Sunday, October 2, 2016

“Extending the Table” (Luke 17:5-10)

“The miracle of Communion means the rich bowing down
with the poor, the learned with the unlearned, the clean with
the filthy, the master with the slave, the privilege with
the deprived, the white with the black, and the black with the white”

Rosa Page Welch is probably not a name familiar to many of us here this morning . . . but, she should be.  First of all, she was an amazing singer who sang for audiences all over the world proclaiming her voice to be the voice of an angel . . . acclaiming her as a great woman of God.  Secondly, she was a missionary called by God to bridge the gap between blacks and whites during a time of segregation in our country.  Her desire was to spread the good news of God’s love for all people, and desire for all people to work together.  Third, she was a member of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) . . . a life-long member.  And, lastly, she was black.

The issue of unity as the children of God was personal.  Much of her life was spent fighting this barrier between races.  Despite the fact that she could be hailed as a “woman of God” having the voice of angel . . . acclaimed by many . . . she still could not use the bathroom or eat in the many places she performed.  And, yet, she endured in her witness towards inclusion and unity for all people as the children of God.  It was her calling.  In a story her daughter, Linne, told she mentioned that her mother’s constantly having to be on the road singing and witnessing had put a strain on the family.  As she recalled a time when she was nine years old, her mother getting ready to walk out the door, she sat at the top of the stairs crying and pleading for her mother to stay.  Her mother replied, “I have this calling.  Where God had called, I must go.” (“I have a calling . . .” by Deborah Phelps in the Women of Faith magazine in the summer of 2009.)

It is on this Sunday, which is World Communion Sunday, that I began this sermon with Rosa Page Welch’s words.  World Communion Sunday has been celebrated since 1933.  The brainchild of a Presbyterian minister by the name of Hugh Thompson Kerr.  His idea was to bring churches together in a service of Christian unity--in which everyone might receive inspiration and information, and above all, to know how important the church of Jesus Christ is, and how each congregation is interconnected one with another.  From this simple beginning it has grown to be annual celebration in many denominations and churches throughout the world--including the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ); after all, we are a people of the table.  It is a symbolic call towards unity . . . unity as the children of God in God’s kingdom.

I’m not quite sure the purpose behind World Communion Sunday has been accomplished . . . this idea of unity and interconnectedness; but, I can say that it does serve as a nice reminder that all are a part of the family of God no matter what branch they come from.  At least for one day, we can say with some certainty that there are other followers of Jesus who have gathered around the table, broken the bread, and lifted the cup in remembrance of what Jesus has done for all of us.  We can say that on this day, we are not the only ones at the table.  But, as far as accomplishing its goal of uniting the body of Christ into one body . . . well, I think it is safe to say that we are still a ways off from that.

At the same time, I don’t think that means we quit trying.

After all, we are called as the followers of Jesus towards being a “movement towards wholeness.”  That “movement towards wholeness” is a call towards establishing God’s family . . . God’s kingdom . . . here on earth.  It is a movement towards inclusion.  It is a movement toward finding a place at the table for everyone . . . all of humanity that has been created in the image of God.  It is extending the table.

When Dana and I got married, we had a simple two-seater table.  The table was big enough for the two of us to gather and eat.  Then we started having children . . . and, with each child the table grew so that all could have a place at the table.  Then some of the children went off and got married, starting having children of their own.  Dana and I realized that we needed to get a bigger table . . . or at least a table with extensions; and, that is what we did.  We now have a table that easily seats all eleven members of our family whenever we gather to eat . . . plus we have the capability of extending that table to include even more.  We extended the table so that all could be included.  We want everyone at the table . . . our family and our friends . . . the strangers who appear at our door . . . the wayfaring pilgrim.

Throughout my ministry I have always appreciated the meaning and message of World Communion Sunday . . . this call for unity and inclusion among the faithful.  It is a good start.  I say that it is a good start because it begins to expand our understanding of the family of God.  On the other hand, it is only a good start.  Over the years I have begun to see that the family of God goes beyond the fellowship of the faithful . . . goes beyond the boundaries of the churches.  The family of God includes all people in all places . . . after all, they resemble the One who created them . . . they were created in the image of God.  They are our brothers and sisters.  They deserve a place at the table with the rest of us.  Thus I think that the idea of World Communion Sunday needs to be bigger . . . needs to be more inclusive . . . if it is ever to be the family of God in God’s kingdom . . . if it ever going to really be that “miracle” that Rosa Page Welch described it as.  

In our scripture reading this morning, the apostles ask Jesus to increase their faith.  Jesus tells them that if they really had faith they could do anything . . . even the ability to have bushes replant themselves where they desire.  Then he tells them to imagine something . . . they have a servant who works hard for them--plowing the fields or tending the sheep.  At the end of the day he asks them whether they invited the servant in to eat a meal or do they have the servant prepare and serve the meal before allowing the servant to eat?  Well, of course everyone has a role to play and status to uphold . . . the servant would do what a servant is supposed to do . . . prepare and serve the meal.  Jesus asks if they would show appreciation towards the servant for doing his or her job . . . of course not, it was the servant’s job.  That is just the way things are done.

But, for Jesus this is not good enough.  Faith goes beyond going through the motions of what is expected.  Faith is tearing down the walls, removing the barriers, and including everyone.  He tells the apostles: “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’”

Doing the expected is not good enough.  The followers of Jesus are to go beyond the expected and to do the unexpected . . . they are to increase their faith in demonstrating the power of God’s love.  They are to get into the business of creating miracles.  They are to invite everyone to the table . . . just as God created them . . . they are about extending the table so that everyone has a place.  

As a Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) congregation our greatest precept is the table . . . the Lord’s Supper . . . Holy Communion.  We believe that whenever we are gathered we should come around the table to break the bread and lift the cup.  We celebrate the holy meal each and every Sunday and a few times in between.  We believe in the power and the message of this table.  As a congregation we also believe that Jesus invites everyone to this table . . . everyone.  This is the miracle of communion that Rosa Page Welch speaks of.  Thus we let everyone know that no one is denied his or her place at the table no matter who they are, what they represent . . . all are welcomed.

Thus it is at the table that we have the opportunity to increase our faith . . . to be more than is expected . . . to be miracle workers.  The opportunity is there for the taking as the table represents the kingdom of God in its finest and most complete.  The opportunity is there if we take that practice and apply it to our everyday lives . . . if we move towards being the kingdom of God in this moment and the moments yet to come as we live our lives daily.  We are to extend the table.

Yes, communion is a miracle.

Let us live the miracle.  Amen.

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