God’s Table 1

Last month, Cazenovia Welcomes Refugees hosted an event in our sanctuary. While it isn’t uncommon for local groups to use our building, as I looked at the pictures afterward, I noticed something unusual. You see, when it came time to set up for the panel, the organizers didn’t bring one of the Meeting House tables into the sanctuary; instead, they seated the refugees around our communion table.

As I looked at the photograph, I was deeply moved. Each time we gather at this Table, we proclaim Christ’s body broken and blood shed for the reconciliation and redemption of the world. We proclaim our commitment to live as Christ’s disciples, welcoming and serving our neighbors. We do so with symbols He instituted. But here, in the flesh, was an even more visible representation of what this means: God’s table is a place where all are welcome.

I recognize that this can sometimes be hard to accept. Ever since Jesus first called us to love our neighbor, we’ve been doing our best to put boundaries around the command. If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us have added a few fine-print exclusions that allow us to be less-than-neighborly (or at least indifferent) towards certain types of people. This shouldn’t be surprising since human beings have been taking sides both for and against each other since the beginning of time. Cain was for himself, but against his brother Abel (Genesis 4:1-15), the kings of Babylonia, Ellasar, Elam and Goiim allied against the Kings of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah, Zeboiim and Bela (Genesis 14:1), and Jacob showed clear favoritism toward his youngest son, Joseph (Genesis 37:3). In fact, we’ve been making treaties and choosing teams for so long, that it almost seems to be hard-wired into our DNA. And that’s what makes obedience to Christ’s command to love our neighbors (all of them, friend or enemy) so incredibly difficult (Matthew 5:43-48).

We’re so used to viewing the world through this lens of friend/enemy, for us/against us, our team/their team, that it can be hard to imagine a world in which we can be equally for everybody. Is it possible to care about the basic human rights of both Israeli’s and Palestinians? Can we be heartbroken over the suffering experienced by those in poverty both white and black? Can we care about the emotional needs of both the rich and the poor? I would suggest that we can – if only because Jesus commanded it.

And that’s the tricky thing about Jesus’ commands: He never tells us to do something that’s impossible, but He frequently calls us to do the difficult and the improbable. Jesus’ disciples weren’t supposed to be just a bunch of do-gooders – even those who didn’t recognize the God of Israel knew enough to be kind to their friends and family; He called us to exemplify the type-of unconditional, self-sacrificing love that He offered on the cross. That means that if we see someone living in fear – no-matter who – we try to address the conditions causing it. If we meet someone who is hungry – no-matter why – we are commanded to feed them. If we see someone naked or in prison or on the streets, we have a responsibility to help. And that begins with inviting others to the table.

The curious thing? When we begin with fellowship (even with our enemies), we often end with friendship. Something happens when we talk to each other as individuals that simply can’t happen when we spend our time talking about each other as stereotypical groups – we begin to discover one another’s humanity. We find that the things that divide us are less important than the things that unite us. And we build the foundations for the reconciliation and redemption Christ called us to proclaim.

I hope that as you look at this photograph, you’re as moved as I was – and not just to an emotional response, but to a physical one. Are there neighbors you don’t know? People whose stories you don’t understand? Then take a moment to extend an invitation. Invite them to dinner or out for a cup of coffee. Sit at the table with them. Learn to love as Jesus commanded.

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