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October 6, 2015, 11:32 AM

A Table for ALL


Mark 10:2-16, CEB
Some Pharisees came and, trying to test him, they asked, “Does the Law allow a man to divorce his wife?”
Jesus answered, “What did Moses command you?”
They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a divorce certificate and to divorce his wife.”
Jesus said to them, “He wrote this commandment for you because of your unyielding hearts.  At the beginning of creation, God made them male and female.[a] Because of this, a man should leave his father and mother and be joined together with his wife, and the two will be one flesh.[b] So they are no longer two but one flesh.  Therefore, humans must not pull apart what God has put together.”
10 Inside the house, the disciples asked him again about this. 11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; 12  and if a wife divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”
13 People were bringing children to Jesus so that he would bless them. But the disciples scolded them. 14 When Jesus saw this, he grew angry and said to them, “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. 15  I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” 16 Then he hugged the children and blessed them.
 
“A Table for ALL”
Today is World Communion Sunday (10/4), where followers of Jesus connect with one another through the holy and sacred table around the world! This year it is also the Feast of St. Francis; that beloved saint whose heart was wide open for all of God’s glorious creation. I think Francis would be pleased that the day which honors him is also the day where we gather at a world-wide table. For World Communion Sunday is that day on which we unite across all the borders and boundaries that seek to divide us: national boundaries, denominational boundaries, race, ethnicity, economics, and so on. This table today is a table of justice. For, as we see one another across all those borders, as we ensure that all at the table are fed, we are reminded that this is our call each and every day. We who have easy access to the table, we who have access to the necessities of life, are called to help others access the table, and to have enough of the necessities to thrive. This is the table of Jesus Christ. It is meant to be a table for all!
 
And, as First UMC Oneonta, we embrace that message. We are a reconciling congregation and have proclaimed a message of open tables for over 25 years; a table for all, a table of welcome. Last Sunday we were reminded of who we are, caretakers and stewards of one another, a people called to love kindness, to love mercy. We come to the table to offer that love and mercy to one another. Last Sunday we were reminded that our mission statement as First UMC is the call from Micah 6:8—to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God. Holy Communion embodies all three parts of that call. World Communion Sunday, however, really lifts up that first part of the call-to do justice. This is the table of justice, the table for ALL! We are called to act to create a truly open table.
 
So what in the world was the lectionary committee thinking when they set the three year schedule and had this reading from Mark as the gospel text for World Communion Sunday? The temptation to preach off lectionary is extraordinary. This is another type of clobber text, a passage that has been used to inflict pain and heartache on many, and it is our text for a Sunday when we are supposed to be uniting across boundaries, not strengthening them. It is tempting to avoid the hard pieces and just spend time with Jesus and the children.
 
But the text is here in our holy scriptures and we need to know how to follow Jesus even through these tough parts of our journey.  And, this passage is part of a longer story line which we have been living with these past few weeks, a story of identity, our identity. Let’s remember this story. It began about a month ago for us as we heard the passage of Jesus and his followers traveling near Caesarea Philippi, where Jesus asked an important identity question—“Who do you say that I am?” How we answer that question also says much about who we are as followers of Jesus. As Jesus and followers continued the journey, now headed toward Jerusalem, the disciples began to bicker about which of them will be the greatest, an argument that didn’t seem to let go of. Jesus gives them a visual by placing in their midst that small, vulnerable, powerless, status-less child—“Whoever welcomes this child in my name welcomes me.” This is who we are, a people called to welcome the vulnerable.
 
And that story almost repeats itself at the close of today’s reading, when the disciples try to prevent the children from coming to him, and Jesus must correct them yet again. Those two incidents with children bracket this hard reading today. Two stories about welcoming the vulnerable stand on either side of this conversation about divorce, and give us guidelines for how to read this story.
 
There are a few things to note as we encounter this story. One, Jesus did not initiate this conversation. This is not a chosen teaching of Jesus. Pharisees have selected this difficult piece of law and are using it to test Jesus. Which brings us to point two, this is a conversation about interpreting and apply God’s law, not about marriage and divorce. The Pharisees have chosen a particularly difficult and sensitive law for this confrontation, a piece from Deuteronomy 24 that is hard to interpret. Three, we need to remember that Jesus’ culture is highly patriarchal. Women and children have no power or status on their own, but only through the men they are connected to. Women are literally sold into marriage as a business transaction. Marriage is about status, power, and making connections. And fourth, this conversation is not about individuals and their marriage situations. It is a conversation about a nation and the laws that government. It is about how a society lives together.
 
The Pharisees are using a difficult, sensitive piece of law in order to test Jesus and his interpretation of legalities…and Jesus is having none of it. Jesus instantly turns this conversation from legalities to relationships and justice. If a man writes a certificate of divorce for his wife he is stripping her of everything. She loses her reputation, her status, and her security—physical protection, economic resources, all security. She loses her home. If she has children with her husband, she loses them as they are his property. She can even lose her community if she is from another village. She is left absolutely and completely vulnerable. Jesus essentially asks these Pharisees, “is this the community you want to be, one that can write down a few words and cast out a member of your own people?” The law of God was giving to the people as instructions for living God’s way in the world, and gives specific attention to protecting the vulnerable. To use the law for any other purpose is wrong, and to use it to victimize the vulnerable is doubly wrong. Though Jesus’ words are hard to hear 2000 years later in our vastly different culture, we must learn how to read past the cultural differences to hear what Jesus is doing here. Jesus is standing up for the vulnerable and against a practice that makes the powerless more vulnerable.
 
What message could be more appropriate for World Communion Sunday, as we come to the table for all, the table of justice? Jesus challenges us to examine our own community and how we live together. Who are our vulnerable? What rules, laws, policies, doctrines are making those vulnerable even more so instead of offering protection? How are those vulnerable being hurt by legalities?
 
This is the table of Christ which stretches around the world—holy, sacred, mysterious. It is not yet a table for all, but it can be. This table is the model for how we are to live our lives in the world; as a church, a members of a larger community, as individuals. Are we living a table for all? Where does our openness break down? Where are some cast out or left behind in our own community?
 
It is Stewardship Time, as we have been playing with these last few weeks, a time to examine how we give…a time to examine how we LIVE! Where do we spend the majority of our resources? What consumes most of our time? How are we sharing our talents? What takes priority in our lives? How are we supporting justice with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness? Do our lives embody a table for all? Amen and Amen.

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