Winterlight Sermon - There is Room at the Table

By: The Rev. Marcus Halley, EMCN Missioner for Evangelism and Rector of St. Paul's Church on Lake of the Isles

The first table I remember in my life is my grandmother’s.

As I remember it, it was tucked into the corner of her small kitchen. Somehow, despite having a kitchen with precious little counter space, she would prepare meals that would feed multitudes.

The table itself technically seated 6 - two on each of the long sides, one on each shorter end - but by the time she finished bringing in chairs from other places in her house and squeezing us children onto the bench on one side, it wasn’t uncommon for it to seat ten or twelve.

It was at her table that I first learned about Beloved Community. At least what my child mind could conceive of as Beloved Community.

When I had to eat dinner with my cousin who I just got into a fight with downstairs, I learned about reconciliation.

When I had to forego seconds on her sweet potato pie so that someone else could have a first helping, I learned about sharing.

When I witnessed my grandmother taking basics like black beans, collard greens, corn meal, and potatoes and create feasts, I learned about abundance.

It was at her table that I learned that tables could be places of community and wholeness, happiness and joy, beloved-ness and peace.

Unfortunately, not everyone has access to these types of tables on a regular basis. Too many tables are filled with judgment and misunderstanding, with family members unable or unwilling to love one another well, or harmful secrets that fester in the dark. Sometimes these tables exist in churches, where we use the scriptures to keep people away from God’s grace. Far too many people learn early on that tables are places of exclusion and harm.

Jesus instructs his followers to be people who set tables.

We aren’t supposed to set a table only or primarily for people who look like us or think like us. We are to set tables for the people we’d rather not even be around, the people we work hard to avoid. Stephanie Spellers, the Presiding Bishop’s Canon for Racial Reconciliation, Creation Care, and Evangelism says that each one of us has a margin, a line across which it is hard for us to recognize humanity.

Some people's margin is political difference. Other people's margin is ethnic or racial difference. Sexual orientation, gender or gender identity, class, or religious tradition. Each one of us has a margin, a line across which it is hard for us to recognize humanity.

To this, Jesus says, “go, and invite them to the banquet. Nurture community with them. Reach out to them.” That is Beloved Community.

To be honest, God has always been about setting tables. In Genesis, God set an abundant table in Eden, inviting humanity to share the richness of the earth with one another. But we chose rivalry and selfishness over sharing.

At Sinai, God set a table of plenty before God’s holy people, giving them rules to live by to ensure abundance within the community, and yet God’s faithful people still chose another way.

Time and time again, God’s people doubted God’s ability to set tables. Rather than trust, they hoarded. Each time they would ask, “Can God set a table in the wilderness? Is God able to provide?” And each time, God would respond, “I can. I will. If you learn to live in peace and justice, you can experience a life that is abundant.”

When Jesus comes onto the scene, he does so to set a table. He goes into communities of lepers and brings them into community. He gets tax collectors, prostitutes, the lame, the dumb, the blind, the demon possessed. He ignores social standards and rules of engagement and brings them into his community. He sets a table and invites the dregs of society to partake of the banquet of heaven. This is beloved community. This is our invitation. This is our challenge.

Regardless of the tables from which you have come, we are here at this one. It is made ready by the One who animates communities of courageous love across vast differences. It is made ready for you to come, to partake, to savor, to enjoy.

And then to make room for others to come, to partake, to savor, to enjoy.
And then to make room for others to come, to partake, to savor, to enjoy.
And then to make room for others…
And then to make room for others…
And then…
And then…

The master in our parable wants his house FULL, but if I know anything about God’s table, it is never full, there is always room.

Don’t know where you fit in? There’s room here.

Struggling with your identity? Come on, there’s room here.

Family doesn’t quite understand you? Come on, there’s room here.

Don’t quite know if you believe this stuff? There’s room for you too.

Don’t know where you life is heading? There’s room for you as well.

It literally does not matter who you are, where you are from, or how you identify, there is a seat at this table with your name on it. It is made ready by the One who created you in love.

There’s a hymn I remember as a child that goes a little like:
Come to this fountain so rich and sweet,
Cast thy poor soul at the Savior’s feet,
Come into today and be made complete.
Glory to his name.

God’s dream of Beloved Community is like a table that someone set, and each time they brought in a new chair, the table got longer and longer. Everyone was invited to this table and when they sat down and shared the food and drink, they saw one another for who they really were - beloved by God.