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Come to the Table

by Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson

Sermon preached at the closing worship service, 2008 EEWC Conference

Lessons:  Proverbs 9: 1-6 
Luke 24: 1-33 
  
Forty years ago or so, feminist theologian Nelle Morton said, “The journey is our home.” For a while, that almost became cliché in the circles I traveled in. Yet, today more than ever, I know it is true.  It is true for me as a child of God and as Moderator of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) which turns 40 years old this year.

The lesson from Luke includes his version of the Resurrection story, followed by the story of the road — the journey to Emmaus. We often read these stories weeks apart in the church, but they are stories that are told in Scripture as if they happened the very same day. It is as if to follow the Risen Christ is to be on a journey. I know that if you are here today, it is because you have been on a journey and because you are still on one.

The Journey As a Service of Worship

The story of the journey to Emmaus is actually also the outline or structure of a worship service:

  • The disciples gather at the beginning of the journey  A visitor, Jesus, who is “hidden,” joins them.
  • There are news and announcements! The traveling disciples tell the stranger the latest gossip from that morning in Jerusalem.
  • They follow that with some testimony about Jesus of Nazareth.
  • Jesus, still hidden, opens the Word to them in a deep and engaging way that makes the time and journey fly by.
  • There is an offering — the offer to the stranger to stay for dinner, an invitation to the evening meal, to the table.
  • Then, there is Eucharist, as Jesus breaks the bread and is “known” to them in a moment of revelation.
  • There is the response, as they talk excitedly about the fact that “their hearts burned within them when he talked to them on the road.”
  • They are sent forth — they are propelled, by the Spirit, to return to Jerusalem to share the good news with the others.

This is a pattern that I am sure Luke embedded in the story.

But why would they recognize him in the “breaking of bread?” I am sure it is not only because of the last supper (which would have occurred just a few days before), but also because of years of  accompanying Jesus in his ministry and observing what Jesus said and did.

A Radical Table Fellowship

Followers of Jesus knew he practiced a radical table fellowship. He ate and drank with sinners and thus broke social rules of class and religion. In reaching out to people that others called “sinners,” he experienced the intimacy of sharing food and conversation. By doing so, he broke down barriers, caused embarrassment to some of his followers, and gave fuel to his enemies.

Jesus fed huge crowds of people, miraculously, on more than one occasion. In times when food could be scarce and people were often desperate, he cared about their food supply and physical nourishment. He was known for caring about the whole person. The feeding of  the multitudes is the only miracle told in all four gospels, so it must be central to his message and ministry, the message and ministry of that first church.

Jesus also fed people through his teaching and healing. He used metaphors of banquets and feasts to talk about a heavenly vision and an earthly realm of justice and peace.

And, at the Last Supper, he transformed himself into the banquet. He became the feast. He gave himself to us in this intimate way. To be in Christ is to have an eternal invitation to come to the table.

Come to the Table of Invitation and Welcome

There is a hunger in our day — for God, for grace, a longing for connection to the Divine. There are centuries, millennia, of wounds of rejection and exclusion begging to be healed today — if not by the church, then by some movement or community of Christ that will take seriously this great hunger.

Years ago, MCC decided to offer a “hospitality suite” at a National Council of Churches of Christ USA meeting in Cleveland, Ohio.  It was a particularly trying meeting because many people did not believe our church should be included in the NCCUSA. But at this gathering, we wanted to offer a place with food and drink to greet the delegates and to create a safe space for conversation.  We had volunteers set it up and staff it, but for at least a day  almost no one came.

The next day, partway through a meeting, one of our volunteers excitedly came to fetch me, saying the suite was full of people, and could I please come by! It turns out that many of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) hotel employees had heard about our suite and were not only visiting it but were bringing their friends as well.  It was a riot! Many of them had never before heard of MCC and were so thrilled to have someone to talk to about spirituality and sexuality. It was truly as though we were living in a gospel parable — especially the one in which the invited guests turned down the invitation to a special banquet, but the people who were called from the highways and byways were more than happy to come.

My grandmother was legendary for her table. During the Depression, she fed seven children, a disabled, unemployed husband, other relatives and occasional friends — often, they said, on a loaf of bread, half a pound of chopped meat, and a head of lettuce. The huge table seemed mythically expandable. Somehow, there was always enough. Her back door, too, was a place of plenty. She fed the occasional “tramp” looking to exchange chores for food. A milkman, a Swedish immigrant, who had been depressed and suicidal, was counseled at her kitchen table. I remember seeing the pearl necklace he gave her for saving his life. There was always room at her table and in her heart. Her name, aptly, was Grace. Christ’s table is a table of welcome and acceptance.

Come to the Table of Revelation

Jesus’ table is a table of revelation, of discovery, intimacy, truth-telling, of Aha!  “Did not our hearts burn within us?” the disciples asked that day. God is always wanting to be known, to be understood, drawing us closer and closer. Just when I think I may know it all, I am humbled; I find there is so much more to know about God’s justice and peace and purpose for my life, for my community.

I remember that moment, at age 22, at my third or fourth MCC service, at that little chapel at the Arlington Street Unitarian Church in Boston. We were having an evening service, and I had just consecrated communion.  As people began to stream forward in that crowded chapel (we could squeeze in about 40), the organist played a song I had not heard (and had certainly not sung) since I was a child: “Jesus loves me, this I know. . .”   I felt the tears well up as my heart melted in wonder and joy. Something was happening to me that I had longed for my whole life. My life was whole! I felt free and open and ready for whatever it was that God would bring into my life from that point on. I knew what I knew then, and it has never left— not even in the worst, most painful, most challenging day.  Jesus loves me.

Come to the Table of Transformation

I never tire of quoting that early lay feminist theologian, Georgia Harkness, who said, “It is easier to praise Jesus than to follow him!” We do not come to the table just to be fed, though that is necessary; or to be enlightened, though that is wonderful. We come to the table to be changed, to be transformed, to be sent out, to be set on fire for love and justice, to be of use, to be love and light and grace in a world that needs us to be new and different and engaged.

We live in times that need women and men of spirit to be willing to be changed by the table Christ prepares for us. May you return from this conference, from this event, ready to live into that change — for Jesus’ sake and the sake of all who need the realm of God to be embodied on earth.  Amen!

Nancy WilsonThe Rev. Elder Nancy Wilson has served as moderator of the Universal Fellowship of the Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC) since 2005, following the retirement of the Rev. Elder Troy Perry, founder of the MCC. She lives in Sarasota, Florida. This sermon was preached on June 29, 2008 at the closing worship service of the EEWC conference in Indianapolis.