Come to the Table (part 1) - Wellington First Assembly

Wellington First Assembly

326 W Botkin Lane, Wellington Kansas ........Family Faith Lessons - 9:30 AM........ Sunday Worship - 10:30 AM


Sunday, April 15, 2018

Come to the Table (part 1)

This week, we begin a new series on what it means to Belong, Believe, and Become.  What does it mean to belong to a Christian community?  What role do believe systems have in it?  How does one become a follower of Christ?  The answers might surprise you.  They are much simpler than we often think.  For decades, we have identified who we are by what we believe in.  In politics – I am a Republican, a Democrat, an Independent.  In Sports, I am a Chief, a Bronco, a Cowboy.  In nationality, I am Irish, German, Albanian, Native American.  In church, I am Presbyterian, Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Assembly of God.  All of those labels might be true, might be helpful, but sometimes get in the way of things that really matter.  When we play identity politics, we don’t take the time to get to know each other, listen to the common human experiences of each other, rejoice with each other, or cry with each other.

God the Father, sent his Son Jesus into the world, in order that the world, humanity, would find a sense of identity in Him.  The commonality between all of us is found in Jesus Christ.  He is our creator.  We belong to Him.  He belongs to us.  We belong to each other.  This is the true definition of community.

Have you ever been somewhere you didn’t fit in?  Where you didn’t belong?  Feels uncomfortable, doesn’t it?  Several years ago, I was tasked with leading a committee and headed to the venue where it was to be held.  I arrived and checked in.  Looking around, I didn’t see anyone I recognized. I sat down at the head table, assuming my place, and realized others were looking at me strangely as well.  After a short conversation, I soon realized I was in someone else’s chair.  I was at the wrong conference, in the wrong building, on the wrong side of town!  I didn’t belong there.  Needless to say, I was slightly embarrassed – and glad to get out of there.

I didn’t belong there, because I had nothing in common with that group.  I didn’t share their agenda.  Traditionally, this is how religious organizations also work.  You and I may not feel like we belong because we don’t share the same agenda.  Interestingly, however, Jesus was not about religious organizations.  In fact, he often did not get along with the religious groups of his day.  He was constantly getting in the way of the Pharisees agenda – to the point where they finally attempted to remove him from the equation – ensuring that Jesus was arrested and put to death.

There was one failure in that plan though.  Jesus was not your average guy.  He was the resurrected Son of God.  And it is at this point of the Easter story that we find ourselves today. 

Luke 24:36-43 (ESV)

36 As they were talking about these things, Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, “Peace to you!” 37 But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit. 38 And he said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? 39 See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” 40 And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. 41 And while they still disbelieved for joy and were marveling, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish,[a] 43 and he took it and ate before them.

When we examine this passage closely, we find that Jesus continued a pattern that he had established. What do we know about Jesus ministry?  He was a friend of sinners.  He invited others to join with him for formal meals that others rejected.  He accepted the invitations of people who were considered second class in society, who had been rejected from formal society.  He embraced the beggars, healed the ostracized, befriended the poor, welcomed women, ate with tax collectors and underdogs alike.  Yet he also moved around the synagogues, teaching his message in the established religious traditions.  In short, Jesus was who He is.  A friend to all.  A person who welcomed everyone.  A Savior who invited people to join at His table when they would be unwelcome anywhere else.
Jesus put very few pre-requisites on joining his band of followers.  He demonstrates a principle that long-time believers often forget.  Jesus accepts who we are, where we are, and what we are – long before we develop a belief system.  There’s nothing wrong with religion – it only gets a bad name when it becomes self-centered and not outward focused.  Do you know when religion becomes dead?  It’s when our biases build belief systems and forgets the power of life change Christ provides.  We forget that sometimes the work of Jesus is messy, when he is working in our messy lives.  A relationship with Christ is not a list of do’s and don’ts – but a living, breathing friendship.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I first met the young teenager who would become my wife.  Our relationship would never have blossomed if on the first date we showed up with a long list of things that we didn’t like about the other person before we even got to know them.  If that happens to be your dating strategy – I suggest you change it.  We had to get know each other.  We had to see if we could handle hanging out with each other.  We had to be vulnerable in our fears, concerns, and angers with each other.  Only then, in our response to each other in these areas did we grow close to each other – and have a true sense of belonging.
After years of being together, I am sure that we have a few things about each other that gets on our nerves or annoys the other.  But these honey-do lists and honey-don’t lists came long after we had learned to belong to each other.  The problem in most church relationships is that we try to force honey do and don’t lists on people before they’ve even had time to belong.  Jesus doesn’t do that in his relationships.  We don’t do that with our families – So why do we try to do that with others?
Note the appearance of Jesus in this passage.  He begins the evening with the traditional welcome of the host.  He gives people a greeting. Peace be to you!  Welcome!  Glad you joined us for dinner tonight!  No RSVP required.  No dress code required.  Come as you are.
There’s only one thing freaky about this.  Well, maybe a few things.  First, Jesus was at somebody else’s house.  He wasn’t the official host.  We don’t know whose house it was, but we can be pretty much assured that Jesus wasn’t on the original guest list that night.  Yet there He is, welcoming everybody.
Second, Jesus didn’t look like the host.  He probably looked like somebody off the streets who crashed the party.  This is one of his first appearances after the Resurrection.  We know from other accounts that Mary didn’t recognize him at first.  Jesus might have been limping.  He would have scars on his body.  His hair was probably a mess.  He still had nail imprints in his wrists and feet, and a jagged hole in his side.  This was either the best practical joke ever, or something God only knew what was going on.
So, who probably should have known better, but didn’t. But there was one thing they did know.  Jesus had taught them to accept the stranger, the poor, the disfigured.  Jesus had taught them what belonging meant.  So instead of rejecting what they saw before their eyes, even before their minds could accept what was happening, they returned the welcome and invited him to stay, offering Him food at the table.  Those disciples had learned the pre-requisites to belonging.
When we examine the scripture, we see that Jesus pre-requisites to belonging are probably not anywhere close to ours.  What are they?
The first one is this: Having some fear and reservations.
That should be an easy one – it comes naturally!  When I walk into a room where I don’t know people, I feel apprehensive.  When I encounter a situation that I am unsure of, I have feelings of panic boil up from my stomach.  When I am forced to move outside of my comfort zone, I have reservations if I should even be in that position.  Yes, I can put on a brave façade – and yes, I do know a few extroverts who seem to push down their fears – but I can pretty much guarantee that fear is something we all have encountered at some point.
The disciples were completely justified in being afraid.  The emotions of the past couple weeks had been like a never-ending roller coaster.  They had thought the Messiah was riding into Jerusalem to lead a revolution that would conquer the Roman empire. Then they had been scattered as the public officials had brutally murdered their leader.  They had run into hiding, and then were perplexed at the conspiracy theories of the tomb.  They did not know who to believe and where they belonged.  They were as ships drifting on the stormy seas.
Jesus did not ask them what they believed.  Jesus did not ask them to quote the 10 commandments.  He did not ask them to recite the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount.  There was no quiz.  Instead he showed the compassionate attitude of belonging he always had.  Don’t be afraid.  My peace is with you.  He read the room and put them at ease. 
In times of uncertainty, knowing you belong puts you at ease.  When the violent claps of thunder shake the house in the dark of night, where do kids run?  Into their parents’ arms – a place they can find secure. 
The disciples learned a lesson that night.  One that had been reinforced by countless parables taught over the previous 3 years.  That even in times of fear, they will always find a place of refuge in their Savior’s arms.  They will always belong.  Jesus will always give them peace.
The second pre-requisite: Not knowing all the answers.
This is the opposite of what we often prescribe.  To belong to the teacher’s union, you must pass a test.  To move up in rank in the police or fire department, you must pass a test.  To become part of a club, you must pass an initiation.  Belonging becomes based on your abilities, your knowledge, your skills.
That’s not the way Jesus works.  He accepts us no matter our abilities, despite our knowledge, and even if we don’t have any special skills.  We can belong with Him because He made us just the way we are.
Got questions about who Jesus is?  Then this is the place to belong... because we have question to.  Wonder why life is the way it is?  Then this is a safe place to ask those questions.  Religion has an answer for everything.  Relationships keep exploring the question.
The disciples couldn’t wrap their minds around what was happening that day.  Brain Freeze.  Mind explosion.  The concepts are too great to figure out.  Even to this day, the most astute theologians grapple with the immensity of what Jesus did for us so that we would belong.  The disciples could not explain what they saw or how it happened.  They had doubts.  There will be times when we have doubts. 
Part of the fun in belonging with each other, is that we get to explore those answers together.  We get to learn from our various life experiences and discover the full depths of Jesus love for us.  This is what true, genuine Christian community is all about.  Taking a journey together, discovering Jesus in his fullness, and implementing his character into our lives.
The Third pre-requisite? Willingness to experience a new adventure
The first two come naturally, we are scared. We have our doubts.  This third one asks for a step of faith.  Yes, belonging does take a step of faith.  While it doesn’t mean to have to ascribe to tenants of faith – it does ask for some action.  Are you willing to be part of something new, something different?  The host has set a place at the table for you.
In our passage, Jesus asks the scared doubting people to do something.  To experience something.  To have a visceral, physical interaction that could never be forgotten.  It is this experience that confirms the place of belonging.  I’m not sure it takes away all fears and all doubts – but it does bring comfort.  Jesus asked them to Touch and See.  To feel his scars, to embrace his wounds.  To make sure that he isn’t a ghost haunting their house, but a real-life Son of Man and Son of God.  He wanted them to feel the flesh that had given them hugs, that had hunted and fished with them.  He wanted them to see him eat, just as they had done so many times walking around Galilee.  He wanted them to make the connection that if this was possible, then everything he had preached could be true.  He wanted them to know that just because they had thought the story was over, it was really just beginning.  He wanted them to comprehend that the future was full of promise and adventure that would take many of the disciples on long journeys across the known world. From this day forward, the disciples would know that the know that they know to whom they belonged to – based not on things they had learned, but their encounter with the Living Christ.

Jesus invites us to belong at a table of grace
before we ever believe in His offer of grace.

Jesus sat down at the table.  He asked them to gather around the table, and then he asked for food to eat with them.  The minds of the disciples undoubtedly were reminded of the last time they had eaten with him - Passover.  The Last Supper – which really wasn’t the last supper.  This is the same way he had always eaten – always inviting people with fear and doubts to join him.  This is how belonging begins.

Do my actions help or hinder others from
knowing Jesus loves them as they are?

It is my hope that our congregation, our faith community invites others to the table of grace before they believe.  It is my hope that we extend the arm of belonging to everyone who would enter these doors.  Yes, we desire for people’s lives to be changed, for their belief system to place Christ at the center.  But for that to happen, we must accept ourselves, accept our family, accept our friends, accept our classmates, accept our neighbors for who they are, where they are so they can encounter the living Christ.