Sharing Table on SteroidsPosted: August 3, 2014
Sharing Table on Steroids
SLIDE 3: YOU GIVE THEM SOMETHING TO EAT
Bible Scholar John Dominic Crossan points out that the two undeniable marks of the ministry of Jesus were his healings, and his practice of “open commensality,” common eating. Jesus’ willingness to eat with anyone. Both healing and common eating are featured in our scripture this morning. “As Jesus went ashore he saw a great throng; and he had compassion on them, and healed their sick. When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a lonely place, and the day is now over; send the crowds away to go into the villages and buy food for themselves.”
But Jesus said, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.”
SLIDE 4: JESUS: A REVOLUTIONARY BIOGRAPHY
I believe this story is symbolic of the whole of Jesus’ ministry, and the task of those of us who wish to follow in the way of Jesus. In trying to figure out what the historical Jesus was about, I am impressed with the insights of the New Testament scholar John Dominic Crossan. And sometime later this year I would welcome a discussion of his insightful book Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography. This morning I want to lift up Crossan’s insights into the purpose of Jesus’ ministry revealed in his practice of eating.
SLIDE 5: OPEN COMMENSALITY
One of Jesus’ primary methods for teaching his vision of the Kingdom of God was through “open commensality” – that is, through sharing egalitarian meals with his listeners. In the first century, the banquet table was the chief place of sustenance, the principle form of entertainment, and an apt symbol of society in miniature. First century Jewish society was structured with an unassailable hierarchy, and this hierarchy could be seen during meals when women served men at the table and never vice versa, lower classes and slaves never shared a meal with the powerful, and sinners never ate with the pious. The banquet table, then, contained all the same oppressive barriers as society at large. Crossan suggests that Jesus symbolized his message of radical egalitarianism through eating with slave and free, male and female, sinner and pious, sick and healthy. He brought every class of person to his table. Crossan states: “… healing and eating were calculated to force individuals into unmediated physical and spiritual contact with God and … one another.”
SLIDE 6: UNMEDIATED PHYSICAL AND SPIRITUAL CONTACT
Unmediated physical and spiritual contact with God and one another is still the mission of the followers of Jesus. In our world, however, we have gated communities, private clubs, VIP sections, and Sunday worship is still the most segregated hour of the week. And not just segregated by race but by income and social class. We tend to hang out with people who are like us. Even in church our friendship groupings the people we go out to eat with and invite over for dinner tend to be homogenous. We feel comfortable that way. But that was not Jesus’ vision. Check out Luke 14 beginning verse 12: “The next time you put on a dinner, don’t just invite your friends and family and rich neighbors, the kind of people who will return the favor. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You’ll be — and experience — a blessing. They won’t be able to return the favor, but the favor will be returned — oh, how it will be returned!”
SLIDE 7: WE BECOME THE BODY OF CHRIST
The Sharing Table is the way of Jesus. I have persisted in trying to provide a meal once a week where everyone is welcome and anyone who shows up is fed, because when we sit down at table with one another, we become the Body of Christ. At the Sharing Table we have tried to accommodate food allergies, vegetarian and vegan diets, to be sure that everyone is welcome. While not following a vegan diet myself, I have come to even appreciate vegan humor.
SLIDE 8: VEGAN HUMOR
“The standard diet of meat-eaters is blood, flesh, veins, muscles, tendons, cow secretions, hen periods and bee vomit. And once a year during a certain holiday in November, meat-eaters use the hollowed-out gastrointestinal system of a dead bird as a pressure cooker for stuffing. And people think vegans are weird because we eat tofu?”
SLIDE 9: NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE OR WHAT YOU EAT
No matter who you are or what you eat, you are welcome at the Sharing Table. Now a suggestion was made that the pastor should seek out a church closer to the homeless camps and hold the Sharing Table there. But I think that misses the point. The purpose of the Sharing Table is not to go someplace else and feed hungry people as a mission, the Sharing Table is the mission to bring all people, rich and poor, male and female, black and white, gay and straight, to sit down together and enjoy God’s blessing of food and each other’s company. I know that is hard, but Jesus didn’t ask us to do easy stuff.
SLIDE 10: PLENTY OF MISSION AWAY FROM OUR BUILDING
Let me acknowledge there is plenty of mission we can engage in away from our church building. Alix is taking water, food, books and other good stuff to the homeless camps. I want to thank the folks who took lunches to the workers at the Habitat site, and all the people who have worked to help build the Habitat house this Spring and Summer. Foodline offers food for the hungry, and the Huntsville Assistance Program provides monitored assistance to the poor. Delivering meals on wheels is a wonderful ministry, and our contributions to NAMI have been important for the mentally ill in our community.
SLIDE 11: SHARING A MEAL
Sharing a meal may not seem like much, but it can be the first step in reaching across social barriers to nurture others with the love of Jesus. Sitting down and sharing food is the most effective means of offering friendship. And much of the dis-ease in our culture is the result of loneliness, stress, and a lack of social connection. Spiritual healing begins at the Sharing Table. And our mission as followers of Jesus is to invite people to come, sit down and eat with us. Maybe we can have invitation cards we hand out to people to invite them to dinner.
SLIDE 12: SHARING TABLE ON WEDNESDAYS?
Now John Barber has suggested that we move the Sharing Table to Wednesday evenings, so the choir can participate. I am open to that idea, but I want to make sure that we don’t get in the way of choir either. If people come eat and run, we miss the point of spiritual sharing. So let’s think about it, talk about it, and figure out how we might make it work.
SLIDE 13: HOW SHOULD WE MEASURE SUCCESS IN THE CHURCH?
Allow me to recommend an article on the internet entitled “Open Commensality in Practice,” by B. Scott Christmas. Here are his conclusions:
“A lot of people warm a seat in the pew every week inside expensive, ornamental buildings, listening to grandiloquent words, and singing hymns of faith and devotion, but it’s all blithering and meaningless without genuine outreach. For a church, success should not measured by how many rear-ends are warming the pews on Sunday morning, how much cash is dropped piously into the plate, or how many souls have been “won to Christ.”
SLIDE 14: THIS IS THE KINGDOM OF GOD
Instead, success should be measured by how many mouths have been fed, how many souls have been nurtured with love and genuine attentiveness, and how many lives have been enriched with the abundance of compassion, self-worth, empathy, and unconditional acceptance. And the way to start, the way to put this philosophy into practice, is the same way that Jesus himself did it – through open commensality. Sharing a meal, sharing your time, sharing your attention. This is salvation. This is the Kingdom of God.”
SLIDE 15: LOVING WASTEFULLY
“Instead of a church that posts its Sunday School attendance in the bulletin every week, I want a church that posts how many people volunteered to house the homeless, tend the sick, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked. I want to know who strived to spread love, tolerance, and compassion; I want to know who worked for peace and equality; I want to know who fought injustice, judgmental attitudes, and oppression; I want to know who shared the gift of abundant life through living life to the fullest, being all that they could be, and loving wastefully.”
Loving wastefully. I like that. So often in a small church with what feels like too few resources we tend to pinch pennies and think small, rather than remembering to share the extravagant love of Jesus. We should be good stewards, but we can love and welcome others extravagantly.
SLIDE 16: JOIN JESUS AT THE TABLE
Large crowds came to Jesus – five-thousand might have been an exaggeration, but a lot of people shared food that day and everyone was fed. He did not turn them away, but rather opened his heart to them and told his disciples, “you give them something to eat.” We are living in a world of loneliness and spiritual hunger today, and Jesus is still saying to us, “you give them something to eat!” Jesus wants us to become the Sharing Table on steroids welcoming extravagantly, loving wastefully. Join Jesus at the Table.