A Table Long and Wide


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 96; 147:1-11, Hosea 3:1-5, Acts 21:15-26, Luke 5:27-39

Inclusiveness is a challenging concept. When we say people are welcome in our community, do we mean we welcome them as they are, or that we invite them to become more like us? Each community has fundamental values that are central to its identity, so we can usually assume those values appeal to people who wish to join. However, new arrivals frequently challenge customs and traditions, and most communities work harder to maintain them than to discover if they are, in fact, essential. Because communities of faith are voluntary, inclusivity presents a particular challenge, as those who are uncomfortable with it are free to depart to form or join more comfortable (that is, homogeneous) groups, and leaders don’t like to lose members.

When Paul returned to Jerusalem, the Jewish Christians elders welcomed him and praised God for all he’d done among the Gentiles. After he told his story, the elders expressed concern about rumors that he’d been telling Jews abroad to forsake the laws of Moses. Though this wasn’t true, they insisted he undergo ritual purification to validate his Jewishness so other Jews would listen to him. They also sent a letter to the Gentile Christians telling them to abstain from certain foods and fornication. These early Christians struggled with inclusion – with deciding what behaviors were simply unacceptable for members of the community. Over time some expectations have changed and some have not, and still we wrestle with establishing essentials.

The Pharisees chastised Jesus and his companions for dining with tax collectors and other sinners. Jesus responded by saying “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick; I have come to call not the righteous but sinners to repentance.” His inclusive table allows for the failings of humanity, but it is not degenerate; its essential characteristic is that Christ calls all who participate to repentance. What that repentance looks like in our individual lives is between us and our Lord. Inclusion is not a call to conform to the community, but a call for the community to see and share Christ’s table everywhere.

Comfort: There’s enough room at Christ’s table for everyone; new people are not taking food from your mouth.

Challenge: Visit a church that’s different from your own. Remember how you felt about it – good and bad – the next time you welcome someone to your own.

Prayer: God of abundance, thank you for all the voices and colors of the world. Amen.

Discussion: We generally talk about diversity in society and the workplace as an advantage to people in the “minority.” It actually benefits everyone. How have you found this to be true?

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