The Spirit Brings People to the Sharing TablePosted: May 15, 2016
SLIDE 3: DISCIPLES HAD GONE IN TO HIDING
The followers of Jesus were devastated. The person they had called Rabbi, Master, had been nailed to a cross by the Romans, and all of the disciples had gone into hiding. Still huddling in fear on Sunday morning, they were surprised, shocked, when some of the women returned from the tomb and reported it was empty. Someone had removed the stone, and there was no body inside.
SLIDE 4: JOY, DISBELIEF, CONFUSION
Then slowly different members of the group began to report “seeing” him, some even talking with him, first the women, then even some of the men, but always in mysterious circumstances, never quite able to know if what they thought they were experiencing was real or not. There was joy, disbelief and confusion. What was happening? And then the appearances stopped. Had Jesus gone away forever?
SLIDE 5: OFFERING OF FIRST FRUITS
And then word went out from the Upper Room that all followers should come to Jerusalem for the Holy Festival of Pentecost. They would hold the traditional all night prayer vigil and then participate in the procession to the Temple and the presentation of the first fruits. Their eyes heavy with sleep, as they waited for the break of day. The pre-dawn night air was warm heavy and still. And then a welcome breeze stirred through the room. It was cool and invigorating, and then the breeze turned into a wind, and each person in the room was praying in a spiritual tongue. Where before they had been confused and afraid, suddenly the followers were filled with courage and enthusiasm to share the story of Jesus with others. They danced, they laughed, they sang, and then they burst out of the room into the street. Surprised by-standers began to snicker believing the disciples to be drunk.
SLIDE 6: FILLED WITH COURAGE AND ENTHUSIASM
Peter began preaching to the crowd, “The day of the Lord is upon us. Repent and you can be saved.” The other disciples encouraged by Peter’s example fanned out through the crowd offering the people a message of hope and faith. According to the story of that first Pentecost three-thousand people that day chose to be baptized, maybe an exaggeration, but it seemed like a lot of people, and became part of the fledgling followers of the Way. The confusion among the disciples was replaced with a new sense of direction and purpose as they reached out to others to share the story of Jesus. And then as a kind of footnote to the story of Pentecost: “They committed themselves to the teaching of the apostles, the life together, the common meal, and the prayers.”
SLIDE 7: THE COMMON MEAL
From the beginning the followers of the way were defined by “the common meal.” And common meal did not mean a thimble full of tired grape juice and a flour paste wafer. Common meal meant a sit down dinner, where bread was shared, and people ate their fill. This was a table of shared fellowship and hospitality, where everyone was welcome. All of the taboos about who could eat together, sinners and non-sinners, class distinctions, rich and poor, disappeared in the fellowship of those who followed the way of Jesus.
SLIDE 8: TRUNCATED WORSHIP LITURGY
For over two-hundred years the Sharing Table was the central symbol and focus of worship for the Followers of the Way. The common meal was the principle way God showed up among them. Then as the church became more popular, as the number of church members grew, the full meal of the Sharing Table began to disappear, and the Lord’s Supper became a truncated worship liturgy with everyone getting a teeny tiny sip of wine and a small piece of bread.
SLIDE 9: CLERGY FOCUSED HIERARCHY
When Constantine declared Christianity to be the established religion of the Empire, the rush to join churches became overwhelming, because of the economic benefits associated with church membership. For instance, if you wanted a civil service job with the Empire, you had to become a church member. If you wanted to have a contract to sell supplies to the army, you had to be a church member. In order to cash in on jobs and contracts people were trying to join the church so fast there were waiting lines at the baptismal fonts. And so the church lost its focus. Rather than Table Fellowship and the social leveling of the sharing of food, and the commitment to reaching out to others in mission to bring them to the Table, the church became a clergy focused hierarchy organized around a formal liturgy, and creedal statements.
SLIDE 10: FOOD FOR OUR NEED AND OUR DELIGHT
As we move ahead into what some have called a Post-Christian era, I believe the way forward for followers of the Way of Jesus is to find our way back to becoming the people of the Sharing Table. Food has the power to bring us all together – we all need to eat — most of us even like to eat. Now some of us would do well to eat less than we do. I for one could live off of the fat of the land for a while. But food is not just a necessity. When I bless food, I like to pray, we thank you oh God for this food you have provided, not only for our need, but also for our delight! Food prepared well and eaten in moderation, and in the company of good spiritual friends is a pleasure.
SLIDE 11: FOOD COMPLICATIONS
But allow me a few moments to note that even with something as basic as food there can be complications. Food allergies, sensitivity to gluten, and ethical food preferences, like vegan, vegetarian, kosher and halal, all mean we must be careful about the food we serve. Hospitality is not hospitality if the guest cannot eat what is offered. When we shift to the summer lectionary we will spend a Sunday speaking to the issue of honoring the sensibilities of others, when we gather at the Table. At the Sharing Table we try to be careful about food allergies, as well as always offering some food accessible to both vegetarian and vegan guests. Making the effort to be sure everyone who is invited to the Table can eat is a concrete expression of love. Thus, even at the Communion Table we have both bread and gluten free.
SLIDE 12: THE SPIRITUAL GIFT OF HOSPITALITY
The Sharing Table embodies the spiritual gift of hospitality that lies at the heart of the ministry of Jesus. Henri Nouwen a great pastoral theologian of the last century wrote about the central importance of an extravagant welcome in our faith:
In our world full of strangers, estranged from their own past, culture and country, from their neighbors, friends and family, from their deepest self and their God, we witness a painful search for a hospitable place where life can be lived without fear and where community can be found.
SLIDE 13: CONVERT THE ENEMY INTO A GUEST
Our society seems to be increasingly full of fearful, defensive, aggressive people anxiously clinging to their property and inclined to look at their surrounding world with suspicion, always expecting an enemy to suddenly appear, intrude and do harm. (Think of the millions of people this year who have reported voting out of a sense of fear and anger.) But still – that is our vocation: to convert the enemy into a guest and to create the free and fearless space where brotherhood and sisterhood can be formed and fully experienced.
SLIDE 14: GUESTS CARRY PRECIOUS GIFTS WITH THEM
…if there is any concept worth restoring to its original depth and evocative potential it is the concept of hospitality. It is one of the richest biblical terms that can deepen and broaden our insight in our relationships to our fellow human beings. Old and New Testament stories not only show how serious our obligation is to welcome the stranger in our home, but they also tell us that guests are carrying precious gifts with them, which they are eager to reveal to a receptive host… When hostility is converted into hospitality then fearful strangers can become guests revealing to their hosts the promise they are carrying with them. Then, in fact, the distinction between host and guest proves to be artificial and evaporates in the recognition of the new found unity.
SLIDE 15: JESUS INVITES US ALL TO THE SHARING TABLE
Jesus points the way to the spiritual gift of hospitality by inviting us all to the Sharing Table. Table fellowship invites us to put down our phones and our tablets and engage with the people with whom we are eating. We have gifts to share with one another if only we can reach across the table in friendship.
SLIDE 16: FOOD, FELLOWSHIP, PRAYER, COMMUNION
If there is any legacy I hope to leave with this congregation, I hope the Sharing Table will continue as a place where food, fellowship, prayer and communion are all shared. Hospitality is transformative and allows a spiritual space, where we can support one another in following the Way of Jesus.