September 2023 Connection

“Pull Up A Chair”

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”
~Matthew 5:43-44, 46-48 (CEB)
“But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” ~  Romans 8:37-39 (CEB)
When my grandmother, Jane West, passed away in December 2006 at the age of 90, she left us with two requests for her funeral. The first was that we’d sing the hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The second was a bit unorthodox, and that was that she demanded that we not serve Green Bean casserole at her funeral luncheon. Needless to say, it wasn’t her favorite! The problem was, for everyone else in the family, Green Bean Casserole was (and still is) a favorite. We wanted to bring to the table a dish that we loved, but simply wasn’t allowed. We honored that wish of hers…for the most part.
In the last year or so, I’ve been sharing a vision with this congregation that I pray we can live into what it means to be what I call a “Big Table Church.” Having shared this before, bear with me as I share it again with a bit more nuance. By a “Big Table Church,” what I am referring to is the idea that we gather at the figurative (and sometimes literal) table of the God, feasting on the goodness of God’s great love, and
experiencing what it means to be Christians and a people called the church. Jesus invites us to recognize that this table is not only BIG, but that it is also Growing. At this table where we gather as a church, we have to begin to recognize that what allows me to come to the table is God’s all-sufficient grace, which is also the very thing that brings you to the table.
You see, God’s table – the fellowship of believers – is not yours or mine. It is wholly God’s! And when it’s God’s table, and it is God’s grace that invites you and me to it, there can be no argument that it is not available for each and every one of God’s children! No exceptions, no small print, no asterisks. If there is space for me, then there is space for you. And if there is space for us, then there is absolutely space for
all! God’s grace and love knows no limit (Romans 8:37-39)!
But, we can’t stop here, because this begins to sound like a table full of chaos! God’s kingdom is one of love, grace, hope, peace, joy, and inclusion, and so it would be reasonable to expect that the table would be, too. For this purpose, I like to say that the table is big and open to everyone, but the menu is God’s, too, and we don’t get to bring our own food. And that’s where the Green Bean Casserole comes in. 
When we’re at God’s table, the meal that is served is love and love, alone! Another way to look at is to remember that the meal that is served at the big table is the gospel – a gospel of immense and unfailing love; a gospel of diminishing margins and the inclusion of, and love for those who have spent too long on those margins; a gospel that announces forgiveness and grace; a gospel that sets free and tears down barriers, not builds them; a gospel that commands our love to be more reflective of God’s love (Matthew 5:48).
For us to be a “Big Table Church” means that we’re going to work hard – and at times struggle – to
pull up chairs to the table to make sure that everyone has access to a seat. We’re not going to leave anyone out, determine litmus tests for who belongs, or leave anyone on the outside looking in. We’re not going to own the table, but instead recognize that it is, has always been, and will forever be GOD’S TABLE! For us to be a “Big Table Church,” it means that we’re going to feast on the incredible love of God and demand of ourselves and hold one another accountable to leave behind us all that is not of love.
There is no question that this is going to be incredibly hard for all of us at various times! At moments
we’re going to forget whose table it is and we’re going fall short by thinking that we somehow deserve a seat at the table while others are still on the outside looking in. There are going to be days where we demand our Pyrex dish of Green Bean Casserole be allowed at the table, even though it just doesn’t belong. And while we will succeed again and again at being a “Big Table Church” that reflects God’s love, we must admit that this will likely be the most difficult thing we’ll ever do in our lives! But I promise you this: there is nothing in this world more worth this effort than the Kingdom of God!
The truth is, we live in a world that is looking for a church that can be trusted. People of all ages are
looking for a church that not only talks about love, but actually loves; not only talks about grace, but also
extends it; not only exists for itself, but exists to that the world might come to know the goodness of God. In this season of Christianity, the world aches for an authentic expression of God’s very real love. We can be that! But it’s going to take each and every one of us.
Pull up a chair!
Pastor Brian
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