Called to the Table

5 comments Written on September 16th, 2014     
Filed under: sermons - messages
MandiChericoMandi Cherico is a second year M.Div student at North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, IL. Raised in the Twin Cities, her interests include feminism, word-care, aesthetics, and Beyonce. The following post is a manuscript of a sermon preached at North Park Theological Seminary Chapel on September 15, 2014.

Most of Paul’s letters to churches begin with a pleasant tone, thanking God for them, praising what they’ve done. He begins 1 Corinthians by saying “I always thank God for you.” “To the saints in Ephesus,” he says in Ephesians. To the Thessalonians: “We always thank God for you in our prayers.”

The Galatians, though, get no note of thanksgiving, no compliment.

Chapter 1 verse 6, after a brief salutation:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel.

When Paul doesn’t thank God for a church you know somebody is gonna get told. I appreciate the realness of that. It reminds me that church has always been hard. The Gospel has always been something people have struggled to live out rightly.

In Chapter 4 verse 19 Paul grits his teeth again, taking a maternal tone:
My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

Yikes. But Paul has good reason to be angry. Galatia has been rejecting the true Gospel! In chapter two, he gives an example of another time when someone lost sight of the true gospel, and he tells the story of Peter in Antioch.

We don’t know exactly when, but sometime after the Jerusalem council, which is where Paul and other Church leaders decide conclusively that acceptance of the Gentiles is crucial to the Gospel, Peter starts dining with the Gentiles in Antioch. He goes to their homes and shares meals with them. This may not sound revolutionary to us but we must understand that for Peter, a life-long Jew, eating with Gentiles meant he was forgoing the Jewish dietary restrictions. You see, Peter decides, with the backing of Paul and the other church leaders that fellowship with the ‘other’ is so important, that is requires them to forgo a treasured value system. A value system that is intertwined with his ethnicity, culture and identity.

So let’s just take a minute to congratulate Peter. He’s getting it right – finally! Peter, you hardly ever get it right in the Gospels! Yes, Peter! You’ve come so far from the days of ear slicing and roosters crowing – you’re living out the Gospel! But, wait – hold on. Let’s read the rest of the story, shall we?

After a while, according to Paul, Peter stops doing this. We don’t get all the details, but apparently Peter gets a visit from some of the believing Jews, some Jerusalem power-brokers, as one commentator puts it. They convince Peter that he shouldn’t eat with the Gentiles anymore. It says that Peter stops because he’s afraid of what the Jews would think of him. After a while this fear catches on with the other believing Jews and fellowship with the Gentiles ceases.

Paul calls this hypocrisy.

In chapter 2 verse 4 he says,
But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

In other words if you keep to yourself, if you let lines of race, ethnicity, or interpretation divide you from other believers, you preach a false gospel. Peter! You’re sacrificing that which is greater for that which is lesser. You’re missing the point! Peter, you should know better! You walked with Jesus! You saw him defy the customs and reframe the laws of his people. You saw him make a habit of sitting down at tables with the ‘other.’ You witnessed him touching the sick and disabled. You know that he ran across lines of ethnicity and gender to speak to the woman at the well. You heard him praise the Gentile woman: “Great is your faith, woman!” You heard him say that, Peter! You were there! You sat at those tables with him!

We can’t be too hard on Peter though.
Because all of us, though we haven’t been covered by the dust of his sandals, have experienced Christ. You’re here because the power of Christ and his Good News has infiltrated your life. You’ve seen him work in unexplainable ways whether through a long, sustained, life of faith or a dramatic conversion.

We know that Jesus’ ministry was all about crossing boundaries yet we still hesitate. We draw back when sitting at the table with people who are different from us means a putting aside a value system that we hold in high regard.

Paul’s message to the Galatians is not about us, but it’s for us, thank you Professor Klyne Snodgrass. If we’re not willing to sit at the table, to legitimize the stories of people who are ‘other’ than us then we, too, forfeit the Gospel. We know this, yet we live our lives drawing circles around our little tables.

In my short life, I’ve experienced a lot of discrimination based on gender. I’ve been told throughout most of my life that a woman cannot preach. I’ve had scripture used against me, pulled out of context to silence me. In college I got cramps in my shoulder from holding my hand in the air for entire class periods, never getting called on while my male classmates and professor discussed women in the Bible. I’ve had men literally turn their backs to me as I tried to participate in discussions of theology. I’ve been told, so many times, that my humanity hinges on my ability to snag a man and birth a baby.

On my stingiest days, I would really like to draw a line of demarcation around my table, the table full of people who affirm me and my call, and say to those who don’t: “Don’t come any further! You can exist at your own table, but don’t try to sit down at my table! Don’t try to invite me to yours. I don’t want to share a meal with you because then I have to hear you chew. I don’t want to learn your name or the names of your children. I don’t want to hear what books you’ve been reading lately, because it seems like all the authors you choose diametrically oppose what I believe in. I don’t want to legitimize your table because that feels like mine gets pushed into the corner.”

This is how I feel on my most broken days, but this is, as Paul would say, no Gospel at all.

This is a negation of the fact that my life and purpose is dependent upon the unexplainable, radical, continual invitation of Christ to his table. We were all on the margins of God’s love once, but we’ve been radically welcomed in to table fellowship with the Creator of the world. If I believe that, how can I be stingy with my invitations? To do that is to deny that God’s love is powerful enough to heal my wounds and the wounds I’ve inflicted and to bind me together with people I once called enemies.

My story is relatable for some of you but it might be completely different from others of you, especially my sisters and brothers of color. Many of you have spent your lives extending your hand to other tables, only to get slapped away every time. The journey to the Kingdom table looks different for different people due to their different social locations. I don’t have the magic formula for everyone, but I know that God upholds the marginalized and downtrodden throughout history. The Gospel demands the welcoming of all people, and even the sacrifice of the those in power. My sisters and brothers who are identified as ‘white’: we have a lot of work to do. I heard a fellow NPTS student say something similar to this once and it has stuck with me: One invitation on the part of the dominant culture does not make up for hundreds of years of no invitations – we must remember this.

But we can’t let that hinder us from doing the necessary work of getting up from our tables, and going out to witness how God has already been at work in the tables we’ve been ignoring for years. A great way to start doing this is educating ourselves about the histories of other people, taking the work of scholars of color and women scholars seriously, and investing time and genuine interest in people who have vastly different stories from us.

It is not easy.
But it is so worthy.
Afterall, it’s the Gospel

And what’s the alternative? Forfeiting the power of God’s love and settling in at the tiny tables that we have always sat at, across from people whose scars and pains match ours but whose words and stories only take us so far.

Sisters and brothers, there is a better way. There is the Gospel way. There is a bigger, wider table. There is a host who welcomes everyone and heals every wound. Where the governance is love, the language is grace, the tradition is sacrifice. And the truth that reigns in everyone’s hearts is the vision of a Kingdom where the best of every table is honored and shared in abundance.

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5 comments “Called to the Table”

Love the table imagery and the radical approach to hospitality. Love that this radical approach is called upon with the full realization of the courage and humility required for those who have been hurt to continue to extend Christ’s hand to all. Very well said.

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what a great message, Mandi!  I too applaud the powerful image of the table, and can only imagine Jesus rebuking his disciples if they had pulled some of the antics employed by some of his contemporary disciples.  this is a powerful sermon about many topics besides gender.  thanks so much!!

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Well spoken, Mandi.  Carry on, pursue the call and continue the passion.  

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Mandi – Thanks for this reminder and this call to get up and extend invitation and welcome and even more powerfully ask if you can sit at another’s table. Truly a powerful example of not only the resistance of those who want to join our table but also those who refuse to scoot over so you can be seated at their table. I was raised in a home where there was always room for one more – and yet in too many circles within the church – there is no room. I just preached on social location two weeks ago so it was exciting to see this in your post as well. Thanks Mandi!

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Love this! Thanks for sharing your experience and encouraging us! 🙂 We can all make room for others at the table! 

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