed.

Psalm 67 pushes us beyond our narrow political and ethnocentric boundaries to embrace every “other.” John’s vision in Revelation 21–22 does the same thing. At first glance the “new heaven and new earth” look narrowly Jewish — a surreal Jerusalem with twelve gates with twelve guardian angels representing the twelve tribes of Israel. In fact, John’s heavenly Jerusalem is a cosmopolitan city par excellence. Its citizens come from “every nation, tribe, people, and language.” God does not belong to one people or one nation any more than does the water or the air. Christ calls us to care for every country and people as much as we care for our own land.

Easter shouts an urgent invitation to come home, to come to the table.  Easter declares God’s dream for “the healing of the nations,” and for a time when the nations will not be fearful and aggressive, because all will be safe and cared for (Revelation 22:2). Easter rings out this grand cosmic vision of unity, hospitality, and grace in remarkably simple and human ways as it did when Lydia in Macedonia listened to Paul and Paul was open to her leadership.

Notice, Lydia was a successful businesswoman, and remarkably, she is the head of her own household, and she is also an immigrant outsider. In Jewish law and tradition, women were not considered qualified to start a synagogue, or even counted as full members to constitute the necessary quorum to hold a service. Yet when Paul—accompanied by Silas, Timothy, and Luke—began preaching in Philippi with an eye toward beginning a church there, his first “congregation” consisted of “the women who had gathered” by the river (Acts 16:13). His first convert—and also the first follower of the Way in what is now Europe—was a wealthy merchant named Lydia, arguably a woman of the cloth in more than one sense of the word. (Jim Rice, Sojourners)

We are told that Lydia “opened her heart to listen eagerly”; she was in a moment of readiness, disposed to listen as “a worshiper of God” (Acts 16:14). As she listened, she responded by inviting Paul to stay “in my home.” She practiced hospitality, opened her home in welcome. Perhaps the practice of hospitality is the ultimate outcome of the Easter season, when there is no fear of others, but readiness to host (see Romans 12:13). Actions do speak louder than words, and Paul’s evident respect for Lydia speaks volumes. Jesus echoes that theme in today’s gospel, as he tells the disciples, “Those who love me will keep my word.”

“The connection between the healing of the nations and Lydia’s hospitality is the gospel news that God will make God’s own home in our midst (John 14:23). God’s readiness to take up residence in our habitat contradicts all the fearful aggressiveness of the world. The risen Christ came and said “peace” (John 14:27). Where he comes, there is peace. The news of Easter is that the enlivened Christ invites us away from the deathliness of the world, not to withdraw, but to listen and host and welcome, and so to reverse the vicious cycles that keep wounding nations, communities, and persons.” (Walter Brueggemann)

For centuries, much of Christianity was white, western, and male. We all but forgot about the beautiful, wild, inclusive, and diverse church of the first century. The main actors of the western church were in Geneva, Rome, Paris, London, and New York. But as the Kenyan theologian John Mbiti has observed, that day is long gone. A new, very old, voice sounds out an invitation to Christ’s table today from vibrant centers of Christianity in places like Kinshasa, Buenos Aires, Addis Ababa, and Manila. Two-thirds of Roman Catholics now live in the global south. If the demographers are right, in fifty years half of the world’s Christian population will be in Africa and Latin America, and only about 20% of believers will be non-Latino whites.

“Global minded Christians are geographic, cultural, national, and ethnic egalitarians. For us there’s no geographic center of the world, but only a constellation of points equidistant from the heart of God. Proclaiming that God lavishly loves all the world, each person, and every place, the gospel does not privilege any country as exceptional.” (Daniel Clendenin, Journey with Jesus)

From of old the bell of the gospel rings out a simple, inclusive, welcoming, and urgent message—come! Come and eat.  Come, eat, and live. It’s a miracle, that as we respond to this call, we become living examples of this same hospitality for all. How shall we live and spend our wild and precious lives for the movement of justice, joy, and peace that Jesus called the gospel? How shall we become the kind of Christ-soaked people who live Christ in the fundamental danger and opportunity of these days?  (Brian McClaren) How does the gospel ring in your ears, in your heart?

 “Those who drink of the water that I will give them”, Jesus said, “will never be thirsty. The water that [Jesus gives] will become in [you] a spring of water gushing up to eternal life”, (John 4:14).  You shall become “…like trees planted by streams of water” which do not wither in the heat of the sun but prosper. (Psalm 1:3). The Spirit bids you come.