You Might Be A Christian If…You Have A Weird Thing For Tables

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Luke 5:27-32.

This week the South Shore UMC Family begins an eight-week sermon series entitled You Might Be A Christian If… I am grateful to the Rev. Magrey deVega, serving Hyde Park UMC in Tampa, for helping capture the themes for this series in a Jeff Foxworthy style and for Dr. Kelsey Evans-Amalu for inviting me to test-drive these themes in a lecture on Christianity in her Human Geography course a few years ago.

Also a shout-out to the first Spring Confirmation Retreat 2019 that heard these in each of our times of worship together…I’m still working on determining this generation’s Kevin Bacon…

As Hagrid would say, “more on that later…”

One of the things my Nonnie was known for was elaborate tablescapes. For the grown-up table – Lenox and Waterford Crystal as far as the eye could see. Napkin rings snuggled fine cloth napkins. The chandelier just bright enough to enhance conversation, but not blinding in reflections off the glassware. The kids’ table had its own flare – plastic ev.ery.thing. – but fun plastic! Usually flamingoes. Or pineapples. Or flamingoes enjoying pineapples (thanks, Burdines!). The kids would sit on the porch or in the breakfast nook while the adults escaped to the dining room.

Or so they thought…

Being hangry is a real thing – being angry because you are hungry – and knowing that, even before the word was a thing – meant the adults always let the kids fix their plates first so they – the adults – could eat in peace.

Or so they thought…

Kids eat fast. And we sure did. So when the grandchildren were done we would one-by-one find a way into the dining room. “Mom, I need help with this…” “Gramps, take a look at what I just did…” “Nonnie, may I have…” And a dining room table that comfortably had eight adults around it swelled to fifteen.

And there was always room. Always.

I used to think Nonnie’s dining room table was magic in the way there was always room. But it was not magic. It was magnanimity – learned from her love of God, which taught her great love for her family.

I desire that same spirit of magnanimity when I think of preparing the tables in my life for all God’s people to come. That there will always be room. That there will always be enough and more beside. That at the table we will be and find generous friends.

It’s true. I have a weird thing for tables…because of my faith…my faith that leads my family and leads me in welcoming every single person as a member of Christ’s family.

Prayer: “Sent forth by God’s blessing, our true faith confessing, the people of God from this dwelling take leave. The service is ended, O now be extended the fruits of our worship in all who believe. The seed of the teaching, receptive souls reaching, shall blossom in action for God and for all. God’s grace did invite us, and love shall unite us to work for God’s kingdom and answer the call.”* Amen.

*“Sent Forth by God’s Blessing,” The United Methodist Hymnal 664.

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Joined Together

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Ephesians 2:11-22.

When I think about unity I picture a massive dining room table – one where anyone and everyone can gather, sit down, and share a meal. There was a commercial last summer about the “biggest back yard barbeque” where the table went on and on; as more people arrived, more tables were added. There was always room. There was always space. Everyone was welcome. What they brought was gratefully received and added to the spread. And there was laughter. And there was joy.

This idea is why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table.

In the Gospel of Luke Jesus shares the Parable of the Great Dinner. Jesus said, “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his [servant] to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come; for everything is ready now.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my regrets.’ Another said, ‘I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.’ So the [servant] returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his [servant], ‘Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.’ And the slave said, ‘Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room’” (Lk 14:16-22).

The image of there still being room, of inviting others to come in, and most importantly, inviting folks – as I have heard described – that no one else wants or no one else sees – is the reason why Andrew and I have a massive dining room table…and is the reason why I think the tables in churches should be even bigger. Our tables remind us that Christ’s table was not just for the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful. Christ’s table is for all people. And thank God for that because as much as I would like to think of myself among the healthy, the financially sustainable, the intelligent, the talented, and the successful, I am among the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame. And Christ welcomes me – welcomes us – welcomes all so that “[his] house may be filled” (Lk 14:23).

When you think about unity, what image do you see? And what feelings accompany that image? Take time to reflect on that question and your response this week – and share your image with someone you cherish.

Prayer: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed, for I am thy God and will still give thee aid; I’ll strengthen and help thee, and cause thee to stand upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.”* Amen.

*“How Firm A Foundation,” The United Methodist Hymnal 529.

 

 

God Never Said That: It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe

Sunday’s Scripture ~ Psalm 119:65-72 and Romans 3:21-22.

A couple years ago my dear friend Kelsey asked me to guest lecture in her AP Human Geography class. Her students were working their way through a unit on the five major world religions and Kelsey asked me to come in to represent Christianity.

Woah.

And by the way, the class is 50 minutes long and please leave at least 15 minutes for questions and answers.

Double woah.

Knowing my audience (and time sensitivities!) I decided to make a Top Ten List to share with the students – a sort of cross between a countdown on a late night television show and “you might be a Christian if…” With the help of my friend Magrey, this is what I shared with the students:

YOU MIGHT BE A CHRISTIAN IF…

10. YOU HAVE A THING FOR TABLES – We are a table fellowship people. The table is a place of brokenness, connection, and blessing. We bring our brokenness caused by sin to the altar table, we seek connection with Christ, and we receive the blessings of forgiveness and grace.

9. YOU’RE RELATED TO MORE PEOPLE THAN KEVIN BACON – Our participation at the table connects us to Christians, as well as Jews and Muslims, through the ages as we all share a common lineage in Abraham. This connection also reveals a number of ways to practice the Christian faith. Perhaps a more accurate description is Christianitiesrather than Christianity.

8. YOU HAVE A THING FOR THE GAME SHOW “FAMILY FEUD” – Why are there Christianities? Because people – through the ages and in the present – that practice Christianity quarrel about interpretation of Scripture, application of Scripture, teachers of Scripture, and more. They fight and think they are more right…it is not that they leave the table, more like they declare their own section at the table. This kind of quarrel is at the root of the Catholic-Protestant split, and to some degree, is the root of why we have so many denominations.

7. YOU’RE THEOLOGICAL VOCABULARY INCLUDES THE WORD, “WHOOPSIE.”– Our Christian history is not full of warm and fuzzy events.

  • The Crusades – the Spanish Inquisition – many Nazis claimed Christianity – to just name a few. It is not just other faith traditions that invoke the right to land and secure their access of it through mass genocide…Christians do it, too.
  • We struggle with Sin and sins. Sin refers to the Fall – when humanity abused God’s good gift of free will – and sins refers to the act, word, or thought – whether of omission or commission – for which we will be held accountable before God.
  • Our bondage to sin ruptures our relationship with God, with one another, and with the rest of creation. We are incapable of breaking the power that sin holds over us. This is why Christ’s atoning death is so needful – his immeasurable gift of love through his atoning death frees us from sin’s bondage, which allows us to live in renewed relationship with God, with one another, and with creation.

6. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART I: 1+1=1 – Jesus is one person with two natures. He is fully human and fully divine. As fully human, he lived as we live and endured what we endured; as fully human Jesus is able to stand in humanity’s place and take the punishment for sin. As fully divine, Jesus as God incarnate is able to save humanity from our condemned state and break the power sin has over us.

5. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT BIOLOGY, TOO – We believe in the resurrection of Christ, not the resuscitation of Christ. On the third day when the stone was rolled away, our Jesus did not come back to life; he was not resuscitated. Jesus was given new life. He was resurrected and his resurrection assures the eternal defeat of sin – the eternal defeat of death – for all that receive the gift of grace in Jesus Christ.

4. YOU’RE KIND OF WEIRD AT MATH, PART II: 1+1+1=1 – We believe our God is Triune – that our God is one God in three persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We believe in every moment God is all three of these persons; God does not cease being one person in the Trinity in order to be another.

3. YOU THINK THERE’S A GUY IN YOUR FOOD – Sacraments are the means by which Christians encounter the mystery of Christ. At the communion table Christians believe they encounter the mystery of Christ, but in different ways. Some Christians believe that once the communion elements – the bread and wine/juice – are blessed that they physically transform into the body and blood of Christ. Other Christians believe the real presence of Christ becomes present in the bread and wine/juice. Either way, there is a guy in the communion meal, and we are redeemed of our sin and equipped for service in the Kingdom through this encounter with the mystery of Christ.

2. YOU HAVE A WEIRD THING FOR CALLING PEOPLE “MINISTERS” – What is theology? The study of God. Who does theology? Everyone! We believe in the Ministry of All Believers. It is not just the clergy that attend to the work and service of God’s people. This is the work of all people! All people have gifts for ministry to use in the Kingdom. And our using our gifts – this work – our ministry – we share it together.

1. LOVE, BABY.  IT’S ALL ABOUT LOVE – Like all faith practices – it is what you make of it. Some Christian traditions offer detailed prescriptions of what practitioners do and do not do to make of their faith while others are less rigorous. As for me and my making of faith I start here:

  • “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other” (Jn 13:34-35).
  • I live out this verse in conversation and accountability John Wesley’s General Rules: (1) Do no harm, (2) Do good, and (3) Attend upon the ordinances of God – or as Bishop Reuben Job said – “Stay in love with God.”

(Exhale!)

If you were to add anything to this list, what would it be? Take time this week to consider what it means to be a Christian to you. What are your foundational Christian beliefs? How do your beliefs draw you in closer relationship with Christ and those that are faithful to him?

Prayer: Holy God, “Although a difference in opinions may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works…Is thine heart right, as my heart is with thy heart? If it be, give me thine hand.”* Help us, O God, to offer and receive one another’s hands. Amen.

*John Wesley’s Catholic Spirit – (http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/sermon-39-catholic-spirit/)