Monday, May 16, 2011

My thoughts on Christ's open table...

(NOTE: I modified this posting to be more broadly inclusive based on the comments from some friends and colleagues. Thank you.)

I had an unexpected phone call today from Arizona - a former colleague with a problem to consider in ministry - and when he hung up I thought:  man, we have REALLY different understandings of ministry.  To be sure, there are LOTS of models for ministry - and mine is only one of many options - but it is clear I just don't get or affirm most overtly political theologies of either the Left or the Right.

When I was in Tucson,  for example, my commitment was to Christ's open table and we wound up with a living faith community made up of: gay and straight folk, young and old folk, traditionally churched and totally outside the norm folk, theologically conservative and boldly liberal folk, women and men-type folk, transgendered folk, too, children and families of every type and variety folk, Republican and Democratic folk, pacifist and military folk and just about everybody else you might imagine including rich and poor and middle class folk. 

It wasn't easy nourishing a theology of the open table - it made LOTS of people uncomfortable - mostly because it is hard work getting honest with people that Fox News and MSNBC tells you are your opponents. But Jesus - and not some idea of Jesus - but the Christ of Scripture and the resurrected Lord of life tells us we are not only to love our enemies, but we are invited to come to him.  Not come to a political point of view - or a denomination - or an ideology - or an intellectual construct:  we are called to come to Jesus. And what happens?  "I will give you rest."

One of my greatest joys in that old church was when a gay man with HIV/AIDS and a former Air Force pilot embraced and told their story of love and respect during a stewardship moment.  Once they would have never crossed one another's paths, but in church they found a friendship that turned to love and respect.  To see these two vastly different - and profoundly united - men embrace in Christ's love was the answer to prayer.  And when this gay couple moved on to the Pacific Northwest a few years later - after we had celebrated their marriage - this old Air Force dude rode out ahead to post a banner on the highway overpass heading out of town proclaiming:  WE LOVE YOU GUYS WITH ALL OUR HEARTS!  It was freakin' Pentecost in spades! 

Two passages of scripture shaped and defined the heart of my ministry in Tucson:

+ Matthew 11: 28-30 - Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.

+ Isaiah 55: Hey there! All who are thirsty, come to the water! Are you penniless? Come anyway—buy and eat! Come, buy your drinks, buy wine and milk.
Buy without money—everything's free!
Why do you spend your money on junk food,
your hard-earned cash on cotton candy?
Listen to me, listen well: Eat only the best,
fill yourself with only the finest.
Pay attention, come close now,
listen carefully to my life-giving, life-nourishing words...
I don't think the way you think. The way you work isn't the way I work." God's Decree. For as the sky soars high above earth, so the way I work surpasses the way you work,
and the way I think is beyond the way you think.
Just as rain and snow descend from the skies
and don't go back until they've watered the earth,
Doing their work of making things grow and blossom,
producing seed for farmers and food for the hungry,
So will the words that come out of my mouth
not come back empty-handed.
They'll do the work I sent them to do,
they'll complete the assignment I gave them.
"So you'll go out in joy,
you'll be led into a whole and complete life.
The mountains and hills will lead the parade,
bursting with song.
All the trees of the forest will join the procession,
exuberant with applause.
No more thistles, but giant sequoias,
no more thornbushes, but stately pines—
Monuments to me, to God, living and lasting evidence of God." 

I had a great 10 years in Tucson - and wish them well - as they explore new ways of serving God in this strange time. I am also very grateful to be exploring a commitment to Christ's open table in our new church and energized by friends who are eager to see where this might lead. So
I pray and work for a deeper sense  of Christ's open table that resonates with all of God's people - one that dismantles traditional divisions of Left and Right - and finds blessing in radical hospitality. I believe this is one of the ways the heart of Christ can bring healing to our fractured land. Why spend your hard earned cash for junk food, indeed!  Here's the song we used to inaugurate our new ministry - by the Master, of course - with these great lines...

Thunder on the mountain rolling to the ground
Gonna get up in the morning walk the hard road down
Some sweet day I'll stand beside my king
I wouldn't betray your love or any other thing

Gonna raise me an army, some tough sons of bitches
I'll recruit my army from the orphanages
I been to St. Herman's church, said my religious vows
I've sucked the milk out of a thousand cows

I got the porkchops, she got the pie
She ain't no angel and neither am I
Shame on your greed, shame on your wicked schemes
I'll say this, I don't give a damn about your dreams...

For the love of God take pity on yourselves...

credits: Lee Hodges @

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