May 7, 2017
Acts 2:42-47 and John 10:1-10
“The Church of the Holy Potluck”
If someone asked you to draw a picture of church, what would you draw? Perhaps the sanctuary and the stained-glass windows? The rainbow doors that face Lomas? The fellowship hall? The Sunday School rooms? The kitchen? Perhaps you would draw our members serving homeless people at Project Share. Maybe you would draw some of our members spending the night at Family Promise. It could be you would draw a potluck. You might draw a small group. What about a committee gathered around a table planning together? It could be a picture of a beautiful free store downstairs for Jefferson Middle School families. Maybe taking a meal to our Hope House neighbors or a picture of the choir practicing. It’s funny that when we think of church, it is tempting to think of a building, but the building is not the church. It is the container where we practice being God’s people in the world.
In the reading from Acts, we get a glimpse of the early church. It is kind of dreamy to go from 0 to 3,000 members after just one sermon and more joining every day! What I love about this text is it gives a picture of what the church looks like: people come together to study, to pray, to eat, and to share what they have and they are growing like crazy!
I have no idea how many books have been written about church growth, but it’s kind of funny when the formula is right here. We just need to come together and eat and pray and study and share what we have. Being the church means giving to those in need.
So, we practice coming together. We practice eating together. We practice praying together. We practice studying together. We practice feeding others. We practice sharing our resources. We practice caring for those who are vulnerable.
Rachel Held Evans reminds us that “The first thing the world knew about Christians was that they ate together. At the beginning of each week they gathered—rich and poor, slaves and free, Jews and Gentiles, women and men—to celebrate the day the whole world changed, to toast to resurrection.” (Searching for Sunday, p. 125)
Meals define us. Every church and denomination I know likes to define itself as the church that eats. We all like to claim we have the corner on the potluck market. This is in our DNA. There are numerous stories of Jesus eating with people. In the reading from Luke last week, Jesus walked with followers who had no idea who he was until he picked up a loaf of bread at dinner, gave thanks, broke it and served it to them. Fred Craddock says that “church exists when God’s people break bread.” It is in the breaking of bread that God is made known to us.
“Jesus did not give [his followers] something to think about when he was gone. Instead, he gave them concrete things to do…that would go on teaching them what they needed to know when he was no longer around to teach them himself… ‘Do this,’ he said—not believe this but do this—in remembrance of me.’” (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World, p. 45)
The sacrament of communion is the way we remember Jesus. Today, you are invited to this table where you will be given bread and that bread is an invitation for you to go out into the world and feed one another. St. Lydia’s Dinner Church in Brooklyn, New York central act is to gather around a meal. They are practicing how they want to be out in the world. It’s a table where they learn to feed one another and be fed. It’s a table where they learn to be open to God’s presence in their lives. It teaches them to be Christ to one another. They finish the service by cleaning up the dishes together. They began the service as strangers and they finish as friends. (http://stlydias.org/about/)
I saw this at our Maundy Thursday service. We gathered around tables in the chapel. We heard Mary talk about buying expensive oil to anoint Jesus and then we anointed one another and called each other beloved. We heard Peter talk about Jesus washing his feet and then we washed one another’s hands around the table. We blessed the bread and cup and then fed one another. It was church. Christ was present and it was so beautiful.
After worship today, you are invited to a potluck where we share our stories with one another. I want to invite you to practice being church by bringing your plate to the library and hear the story of my friend Michael. Michael will tell you his story and as you hear his story, you may wonder how we can continue to widen our welcome. You see, that is what the table looks like. It is always making room for more.
Who is not yet at our table? How can we widen our welcome to make room? Be warned: it was that very thing that got Jesus into trouble over and over again. There were rules about who was allowed at the table and Jesus kept stepping over the rules to invite those who were not welcome. We must do the same. Following Jesus means creating more room at our table. It means sharing everything we have – not the leftovers, but the very heart of who we are. It means listening with our full attention. It means reaching out to show compassion and love to one another. It means seeing Christ in one another. It means treating everyone with kindness – even when we dislike or disagree with them. It means remembering that we are all created in God’s image.
Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. He tells the story of a young woman who became an Episcopalian in the 1940s. One Sunday she invited the man she had been dating to join her at morning services. Both were African American, but the church they attended that day was all white, and right in the heart of Segregated America. The young man waited in the pews while the congregation went forward to receive communion, anxious because he noticed that everyone in the congregation was drinking from the chalice. He had never seen black people and white people drink from the same water fountain, much less the same cup. His eye stayed on his girlfriend as, after receiving the bread, she waited for the cup. Finally, the priest lowered it to her lips and said, as he had to the others, ‘The blood of our Lord Jesus Christ, which was shed for thee, preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life.’ The man decided any church where black and white drank from the same cup had discovered something powerful, something he wanted to be part of. The couple was Bishop Curry’s parents.” (Rachel Held Evans, Searching for Sunday p. 151)
Two weeks ago, a group of us traveled to El Paso and Juarez for a border immersion experience. We practiced these very things. We sat at tables together. We ate together. We listened. We prayed. We talked about the scripture that calls us to be salt and light for the world. The generous people we met shared their resources with us. And we felt called to share ours as well. Together we were being the church and I kept thinking about that quote “When you have more than you need build a longer table, not a higher fence.” There is room at Christ’s table for all.
Let us be that church. May our table be long and wide. May we share what we have. May we listen and study and pray and sing. May we care for those who are often ignored or despised. May we welcome those who are undocumented, who struggle with mental illness, who fight with addiction, who are grieving, or who have no place to sleep tonight. We may think we are just going to bring a dish and put it on the table, but what we are creating here is holy. What we are doing is making space for God to show up. What we are doing is seeing Christ in one another. What we are doing is feasting and allowing the Spirit to guide us out to feed our hungry world. Welcome to the church of the holy potluck!