“Welcome Table”

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Rev. Jocelyn B. Gardner Spencer

January 6, 2019 — Epiphany

Isaiah 60:1-6

 

Nations shall come to your light, the prophet says, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.  They all gather together, they come to you; your sons from far away and your daughters carried on their nurses’ arms. 

The abundance of the sea shall be brought to you, the wealth of the nations shall come to you.  A multitude of camels shall cover you, the young camels of Midian and Ephah; all those from Sheba shall come.  They shall bring gold and frankincense, and shall proclaim the praise of the Lord.

And the abundance doesn’t stop there.  In subsequent verses, the prophet continues:  All the flocks of Kedar shall be gathered to you, the rams of Nebaioth shall minister to you.  The coastlands shall wait for me, the ships of Tarshsish first, to bring your children from far away.  The glory of Lebanon shall come to you, the cypress, the plane, and the pine.

Isaiah goes on:  Foreigners shall build up your walls.  Your gates shall always be open; day and night they shall not be shut.  Whereas you have been forsaken and hated, with no one passing through, I will make you majestic forever, a joy from age to age.

 

I love this vision of the dawning of God’s radiant realm.  It’s beautiful, right?  Arise!  Shine!  For your light has come!  And the glory of the Lord has risen upon you!  Lift up your eyes and look around!  For what a glory it is.

It’s a universal vision, one that extends beyond the bounds of race and clan.  God’s glory shines not only for the Israelites, but for foreigners, too:  for Midian and Ephah, for Sheba and Kedar, for Lebanon and Nebaioth and Tarshish.  In modern terms, this is Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Syria, Iraq, Egypt… coastlands and inland, deserts and seas.

It’s a vision that encompasses peoples who were known adversaries of the Israelites.  Different races, different religions, different languages, different lifestyles.  It’s a vision that encompasses not only humans, but also animals and plants and even minerals:  camels and rams, sheep and cattle, cypress and pine trees, gold and frankincense.  All peoples, all nations, all species, all creatures, all elements of the earth are illumined by God’s radiance and warmed by God’s glory.

I’ve loved this scripture for a long time for its beauty, hope, and universality.  Even in the midst of a time of struggle and suffering, both personal and national, the prophet called the people to lift up their eyes and behold God at work in their midst.  And as he did, he reminded them that God is the not the possession of one person or one nation, but the God of all people, the God of all the earth.  God’s radiance shines for all.

But reading it this week, in light of our Open and Affirming anniversary, I think there might be more to this vision than I had appreciated before.  What if it’s not just that God’s glory shines for all people… not just that God’s radiance dawns on all the earth… not just that the rising of God’s Sun draws all people to its glow… but that the way the Light comes, the way God is revealed, is in the coming-together of all, the drawing-in of all, the uniting of all?

What if the Light comes, what if God is revealed, precisely when we reach out to the ends of the earth and extend a hand to the ones we find there?

What if the Light comes, what if God is revealed, precisely when we draw in those who have been pushed to the margins, those who have been deemed unworthy, unholy, unloved, unacceptable?

What if the Light comes, what if God is revealed, precisely when we recognize God’s glory in every race and religion, every language and lifestyle, every nation, every species, every creature, every element?

What if it is not just that God’s realm includes all gender identities and expressions, all sexual orientations, all kinds of loves and all kinds of families—but that God’s realm is revealed precisely when we include all genders and sexualities and loves and families as beautiful expressions of God’s image?

As we celebrate 16 years as an Open and Affirming Congregation, and as we look ahead to many more years of living into this commitment, we have an opportunity to reveal God’s realm right here, right now, right on Woodstock Hill, as we continue to grow our understanding and our expression of God’s radical inclusion, God’s extravagant welcome.  This is, after all, what the festival of Epiphany is about:  the revealing, the manifestation, the unveiling of God’s presence in our midst.

20190106_093208And this is also what communion is about:  another way of revealing God’s presence, the holy made real in ordinary bread and juice.  A taste of God’s realm where there is room for us all, where no one is left hungry or out in the cold, where the table is set and the feast is prepared and everyone, everyone, everyone is invited.

So, as a symbol of the ways in which this congregation already reveals God’s presence through our extravagant welcome, and as an expression of the ways we might yet reveal more of God, we set our communion table this morning with place cards that name some of the facets of our identities that are welcomed and celebrated here.  As many of you know, the Open and Affirming movement has its roots, and its ongoing life, in an intentional and explicit welcome to members of the LGBTQ community, who have far too often been intentionally and explicitly excluded from Christian spaces.  And so today, we set a place for our friends who are [add place cards to the table]:

Lesbian.

Gay.

Bisexual.

Straight.

Cisgender.

Trans*.

And, as we grow in our Open & Affirming identity, it also invites and challenges us to expand our welcome to other members of God’s family whose full identities have not been celebrated, other facets of ourselves that have not been embraced.

So, in the racks on the backs of the pews in front of you, you will find more place cards, which are blank.  You are invited—encouraged, even!—to write on those place cards and bring them forward when you come for communion, so we can create a true welcome table together.

You might write your own name, as an expression of the welcome you have found here.

You might write the name of someone who is here in spirit:  an ancestor by blood or by faith who has helped make you who you are, or a loved one who is absent because of distance or death, whose presence would make this table more complete.

You might write the name of someone who you think needs a welcome, someone you feel called to include at the table.

You might write an attribute or characteristic of yourself or someone else that is welcome here.

You might write an attribute or characteristic of yourself or someone else that you wish were welcome here, but you’re not sure.

You might write an attribute or characteristic that you’re pretty sure would not be welcome here, but you think God might be calling us to grow in our understanding and learn to love in new ways.

You might write straight, gay, lesbian, bisexual, male, female, non-binary, cis, trans, gender non-confirming…

Married, divorced, widowed… longing for a partner or happily single…

Black, brown, white… immigrant, native, refugee, asylum-seeker…

You might write autism, asperger’s, alzheimers, dementia…

Addicted, alcoholic, co-dependent, in recovery…

20190106_111522

Conservative, liberal, republican, democrat, libertarian, independent…

Grieving, joyful, angry, overwhelmed, content…

In the next few minutes, think and pray about who is already welcome, and who needs to be welcome.  And then, when Christ invites us all to the feast, come, and help us expand the table together.

 


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