Throughout this program year, you will hear a lot about tables. You will hear about God’s constant welcome at the altar table. You will consider how God is present at your own kitchen table. And you will be asked to use your imagination in such a way to see how our congregation acts as a table where those in need come to be fed with God’s word, with clothes from our teen clothes closet, with assistance and spiritual strength.
I’ve given a little thought to the place of tables in our lives. Luke highlights their importance as well as any of the gospel writers. His story of the good news includes more meals and feasts than any other. It is at the table that the Pharisees ask questions, where tax collectors are included in Christ’s mercy and where celebrations happen. In 2015, we have a more difficult time using this tool of fellowship; this place to be fed; this time of day to know and be known. Our schedules are irregular, so family meals may or may not happen. Sunday worship can feel like a chore, despite the celebration of Holy Communion around the Lord’s Table. “Come to the Table” will probably not teach anything we don’t already know, but I hope this theme will remind you of how God meets your needs at this universal spot.
For communion instruction, I use a booklet written by Daniel Erlander called, “A Place For You.” The first thing he wants kids to know about the Holy Meal is that they are welcome. Feeling included is an essential part of this year’s theme. Notice the word, ‘feeling’. I could have said, ‘being included.’ But there is a difference between being included and actually feeling included. When a visitor comes to worship with us or attend a small group for the first time, there is no system in place or rule we have that they can’t be here. They are in fact, included. But making a new person feel included requires much more than opening doors and having enough seats. And this is just as true for inactive members who have found their way back to our community. When the prodigal son returns home, his father runs out to him and embraces him and throws a feast in his honor. The father could have quietly received his son back, given a knowing glance of love and that could have been all. But the father made efforts to make his long-lost son feel welcome.
If we believe there is a “a place for you” whoever ‘you’ are, we need to be a community that makes efforts to include others. Our small groups need to invite new people. Our pews need to leave room on the edges for people who are still on their way. We need to share the peace of Christ with people we don’t know. We need to get out of our comfort zones and introduce ourselves to others rather than waiting for those new people to introduce themselves to us.
Feeling included is one of the primary reasons the church exists. People may come for good worship, a program they like (or think their kids need) or out of guilt. But a thriving Church gathers because the people recognize their need to feel included; and once recognized, that community then mobilizes to follow Christ in thought word and deed. A true sense of community transforms strangers into brothers and sisters in Christ. So, come to the table! And make your neighbors feel included too!