Thursday, October 1, 2009

Table Manners

This Sunday is World Communion Sunday. This observance began with the Presbyterians way back in 1936 as a way of celebrating our oneness in Christ across denominational lines. The table reminds us that God's mercy is the source of our unity since not a one of us deserves to be there. There isn’t a secret handshake or denominational ID card we have to show. No, each of us is able to gather at the table because Christ has invited us there in his grace. His sacrifice on the cross has opened the way for all of us to have a seat at God’s great banquet table together.

The table stands as a mighty symbol of both Christ’s invitation and God’s hospitality. God not only welcomes us in but, also, takes care of us once we’re there. These two actions, inviting and extending hospitality, go hand in hand. As God’s people we must both invite people to be a part of God’s family and make room for them when they show up. It doesn’t do any good to put out the welcome mat if there’s no substance to that welcome when our neighbors come inside.

Hal Warlick, former pastor of Seventh and James Baptist Church in Waco once told a story (then retold in a sermon by Joel Gregory and now retold by me!), about an encounter with the wealthy Harvard professor and administrator, Dr. Ralph Lazarro. Each year, Lazarro would host first year students in his impressive home for supper. He would recruit second year students to help with the hosting. The year Warlick was one of these second year students, the dinner got off to a rough start. A first year student, nervous already because of the surroundings, fumbled her demitasse (a small, expensive coffee cup – I had to look it up!), and it crashed to the floor. Understandably, there was an awkward silence.

All of the sudden, the professor hurled his own cup into the fireplace and said, “I am glad someone started the Lazarro family tradition of the breaking of the cup.” He then eyed Hal Warwick to do the same. Hal threw his cup into the fireplace, followed by another second year student, and eventually by all the new students. They all just assumed it was some strange tradition among the extraordinarily rich. Then Lazarro changed the direction of the evening by saying, “Now we can move on to the next Lazarro family tradition, telling the most interesting thing that happened to us this summer.”

Later Hal Warlick asked his professor about he evening. Lazarro explained, “Those cups are valuable, but not nearly as valuable as a person’s spirit. I hope there is nothing I own or ever hope to own that would not be worth breaking for a person’s spirit.” True hospitality requires sacrifice. Jesus gave his very life that we might be welcome at God’s table. What might you be willing to give up to make another feel at home in the family of God?

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. – Romans 12:12-13.

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