Before I talk about Sunday, I want to say a special thank you to the people gathered around our library table for lectionary study on Monday. Thank you for making our table a table of love by listening to me recount my crazy weekend and offering me love and guidance as I come to terms with the passing of my Aunt Sally. As I told our group on Monday, my Aunt Sally and her husband Uncle David (a retired Presbyterian pastor) live in Sarasota, FL and faced some obstacles in finding the right shelter during Irma. The shelter they were assigned to was set up for 400 people and before Irma hit, there were over a 1,000 special needs evacuees housed there. My Aunt suffered chest pains in the middle of the night and was rushed to the ER, where she died early Monday morning from congestive heart failure. Thank you for your compassion and prayers and all the love you so freely give. Please continue to pray for Uncle David, my cousin Paul and his family. Thank you! Paula
The Table of Love
Come to the Table
Our Sermon Series “Come to the Table” reminds us that our table should offer us a foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven. When we think about the table in the Kingdom of Heaven, we remember tables from throughout our scriptures: Abraham’s table where he graciously offered hospitality to the three strangers; the table from Psalm 23 that “God prepares . . . in the presence of mine enemies;” the many tables that Jesus shared during his ministry years, where people accused him of “Dining with outcasts and sinners;” the table where Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and then offered them bread and wine as a reminder of God’s new covenant with us — for the forgiveness of sins. At this table, Jesus commanded us, “Love one another as I have loved you.” We must challenge ourselves to make sure our table is surrounded not only by faithful (and questioning) disciples, but also outcasts, sinners, and strangers. When we are assured of that, we can be assured that we are completing our challenge to create a table that offers a “Foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.”
The Table of Love
Sunday we moved specifically to “The Table of Love.” We found our grounding in these words from Romans 13: 8-10 “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; you shall not murder; you shall not steal; you shall not covet’ and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” We completed the description of the Table of Love with this promise from Matthew 18:20: “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
Blessing of the Backpacks
During a somewhat chaotic service, we called the children forward for the Blessing of the Backpacks, and then invited them to get “comfy” at the front on bean bags and big stuffed animals. We offered our teachers and all teaching staff from Grand County a blessing on the school year, and prayed that they might find joy in their service. The sermon was then presented as a glorified “Time for Young Disciples” where I sat on the chancel steps and talked to the youth and children about God’s big “Table of Love.”
Outcasts and Sinners
It’s easy for children and youth to imagine what it is like to be an “Outcast.” Just think back to Jr. High or Middle School, when you had your sack lunch or hot lunch tray and you were walking around the cafeteria looking for any sign of kindness at a table — looking for a place where you could sit and eat and maybe even enjoy fellowship. School cafeterias can be a hostile environment! Or think back to elementary school when teams were being chosen in PE class: were you the first one picked or the last one picked? I was inevitably the last one chosen for any sport, as I have never been adept at anything beyond tap dancing or gymnastics. I did have a brief moment of glory in 5th Grade when I went to a school for deaf children (long story, I’ll save it for another time) where my mother taught, and I was the first one chosen for everything. How easy it was for me to bask in that popularity and forget what it felt like to be the one standing on the sidelines.
When we are the ones who are basking in admiration and glory, we are called as disciples of Christ to keep our eye out for those on the sidelines, and save a place for them at the table. Imagine how nice it must have been for Zacchaeus to have Jesus dine at his own table. It was nice enough that we read Zacchaeus repented of his misdeeds and gave back everything extra he had taken from people PLUS four times whatever he had overcharged as a tax collector! The Table of Love can be healing and redemptive when outcasts and sinners find a place has been saved for them.
Conflict at the Table
Our reading from Matthew also included some directions for how to handle conflict at the table. As Christians we have to trust in this method of dealing right away with any conflict that arises. We do this one on one with the person who has offended us, and if that doesn’t work, we take a couple of people to help mediate. If that doesn’t work, we plan a loving a graceful “intervention” of sorts, where the one offending is given yet another chance to apologize or listen to reason. If all that fails, Jesus says to treat that person like a “Sinner or outcast.” When I was younger, I totally thought that was my easy way out. If someone made me angry or offended me and I gave reconciliation a good try to no avail — voila! I could write them off as a sinner or outcast.
As I’ve grown in my faith I’ve been challenged by this though, because the Table of Love shows us something different about how we are called to treat those “sinners and outcasts.” Those who we are so quick to write off are the very ones who Jesus welcomed with open arms. It really became a problem amongst the religious leaders of the time as they repeatedly complained about Jesus’ table guests: “This man eats with sinners and outcasts.”
Table of Tough Love
Maybe we can acknowledge that the table of love is actually a table of Tough Love. Not because we are called to give tough love, but because it is really tough to love like Jesus. If we can admit this, then we can begin to discuss the struggle together and hopefully find ways to practice this tough love better. We’ll follow this up more next week when we discuss the “Table of Peace” as we own up to Peter’s question to Jesus “How many times must I forgive?”
“Hurt People Hurt People”
May you be challenged in your faith to continue to grow and love through conflict. Like the rest of the world, we are not called to write someone off because they have offended us. Rather, like Jesus, we are called to extend our arms further and make even more room at the table by tending to the needs of the very people who have offended us. I’m reminded of something Rev. Nadia Bolz Weber taught at a conference. She said, “Hurt people hurt people.” Jesus stopped to tend to those very hurts, and we must follow his lead and tend to the hurts of the people who hurt us if we are to truly embrace the “Table of Tough Love.”