Monday, April 18, 2016

Reflection on Psalm 23:5

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

Who you are allowed to eat with says a lot about you; who you are; what kind of people you hang out with; and who cares about you. The table you are allowed to eat at says a lot.

I had a lot of experience with this in school. My parents moved a lot, and I had to find a new place to sit each time I wandered into a new school cafeteria.

Who am I allowed to sit with I wonder? The well dressed give me a cold glare. I continue with my tray. The football guys thrash around dangerously, paying no attention. I continue with my tray, and look around desperately trying to find a seat. A group of girls, apparently friends because they all wear those matching fake gold friendship necklaces, giggle at me as I keep turning around, scanning for a place to sit. I am not sure that I find the humor in it. I don’t care if I eat with anyone…as long as I can find a place to sit. Maybe, I will forgo eating today. Maybe, I will just throw the food away and leave. “God, please prepare a table for me.”

When caught in such a situation, we pray simply for a lonely table to be prepared for us off in a corner somewhere, where we can just gulp down our food and go. Of course, a table with people who would take an interest in us and care would be glorious, but you do get to a point where simply any table would do. It is often hard to find a place to sit.

Can the newly divorced find a place to sit at the family table, or are they now excluded?

Can the newly widowed find a person to eat with at all, or are they simply forgotten and alone?

Can the loud mouthed destroyer of the community find a place to sit after all have turned against him or her?

Can the town drunk find a place to sit after it is known that he destroyed his family?

Can the person riddled by a hidden guilt and pain find a place to sit where they do not have to pretend to be “doing great.”

Where do these people find a place to sit?

Most often, we find ourselves sitting at the tables of those we know and like. Of course this sort of selective table company never happens within the church. "Nope, never," sarcasm dripping from these words. Careful of the puddle.

Unfortunately, it is so much a part of human nature that it happens everywhere. Because of that, it still shocks us that Jesus ate each day with those who would betray him and abandon him in the end. We would tell our children to forget those backstabbing idiots and move on to someone better, but Jesus did not move on. He prepared a table for them.

If that is true, and it is, then he even prepares a table for you…no matter what sort of darkness your past holds.

Never forget, along with those who would betray and abandon him, Jesus ate meals with the drunks of the town, with the prostitutes, with the losers, with the socially challenged, with the loud children who were supposed to be at the kids table, with those who would rob others, with the irritatingly judgmental, and with the obviously hungry and physically deformed (those people who are easily overlooked because their mere existence is too uncomfortable). Jesus chose to eat with them all.

I have to admit, though I would provide a table for many of these people, I would still protect the sanctity of my table from at least some in this list of losers. How do you fare?

But, Jesus prepared a table for them. In the presence of their enemies, in the presence of those who would judge and condemn them, Jesus prepared a table for them. Heck, Jesus went to the cross for them.

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”

“You can come sit with us,” says an enormous guy dressed in a football jersey.

“No, he can sit with us, you guys just sit back down, we got this one…he’s ours,” says an equally huge guy dressed in the same jersey.

This is the response newcomers to the cafeteria will find when they stumble across one amazing high school football team who has been taught to live by the words, “you prepare a table before me.”

This team has been challenged by the Christian coaches to play better off the field than on the field. The team has been challenged to live the words of God. The team has learned to share the truth of God through one simple statement, “you can come eat with us.” In other words, “there is a table prepared for you.”

Of course, there is a catch, the team is given an incentive to do so, because if anyone is ever seen eating alone in the cafeteria by the coaches (who just happen to be the cafeteria monitors), the football players who are sitting at the nearest table will not be allowed to play in the next game. It does not matter if you are the star quarterback, you will not play…no exceptions.

So, it is not all together altruistic. Despite that, imagine being the one with the tray who prays to God that someone…anyone might prepare a table for you. Imagine only having to have that feeling for a split second before you realize that you are not alone; that you are not excluded. There is something about sharing a table that is so very powerful and holy.

As the Psalm indicates, the Lord leads us through dark places and brings us life by sitting at a table.

Have you ever considered that you have one of the most holy places on the planet right in your own home?

The Church of the Holy Sepulcher (the spot where Jesus died and was buried) does not even come close to the holy place that you have in your home. That church is a dead relic of history.
Your dinner table is living space where Jesus does wonders.

Do not have a dinner table? Heck, even a table at McDonald’s is holy, as long as it is shared with someone else who could use a place prepared for them. I bet you did not know that even a 1980s aluminum, trailer house dinner table could be holy. But, it is.

Christ’s table is your table. And, your table is Christ’s table. There is no easier way to allow someone to meet the grace of God than to invite them to your holy table. Every meal is an opportunity to have a holy conversation. Want to be a part of God’s kingdom? All you have to say is: “You can come eat with us.”

Monday, April 4, 2016

Reflection on John 20:19-31

A letter from the disciple Thomas, to his twin brother:

My dearest brother, my twin, my listening ear,

It’s Thomas again. I hope that all is well with Mom and Dad. I know it’s been a while since I have been back home. Maybe I’ll have some time to come back now.

Do you remember the Rabbi that I was following? I know you told me to be careful, but he seemed beyond compare. His compassion for others was so vast.

There was the time that he healed that paralytic man that I told you about, the one by the washing pool in front of the temple in Jerusalem. He healed the man, allowing the fellow to go down into the pool and wash, and then enter the temple to worship.

It was kind and thoughtful. Understand, most people simply ignored the fellow and walked on by. But, Jesus wasn’t like most people. He recognized you, as if he had known you from birth, as if he knew you by name, even if you had just met.

In any case, Jesus healed the man on the Sabbath. You can see the problem brewing here I'm sure, but Jesus stated to us that he was doing God’s work, and if God was working on the Sabbath then so was he. His teaching was obvious, showing compassion is not considered work as far as Jesus is concerned.

"Was" concerned I should say. As you know, not everyone agrees, and that seemed to be the start of the end.

Ahhh, I promised myself that I wouldn’t do this. I promised myself that I wouldn’t obsess over these things. It’s probably best if I simply move on in life and get back to work. There is no point in opening a wound over and over and over again. There is no point in stabbing myself in the chest repeatedly.

Brother, I plan on moving back very soon. I hope that you can help me find a little work around there. I just have to tie up a few loose ends around here.

The other followers of Jesus don’t seem to be doing anything at all. It is as if they are completely stuck in life, sitting in a locked room. In other words, they are just useless. It’s just me trying to get things done.

I’m sorry, you’re probably confused. I need to tell you something that’s hard for me to say, so I’m just going to say it and have it over with. After I say it, it will be over and I won’t have to speak about it again. OK?

My Rabbi, Jesus, was tried by the High Council for blasphemy and crucified by the Romans. He’s dead.

There, it’s out there…I said it…just so you understand brother.

I miss him, a lot. Who says that they love their Rabbi? But, I did. I loved that man. There are days that I don’t want to go back to the room with the others, because all they do is sit around the table, sulking, and talking about him. I just can’t do that. I can’t even say his name out loud. He was my life for the past three years, and now I can’t even bring myself to talk about him with the others.

There are some days that I wish it had all just been a dream. There are some days that I wish that it could all go away, and that I wouldn’t have to feel any of this.

An open wound like this doesn’t heal…it doesn’t heal no matter what.

My emotions are so stupid lately. One moment I don’t want to remember any of it. I don’t want to hang around the others as they sulk. But, as soon as I step out onto the street and see the people talking and laughing as if nothing happened, I just want to scream, “Don’t you know that someone who was more special than anyone you could possibly know is now dead!” What can they possibly be talking about that is so important?

Sorry brother. My wound still seeps I guess. The best thing to do is ignore it. The best thing to do is pretend that the wound isn’t even there…to act as if I never cared.

I can do that.

Just the other day, the other disciples tried to convince me that Jesus had come back…that they had seen him and even saw his wounds as proof.

They need to get out of there. They need to get a life. They are all delusional. You know, unless I see him myself and touch the wounds in his hands and side there is no way that I will believe a single word of their ridiculous ranting.

To try to make me hope in the impossible is just plain evil, and cruel, and…they are just delusional and sad. They can lock themselves away in a little tomb of a room if they want, I don’t care. I’ll just lock myself away from the pain. At least I can get some work done.

It's a new life for me from here on out…a new life without Rabbis, or gods, or hopes, or ridiculous notions. It is time for me to focus on myself and come home and build a new life for myself.

I’m sorry to dump this all on you. I promise, I won’t bring it up ever again…not even once when I get back home. Don’t worry, no seeping wounds will spill on your doorstep. Wounds are of no use. Instead, you will see a new me and a new life. On that note, again, please keep your ear out for a job please. I will see you soon.


A second letter from the disciple Thomas, to his twin brother:

My dearest brother, my twin,

I know that you were expecting me to come to you very soon, but things have changed.

I know that I told you that wounds are of no use, that they simply need to be ignored, but I was wrong. I felt them. I felt the wounds myself! His hands and side were scarred badly, but they were there and they were healed.

He was actually there in the locked room. Jesus actually came back for me….to show me. He actually cares about me. He actually came for me.

My brother, my twin, my Rabbi is alive! Jesus is alive. The others were right, death wasn’t the end…it wasn’t the last word.

And, I have to tell you that my pain and sorrow…my seeping wounds were not the last word either. My wounds have scarred over also.

Don’t get me wrong, I still remember the pain as if it was yesterday…well probably because it was yesterday brother…but my pain has scarred and I have hope.

Brother, there’s one thing that I’ve learned over the past few days: the last thing that God wants is for you just give into hopelessness. God cares too much. Jesus cares that we have hope, in the same way that he gave hope to that paralyzed man at the temple.

Or maybe he will come into your locked room and give you a gift of hope if that is what it takes. It is true, I know, because Jesus did that for me.

I won’t be back to see you as soon as I thought brother. He is still here and has more instructions for us. Give my love to Mom and Dad. And, brother, I send my love to you also.

Oh, and, so does Jesus. He loves you too. He wanted you to know that. He wants you to know, so that you might believe also.

We are twins after-all, what is mine is yours. My hope is your hope. My belief is your belief. My love is your love. My Lord is your Lord. My God is your God.