The Welcome Table

The Welcome Table

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; October 3, 2021

19th Sunday after Pentecost

Psalm 8; Mark 10:2-16

 

The idea of World Communion Sunday was born many years ago in Shadyside Presbyterian Church in Pennsylvania, as an attempt to bring believers together and to reflect on the interconnection of Christian congregations. So, today we celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper with our brothers and sisters around the world. Some of us refer to this sacrament as the Eucharist, others the Table of the Lord, others simply Communion.[i] Some of us use wine at the Table, some grape juice, while others offer both. Some have fresh bread, while others have unleavened wafers. Some remain seated as the elements are passed to them, while others process up to the Table to receive their bread and cup.

While there are many ways to celebrate this feast, there are also different ways to interpret it. In a mysterious way we cannot understand, Presbyterians believe that Christ joins us here at his Table. Here we are nourished. Here we are blessed. Here we are sustained by Christ’s pledge of undying love and continuous presence with us. And here we are UNITED with all the faithful in heaven and on earth. But it is the opposite of UNITY that is being played out in our gospel reading.

Once again, the Pharisees are intent on trapping Jesus. They pose a question about divorce—a question that they know has no good answer. As is the way of Jesus though, instead of answering their question, he offers one of his own. Then he affirms that God’s original intent was for a married couple to remain married—to be united for the rest of their days. He also acknowledges the loophole that is permissible—though still not God’s intent. Because God’s intent from the very beginning of the creation of humanity was wholeness. Then, Jesus broadens the discussion by reminding his hearers that a divorce can be initiated by a man or a woman. As one commentator notes,

In Jesus’ day, when a woman received a “certificate of divorce,” she lost most of her rights (like the right to own property). She could easily find herself begging for food on the street or prostituting herself for income. Clearly Jesus had a pastoral concern for women who could have their lives torn apart by a signature on a piece of paper. In the kingdom of God, there should be mutual respect and concern for each other, not a quick certificate of divorce or a call to a lawyer to “take her (or him) for everything I can.”[ii]

Without a doubt, divorce is still a difficult issue. But most Protestant churches have recognized that respect for the institution of marriage means that there are some marriages that should end. Divorce can be tragic, but there are worse things. As a professor put it in a pastoral care class: “They say some marriages are made in heaven, but it appears to me that some are born in hell.”[iii] Being a child of parents who divorced—and wisely so—I couldn’t agree more. Nevertheless, as a minister, many times I have quoted the words of Jesus, “Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” When I say those words at a marriage ceremony, I am optimistic that they will be the reality of the couple’s future. It is always my hope and prayer that the couple will embrace the kingdom of God that Jesus unfolds—a kin-dom of peace, love, and kindness. But I am also aware that not everyone chooses or is able to live within the ethics of this kin-dom. Neglect, abuse, tragedy, promiscuity, financial issues, mental illness, immaturity, and addictions are realities of the world in which we live.

It’s noteworthy that on the heels of Jesus addressing a question about divorce, he chastises his disciples who are scolding parents for bringing their children to him and thus, wasting his time. Indignant, he responds, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.” Then Jesus embraces the children and blesses them, thereby turning his wholehearted attention to those so often negatively impacted by the tragedy of divorce—children.

Current national statistics reveal that 80% of single-parent families are headed by single mothers, and about 33% of them live below the poverty line. While we may expect poverty in America to occur in inner cities or in Appalachia, a PC(USA) source paints a different picture:

Poverty looks like the health care worker who can’t afford their own prescriptions. Or the childcare worker who can’t afford child care. Being poor in America is not just about a lack of money. It’s about working hard and still not having access to the basic things so many of us take for granted. Like a decent wage, housing, affordable medical care, educational opportunities, and so much more.[iv]

Statistically, a child in a single-parent household is more likely to drop out of high school, experience violence, commit suicide, continue a cycle of poverty, become drug dependent, commit a crime, or end up in prison.

When it comes to the effects of poverty in our community, our country, and around the world, what is ours to do? First, we celebrate and continue to support Break Bread Together, a feeding program of our church that provides 5 meals each week to poor, elderly citizens of Valdosta. Second, we support the annual Rise Against Hunger event organized by our Presbytery that provides healthy meals to developing nations. Because of our financial and physical contributions to this mission, we will gather at Moultrie Presbyterian Church this afternoon to pack some 10,000 meals. Additionally, as a church seeking to be the hands and feet of Jesus in the world, we pray for new opportunities to feed the hungry—both physically and spiritually.

Several years ago, I happened upon a book by Michael J. Rosen entitled, The Greatest Table: A Banquet to Fight Against Hunger. It is a 12-foot-long accordion-style book that includes art from 16 children’s book illustrators. As each page or leaf of the table opens, children and their families share a feast as generous in spirit as it is in food. Since the book was created to support a charity that feeds hungry children, it seems fitting to share it with you this morning. For those who would like to see the accompanying art, I will leave it here on the railing after worship.

The greatest table isn’t set

inside a single home—

oh no, it spans the continents,

and no one eats alone.

 

The table in your dining room,

a picnic bench, a tray,

a party tent, your beach blanket,

a small sidewalk café,

 

a banquet hall, breakfast in bed,

a lunch box, take-out sack,

the circle at a campfire roast,

or any teatime snack—

 

each one is just another leaf

in one uncommon table,

where all the guests have cooked or baked

or brought what they are able,

 

where all of us can help ourselves,

and all of us are fed,

and no one has been turned away

with just a crust of bread.

 

The greatest table, like a tree,

is growing leaf by leaf,

and widening its canopy

to welcome more beneath.

 

Its tablecloth is flowering

and covers all our knees

its branches bend with every food

from pineapples to peas.

 

Who hasn’t eaten? Join us here,

pull up another chair.

We’ll all scoot over, make more room;

There’s always some to spare.

 

Baskets mound with crusty breads,

there’s soup in simmering pots,

and bushels brim year-round with fruit—

now pears, now apricots.

 

And always in the company

there’s someone we can toast:

an elder, infant, long-lost friend,

an honored guest, the host.

 

The table talk is musical,

with every language shared;

in every face the thankfulness

is more than any prayer.

 

The next time you sit down to eat,

the greatest table’s set,

connecting you with each of us

who hasn’t eaten yet.

 

So if you’re hungry, join us here,

pull up another chair.

We’ll all scoot over, make more room;

there’s always some to spare.

 

We are broken—all of us. We try and we fail, and we try again. But every step along the way, we are loved beyond measure. Through Christ, a new kin-dom has arrived—one that celebrates unity but not uniformity; one that celebrates love and forgiveness but not anger and greed; one that celebrates the Great Welcome Table of our Lord where there is room for every man, woman, and child.

So if you’re hungry, join us here,

pull up another chair.

We’ll all scoot over, make more room;

there’s always some to spare.

Amen.

 

[i] “The Things We Share,” by Rev. Richard J. Fairchild 2005

[ii] Feasting on the Word

[iii] Quoted in Feasting on the Word as being said by Professor William B. Oglesby

[iv] Found in an advertisement for Matthew 25 churches in “Presbyterian Outlook.”

 

*Cover Art  “Let the Children Come to Me” by Ira Thomas, used by permission