A Place at the Table Part 2: Always Room for One More
January 20, 2013
Rev. Jan Wiley
Luke 5: 27-32 and Luke 14: 12-14
Each year there is an award given called the Caldecott Medal for excellence in American children’s literature illustration. It’s an award for pictures. In 1966 it was given to a book by Sorche Nic Leodhas. To be honest, I don’t remember the illustrations very well but I have always remembered the title of the book:
Always Room for One More. Based on a Scottish folk tale, it recalls the tale of Lachie MacLachlan, a generous Scottish man. He lives in a small hut with his wife and ten children, yet he welcomes in any weary traveler who walks by on a stormy night.
For me, it is the Communion Table that Always Has Room for One More because the invitation to communion in the United Methodist Church is always extended to anyone who wants to be in relationship with God. All are welcome.
I assume we have all had experiences in other denominations of the Christian faith where we have not been welcome to the table. I went to a conservative Lutheran Church once where there was a card in the pew rack that you had to read and sign before you could take communion and it was clear that the table was not extended to me. Our Catholic brothers and sisters limit Holy Communion to those of their own faith but I have to say that most Catholic priests will invite non-Catholics to come forward and receive a blessing even if they cannot commune. I remember once a priest who was so welcoming, that even though we non-Catholics could not share in communion, he made it an honor if we would allow him to offer us a blessing.
I respect the integrity of these other faith communities and try my best to understand their limitations on who is served communion. But each time it happens I am even more grateful for the theology of the United Methodist Church that has what we call an Open Table, inviting all to come and receive the bread and the cup.
This morning you heard the beautiful anthem by the choir called A Communion Invitation. The lyrics are by Pamela Martin. She was invited by Craig Courtney, to write lyrics concerning Christ’s role as Host of the Communion Table and she wrote these words as an introduction to the anthem.
A few months [after being invited to write these lyrics], I arrived early to church on a Sunday morning. The sanctuary was empty and I sat in one of the back pews, near the corner. I savor these moments alone because I have often found that God speaks to me more loudly, more personally than at any other time, moments that often become the source of my writing.
On this Sunday, as I sat in the stillness, I realized I was not the only person enjoying the solace. A man, perhaps in his late thirties or forties, sat in one of the center pews, half a dozen rows from the rear of the church. I recognized him as one of the homeless who frequent the downtown area where my church is located. Something in his face set him apart from the ones who come in merely to escape the cold weather. There was an aura of peace around him; he seemed in quiet meditation as he looked straight ahead where the Communion table had been prepared.
The church gradually filled, the service began, and Communion was shared. As the people left, I wanted to make my way to this man and welcome him, but he slipped out quickly and anonymously. The door to the sanctuary had been left open that morning, open to all who wished to enter. God had welcomed each of us to His table, those who had come for refuge; the homeless, the hungry, the lonely, the weary. For a little more than an hour, we were part of one family; we shared a home, a meal, fellowship, a moment of rest. We had come to the table a broken and mismatched lot. Christ had brought us together as one and through the seemingly simple act of breaking bread restored us to wholeness. The inspiration for the lyrics of the anthem was borne from that experience. intro to anthem A Communion Invitation by Pamela Martin and Craig Courtney publ. by Beckenhorst Press, Inc. )
And to repeat the beginning verse of the anthem:
Come, if you are lonely, my door is open wide.
All of you are welcome, come and step inside.
Enter with my blessing, no one is denied.
Come, sit at My table, come sit by my side.
Both the words of this anthem, and the theology of the United Methodist Church say that any Christian, anyone who seeks to be in relationship with God is welcome at the table.
Now I would challenge us that if a homeless, rather unkempt, even smelly person were to come forward to the table this morning, that we would notice that and that we might feel uncomfortable. But I would hope that even if we feel uncomfortable, our response, our actions would be ones of grace and we would welcome this person and seek to talk to him or her and by doing so live into the very beliefs that we say we believe – that all are welcome.
But even as I celebrate our open table, I personally mourn that there is a limitation at the table. It is not who can come and receive the sacraments, who comes on that side of the table. But the limitation of the UMC, is who can stand on my side of the table and preside, who can consecrate the elements.
Until our beloved United Methodist Church, through the actions of our General Conference, allows persons who would meet every criteria for ordination except that they are gay or lesbian, to stand on this side of the table, I believe our table is not complete and we have not yet lived into our stated belief of Open Doors, Open Hearts, Open Minds.
As we heard in the scriptures this morning , Jesus invited the ‘unlikely’ to dine with him. Until all are welcome around the entire table, the table is still a challenge about which we must pray and work for justice.
Like baptism, Holy Communion is regarded by Protestants as a sacrament. That is, it’s an act of worship ordained by Christ and is a means of grace. This does not mean that we become any more worthy of God’s grace by taking part in Communion. Rather, we open ourselves to the divine love that’s already there; we become more ready to receive that love and to respond to it.
So today we focus on the portion of the Communion liturgy which is invitational and which offers us some specific ways in which we might respond to God’s love.
I invite you to turn to page 9 in the UM hymnal. Look about 2/3 of the way down the page just after the Holy, Holy, Holy paragraph in bold face print that begins Holy are you. . .
This is the presiding pastor’s line as he speaks of God and then refers to Jesus Christ.
And then it switches to introduce this Jesus with the words:
Your Spirit anointed him
And then it switches again to quote words recorded in Luke chapter 4 when Jesus reads them quoting from the prophet Isaiah in chapter 61. These words are like Jesus’ mission statement, which go back to prophet Isaiah but now fulfilled in Jesus that he is called:
To preach good news to the poor,
To proclaim release to the captives
And recovering of sight to the blind,
To set at liberty those who are oppressed,
And to announce that the time had come
when you would save your people.
And then we change voice once again as we describe the actual Jesus who:
[He] healed the sick, fed the hungry, and ate with sinners.
The invitation is not only for us to come to the table, but when we rise from the table we are to embrace the mission of Jesus as well. Jesus calls us to feed the hungry. That’s why the table today has food items from our own Food Closet and uses dishes from our own kitchen.
We seek to live out Jesus’ mandate that the holy meal is not just about us being spiritually fed, but that we are to offer the means for people to be physically fed. That is one of our callings.
Last Sunday, after we had shared in Holy Communion at the 10 service, I was told there was a family who wanted to speak to me and who needed help and that the father was carrying a sign that said they needed assistance. I went out and spoke to father and mother and met their four beautiful children. They were from Romania and were short about $200 for their rent for this month. We don’t actually keep cash in the church office and we don’t always give money but you know what happened? People from the congregation who understood the situation as they were walking by starting handing me cash. I brought them into the office and got sack lunches for each of them and talked with the kids. By the time they left they had food and almost enough money for their landlord.
He healed the sick, fed the hungry. . .
And we are challenged to do the same.
Some days we do it better than other days.
Some days we try to shut our eyes.
Always the challenge is before us.
Is there Always Room for One More?
Will everyone truly be invited to stand everywhere around the table?
May it be so “on earth as it is in heaven”