Monday, November 20, 2006

Isn't That My Place Card? Having a place at the table.

A tune from my teen years in a church youth group has been running through my mind lately, it was a catchy little ditty, the words from Song of Solomon 2:4, “He leads me into the banquet eating table , his banner over me is love.”
I recognize that one of the reasons for the tune to be dashing through my head, it's because one of the texts read at church for All Saint's Sunday on November 5th. The passage spoke of a day when all God's people would be invited to a seven course meal and there would be fabulous food, wonderful wines and a tremendous desert cart. (Isaiah 25:6-9)

The notion that God has dinner parties in heaven intrigues me. Not just because I appreciate good food, the part that I look forward to is the idea and promise that there will be fellowship at the table, good company, it will be a feast like no other. I suppose it would be safe to say that this dinner party will be heaven.

The 23rd Psalm recited by nearly every kid drug through a Sunday School classroom tells that God is going to set a table and serve a meal while the enemy watches, the part we forget is that everyone is somone's enemy if we are honest about it and no matter how hard we try not to be an enemy we probably are..
The notion of fellowship at the table is very inviting to me. Being single, I eat dinner alone most of the time. The glory of eating with the host at this dinner party makes the meal secondary. Being with the host and other dinner guests is really the part that I'm looking forward to.

I started out in the independent Christian church, that means there was communion every Sunday. Because it happened so fast it couldn't have meant much to anyone, after the first one, the meaning became lost on me, it was a dinner party served in six minutes or less, now I think of it as the microwave Eucharist. The only thing that seemed special was the lacy paper doilies in the bottom of the bread plate.

From there I was off to an American Baptist Church where the dinner party with Jesus was four times a year for sure and a possible bonus on Maundy Thursday. More meaningful certainly. I was a deacon and allowed to serve the table until a new minister informed me that because I didn't meet the criteria to be a deacon as set forth in 1st Timothy 3:1, he was forcing me out. The criteria? I, being a single man was not the husband of one wife. Apparently, I had to have at least one, but no more than one, children were important too, but he would have let that slide he said.. (Later the good reverend cornered me and informed me that he was seeing to my dismissal because he suspected me to be homosexual. I told him that he needn't suspect any longer, but it wasn't his news to spread.) I was my first official coming out experience. I didn't go back to the church and didn't miss him, though there were others there I longed to be with on Sunday mornings.

I left the American Baptists behind after leaving the tennis shoes that I was wearing at the door of the parsonage and walked away barefooted, I didn't want to take anything away from there. I began to attend the First Presbyterian Church in town, PCUSA. While there I was deeply moved by the liturgy the pastor used during the Eucharist, it spoke of God's love being showered on everyone. Communion was observed the first Sunday of each month and was announced publicly the Sunday before. I looked forward to the dignity of the “high churchness” of the gathering at the table. For a few years I was just a guy at the table, fork in hand, ready for a dinner party with Jesus. It was great until I was tapped to be a ruling elder. In the PCUSA this position in the church required ordination and the denomination as a whole made it clear that, “self avowed, non repentant” homosexuals were not acceptable for ordination. Be it to the pastorate or positions of elder or deacon, the big guys at the home office didn't approve. I refused politely when asked but when pressed for the reason I simply replied that there were rules in the church that I couldn't adhere to, so I couldn't break them as a matter of conscience. The lady who had approached me simply responded without hesitation, (though I gave her no indication of why I was not accepting or what rules I couldn't play by,) “it doesn't keep the other elders who are queer from doing it.” I smiled and said, “That's for them to deal with.”

I hung around for a while, but began to feel a discomfort after a change of pastors. The final decision to leave was spurred when I realized on a particular Sunday that in the bulletin there was a notice that communion would be observed the next Sunday. I finally figured out what was missing from not just this dinner party, while the ones prior were moving they were exclusive. Everyone was allowed to watch, but not fully participate. The person in the pew was an observer at the feast. Some where simply playing the part of waiters, not even giving consideration that some of the cafes in town had rules for the servers, the rules here didn't include hair nets, paper hats or name tags.
When I ended up in the church that I'm a part of now, Broadway UMC, I visited the pastor the first Sunday after I had been there for communion. The week before it was announced that the congregation would CELEBRATE communion. My first thought on hearing this news was, “observer no more, we're going to celebrate!”

During a visit with the reverend a simple question surprised her, “If I join this church, and the church recognizes me as a gay man, may I receive communion?” Her response was, “Absolutely, our table is spread for everyone, even if you don't join the church.” “Okay,” I said, “everyone is welcome at the table, but may I serve the table?” With great enthusiasm she exclaimed, “Of course, you want to serve next month? You're on the list.” I took her up on it. The reason for my acceptance to serve the table came so quickly ? Because I had not served in about 10 years because I didn't fit the, “criteria” the other churches held sacred.

I'm sure for many they think, “so, big deal.” But for me I kept seeing an odd thing happening. Not one of the churches refused to serve me. In fact, they all made special effort to make people understand that all were welcome at the table, just not as a server. So the lesson being taught me seemed so silly. The lesson is this: Christ's sacrifice of his life, after a model dinner party mind you, made me worthy to be served at his table, but it didn't make me worthy to serve. If the notion of , “it's better to give than receive applies here, shouldn't it be, “You many not receive, but we will force you to serve until you learn better where you're place at the table is.”?

Being gay and being a Christian is a lot like the examples given in these stories. If we as God's children are welcome at the table then we are welcome to serve it. My spirituality and my sexuality are all a part of who I am. They are brought together by a loving God who made me, just like the old Gospel song says, “Just as I am.”. I don't ask God why he made me the way that he did, any more than I ask why he made others the way they are.

I've come to appreciate the scripture that reminds us, “...let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God.” (I John 4) I simply want to love and to have a place at the table. I do have a place at the table and I love it, especially when I get to, “pass the bread” and when I get to turn to the one next to me and say, “have a glass of wine, I'm pouring.”


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you so much for sending me your blog link. Your story reminds me of another story that Mike told during a sermon. Hell is a banquet hall where everyone has a bowl of noodles in front of him, but only has a set of 3 foot chop sticks. Heaven is also a banquet where everyone has a bowl of noodles in front of him, but only has a set of 3 foot chop sticks. The difference is that in hell we serve oursevles, and in heaven we serve each other.

Grace and peace,


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