Sunday, October 05, 2003

Table Service

Asbury First United Methodist Church

World Communion Sunday
Text: Mark 10:2-16

Tables carry a wealth of memory and meaning. You can remember a table around which you were raised and fed, and another around which you raised and fed others. I remember a table on the south end of Skaneateles Lake, in a trailer, on which a good meal was provided: the table was a cardboard carton. I remember a drop leaf table on which as newlyweds we fed a visiting Bishop all the eggplant he could eat. There was a table in the north, between Trout River and Constable, on which hot tea was served, before a log fire: its house had no electricity, 50 years after rural free electrification. One table in one parsonage was an oak oval. Another had leaves that never quite dropped into place. At this time of year our Jewish neighbors annually borrowed a picnic table for their feast of Sukkoth, booths, the memory of the wilderness. At the World Council of Churches chapel in Geneva there is a simple table, perhaps mahogany, where I see in memory Jan playing the organ and Bertric Wood, a black congregational woman preacher, serving communion to Eastern Orthodox visitors who were learning a hymn new to them: “Let us break bread together”. Our tables here in Rochester are laden with memory and meaning. I can see a cluttered table near here where funeral plans are designed, a changing table blocks away where a girl is readied for baptism, a living room table covered with the flotsam and jetsam of a wedding party trying to get to the church on time, a formal table around which a will is read. Tables hold meaning.

Especially this is so for the Lord’s Table today. Our lesson from Mark remembers the meaning of Jesus resurrection and cross, which is to include the weaker parties at the table. The Gospel of Mark is not journalism. It was written forty years after the fact, after the cross. The Gospel of Mark is not history. It was written to announce the meaning of the cross and resurrection. It was formed, that is, by questions raised in the early church. In Mark 10 these questions are table top questions. The church in Rome was trying to find its way. So they posed their questions to the memory of the earthly Jesus and in the presence of the Risen Christ. Here is one: “Are we to bring justice to those, particularly women, cast aside in divorce?” Yes, says Jesus, the common neglect of women divorced in the Roman Empire is not to be your practice for there is a higher law than that of the state or even of religion: among you, there is to be a place for those cast aside. (This same principle, a concern for justice, can also produce a reluctant recognition of the need for divorce, as in fact it does in Matthew and in Paul) Here is one: “Are we to make space for children?” Yes, says Jesus, the common infanticide of the Roman Empire is not to be your practice, for among you there is to be a place for those who are smaller, weaker, voiceless, a place at the table. The Gospel brings us to the table with gratitude: “For what we have been given, make us truly grateful.”

For every gift there is a task. We are learning this anew, with joy, as in this congregation we ponder the meaning of the gifts we have received from the past and the task we have with our gifts to open the future. Did others sacrificially give to build for the benefit of others to come later? Yes they did. Shall we do so? Yes we shall. Can we strive in our time to triple our average pledge so that our average is $3600\yr? We can. Is that our primary challenge today? It is one of them for sure. What is another? Ah, another. Another, or perhaps the same one viewed from the top of the table, is this. Every gift implies a task. At the Lord’s Table we are given what we most need and cannot any way assemble on our own: meaning, joy, forgiveness, pardon, peace, hope, eternal life. This table of gift implies some other table of task.

What is your ministry? What is your Ministry? As we come to the Lord’s Table let us ask whether we have found our own table service. Has your ministry here found you yet? It is one thing to be in membership, another and better to be in ministry. For some, yes. For most, not yet. For when 80% of our congregation does table service, there will be a fire, a spiritual blaze across Monroe County.

I can show you a woman who spends hours, bent over a table, preparing clothes for the needy. At what table is your service?

I can point to a person who visits at the dining room table with others considering a gift for the altar. At what table is your service?

Here is a man running a table saw to care for a church building. At what table is your service?

A whole company of saints sits at meeting tables month by month to bathe the process of community life in considered, reasonable thought. At what table is your service?

There is a man who feeds the hungry at a table not a stone’s throw away. At what table is your service?

Is there a woman willing to sit with children in a daycare and read books by their table laden with cookies and milk and spilled milk and crumbs? At what table is your service?

Notice the favorite photograph of an older woman’s hands holding a Bible at the reading table. At what table is your service?

Take a moment and ask yourself as you come to the Lord’s Table: Have I found my table service? Something like 40% of our church may already have done so. And you? At what table is your service? I would not be hurt if someone used a prayer request card, just this one Sunday, to say: “I am ready to engage ministry and here is the table at which I will serve: Monday Morning Crew, Daycare, Stewardship Committee, Sunday School, Girl Scouts…”

When we came home from the practice field in the fall the evening meal was being prepared… and it smelled so good in the cooler air…. and we knew we were hungry and ready in the cooler air… and happy to be fed an autumn feast in the cooler air… and yet, and yet, and yet, as we came to this gift…we were offered a task, too. I guess this was a human voice speaking, but somehow, searching my memory and coming today to the Lord’s Table, I cannot be fully certain. Tables are so laden with memory and meaning. Hang up your coat. Help set the table. Put out the china. Fork on the left. Pour the water. Fold the napkins. Set out some flowers. Call your brother. Cut the bread. Take out the trash. I can almost hear Luke 17, “your field work is no substitute for your domestic duties”. What was more loving, the gift of the meal or the summons to service? I know which one I liked more. But which did I need more?

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