God Invites

One of many great lessons I learned in the Episcopal Church has to do with the table of the Lord. Again and again, the priest intoned, “it is the Lord who calls us to the table, not the church.” My own church would do well to heed this advice.

Sadly of course, we know that so far it has not. It continues to pick and choose, based on often flimsy biblical evidence, who may approach the communion table. And the scriptures today, do point to this fallacy it seems to me.

In Ezekiel 17: 22-24, God speaks through the prophet:

I, too, will take from the crest of the cedar,
from its topmost branches tear off a tender shoot,
and plant it on a high and lofty mountain;
on the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.
It shall put forth branches and bear fruit,
and become a majestic cedar.
Birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it,
every winged thing in the shade of its boughs.

Now I would be the first to tell you that exegetically speaking, this passage probably has nothing at all to do with Jesus. Just as assuredly, all Christians look to the Hebrew Scriptures as speaking to the coming of Christ. So in the passage above, the tender shoot is Jesus, who will put forth his Church, bearing branches and fruit. Note that it further says, “birds of every kind shall dwell beneath it, . . .” Now this may in fact be stretching a point, but I don’t think it unfair to suggest that the passage doesn’t limit those who will find a home there to only some chosen group or groups.

While there is no direct statement in Ezekiel, we are further advised in 2 Corinthians, that we, as believers, “walk by faith, not by sight.” In other words, we as followers in Jesus must do our best to understand his teachings and then live by them, trusting in faith that God, through the great Spirit of Wisdom will guide us aright.

Of even more importance, we must recognize that as members of the body, we are all individually responsible for living up to our baptismal promises. We cannot, much as we might like, rely on the Church to advise us on what is good and proper. Paul tells us:

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ,
so that each may receive recompense,
according to what he did in the body, whether good or evil. (2 Cor. 5: 6-10)

Surely we must always give due respect to the official teaching of the Church, and we must do everything in our power to understand and reconcile our own beliefs with those of the Church. But in the end, it is our own conscience which must lead us forth, and we cannot stand behind the curtain of the Church on judgment day, however you might define that for yourself. We are each solely responsible for our living up to our promises to do good.

It is always a bit amusing to me how the more conservative members of the Christian community tend to rely most heavily on Saint Paul to the exclusion often times of Jesus himself.

Jesus was noted, throughout his entire ministry for inclusion rather than exclusion. He went out of his way to point this out, in the people he ate with and in the people he healed. Many of his “friends” were scandalous. They were non-Jews, gentiles and Samaritans, unclean persons, tax collectors, and all manner of reprobates. And he treated them all with the same welcome. He healed, he broke bread, he spoke with them.

He at no time ever advised his followers to reject anyone as unworthy.

Yet the Church does.

Is our Lord powerful enough to deny his presence to any of us if he deems us unworthy to meet him at the table?

If so, then it would seem prudent to allow him to make his own choices. The Church should in every way, welcome, soothe, and minister to the all God’s people.

But once it is sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants
and puts forth large branches,
so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.” (Mk 4:26-34)

Amen.

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2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Tim
    Jun 18, 2012 @ 10:02:38

    Oh, Sherry, this is so rich and so wise! I have a great friend, a pastor, who often speaks of churches in which many “hide in the shadows,” meaning they’re there but they’re not really there, because they don’t fit the mold. They sacrifice who they are outside the church walls when they step through the door–often to keep up “credentials” that give them access to the Table or permit them to serve the people of their faith communities. And it’s a tragedy unlike any other, because it wedges dishonesty between them and their God, Who knows and embraces them without condition.

    In this sense, they are weak and we have a scriptural obligation to uphold them. Yet so many churches institutionalize barriers to their faith and end up diminishing, rather than lifting, them. That is a tragedy that can be avoided. Yet it is not.

    I love the end of the Ezekiel passage (v24):
    All the tress of the field shall know
    that I am the LORD.
    I bring low the high tree,
    I make high the low tree;
    I dry up the green tree
    and make the dry tree flourish.
    I the LORD have spoken;
    I will accomplish it.

    May God hasten the day!

    On behalf of all of us who’ve been pushed into shadows or turned away, I thank you for your stalwart commitment to inclusion for all.

    Many blessings,
    Tim

    Reply

    • Sherry
      Jun 18, 2012 @ 11:40:10

      So many of us feel marginalized for so many reasons and it is simply wrong. We join in solidarity and stand committed to Jesus message of love and inclusion for all. That seems the only loving way to read scripture to me at least. Bless you as well Tim

      Reply

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