“Extending the Table”

Posted By Beckie Sweet on Nov 12, 2023 | 0 comments

November 12, 2023 ~24th Sunday after Pentecost

Rev. Beckie Sweet ~ “A Place at the Table”


A long-time member and proud grandfather stood at the baptismal font with his family for the baptism of his baby granddaughter.  Another infant from another family that was new to the congregation was also baptized at that same service.  Following the service, the two families intermingled at the front of the church as they took turns having their pictures taken.  At one point, the mother from the new family needed to get some things out of her bag, and the grandfather from the other family offered to hold her baby.  Other church members were mixing and greeting, and several commented on the grandfather with the baby, and he found himself saying several times, “Oh, this one isn’t mine; I’m just holding him for a minute.”

Monday morning the grandfather called the pastor at the church office and said he wanted to see him right away.  The pastor assumed the worst, thinking somehow the long-term member was upset about something from the day before.  When the grandfather arrived at the church office, he told the pastor, “I want to change my will to include the church, and I want to talk to you about how to do that.”  The pastor was stunned and couldn’t help asking about what brought the grandfather to this decision.  The older man’s eyes grew moist as he said, “Yesterday I realized something while I was holding that other baby, the one from the family that just joined the church.  I kept telling people that wasn’t my child, but then it dawned on me that the child IS part of my family, part of my church family, and that I have a responsibility for that little boy just like I have for my own granddaughter.  I’ve been a member of this church for more than forty years, and in God’s eyes I’m a grandfather to more than just my own.  I’ve taken care of my own children with my will, but I realized I also need to provide for the children of the church.  So, I want to divide my estate to leave a part to the church as if the church were one of my children.”

This grandfather knew that he had been called to an integral role in Extending the Table of Jesus Christ ~ what we call the ministries of the Church ~ for all of God’s children!  He captured that God-given vision and had such faith that he was planting the seeds for trees whose shade he would never see.

When we come together at tables with friends and family, we feel deeper connections and we create memories that last well beyond the dinner party.  When we come together at Jesus’ table, the connections we are called to make extend beyond that time and place to include a connection to the needs of a hurting world.  Because we have been invited, blessed, and loved here, we too must invite, bless and love the world into connectedness and wholeness.

During this year’s Stewardship Worship Series, “A Place at the Table,” we have discussed facets of the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving that is offered as we prepare to dine at the Lord’s Table and receive the grace that only Christ can give.  We have shared “Setting the Table,” “Invitation to the Table,” and “Blessing the Table.”  Today’s topic is “Extending the Table,” that we may make room for all to join us in the feast of remembrance and the celebration of grace and eternal life.  The conclusion of the Great Thanksgiving requests:

By your Spirit make us one with Christ, one with each other,

And one in ministry to all the world, until Christ comes in final victory

And we feast at the heavenly banquet.


Our scripture text today, from John 17, is also a prayer for oneness ~ a prayer for unity.  This is not a prayer for “sameness,” but rather a prayer for togetherness in the Spirit.  Let me set the context for you.

The 17th chapter of John’s gospel is a part of the long narrative leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection.  Jesus has already washed the disciples’ feet and shared a meal in the upper room.  Jesus then launches into teachings to prepare the disciples for what is yet to come.  Jesus talks about betrayal, but then gives the new commandment to love one another as Jesus has loved them.  Jesus reassures the disciples that after he is gone, the Holy Spirit will be sent to be a constant divine presence with them.  And Jesus continues to describe through metaphors of vines and branches the relationships of faith.

Then Jesus begins to pray ~ a prayer which is sometimes called the High Priest Prayer.  The entire 17th chapter consists of this final recorded prayer Jesus offered in three parts.  While soon to be crucified, first part of this prayer is for the disciples, that their faith may be strong, that they may be assured of Jesus’ love for them, and filled with understanding as they face the challenges about to unfold.  In the second part of this prayer, Jesus prays for himself, and the disciples’ faith in him as their relationship is about to change.

The final part, which we shared today, is a prayer for the future church:  those who will hear and believe the disciples’ witness.  It is a prayer for the church that was built following the Pentecost experience.  It is a prayer for us, here, today and in the future, as we endeavor to be faithful to Christ’s teachings and nurture the unity for which Jesus prayed so long ago.

When we come together at tables with friends and family, we feel deeper connections and we create memories that last well beyond the dinner party.  When we come together at Jesus’ table, the connections we are called to make extend beyond this time and place to include a connection to the needs of a hurting world.  Because we have been invited, blessed, and loved here, we too must invite, bless and love the world into connectedness and wholeness.  {I thought that paragraph was worthy of repeating!}

The oneness and unity for which Jesus prayed was not a matter of uniformity of doctrine, declaration, and dogma.  Jesus speaks of the sacred connections we gain as we share time at the table, walk together through the deep and shadowed valleys of life, mentor the young to grow in wisdom and knowledge of Christ, and laugh and cry together.  THIS is a unity of grace, glory, love, and prayer.  This unity is about my soul and your souls being united in love with God as we expand and extend the influence of divine LOVE with all that we meet.  We don’t all do that in the same way, but we are all called to expand and extend the influence of divine LOVE using the gifts and the opportunities which God has given us, while we are nurtured by the support of others in the church family.

Bishop Schase tells this poignant story entitled, “Caught Doing Good.”  He reports that a downtown congregation in a moderately-sized community had occasional transients, homeless persons, and street people who would ask for handouts.  Often street people would be found sleeping on the front steps [of the church.]  The staff developed rules, guidelines, and policies for how to help or how to refer those who asked for help.  They had many discussions about the pros and cons of giving cash, vouchers, and addresses of other social [service] agencies.  One day’s discussion took considerable staff time with few conclusions.

As the pastor was leaving the church later that afternoon, he noticed the part-time custodian carrying out the garbage to the large trash bin in the alley.  There was a homeless person sprawled out beside the bin, looking barely conscious.  As the custodian approached the trash bin, he set down the garbage bag he was carrying, reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and removed a few dollar bills.  Without having been asked, he walked over to the homeless person and gave him the money, said something, then continued his work, and returned to the church.  The pastor was amazed and humbled by this extraordinary display of generosity.  The part-time [custodian] who earned less than anyone else on staff gave generously without even being asked, while the staff had spent several hours trying to figure out policies and procedures.

The pastor asked the custodian why he gave the money without even being asked and also pressed him about whether he thought the homeless person might misuse the money for alcohol or drugs.  “I always [give] when I can,” he answered.  “I give them a little money and say, ‘God bless you,’ because I figure that even though they may be pretty messed up, they are some mother’s son, some father’s child, and so I give them something.  What they do with the money — well, they have to answer to God about that.  I just have to answer to God about what I do with mine.”[1]

Last Sunday, we celebrated All Saints’ Sunday, when we particularly give thanks for those who extended and expanded the table of Christ’s love to include US.  They gave us a foundation and model of faith-filled living.  Some loved us, even when we were not very lovable.  And we are called to continue that ministry in Christ’s name.

In a moment we will sing:

In unity we lift our song of grateful adoration,

For brothers brave and sisters strong.  What cause for celebration!

For those whose faithfulness has kept us through distress,

Who’ve shared with us our plight, who’ve held us in the night,

The blessed congregation.


May we be counted among those faithful in extending Christ’s table this day, through our living, and our giving!

[1] Illustrations from Five Practices of Fruitful Congregation by Bishop Robert Schnase, Nashville: Abingdon Press, © 2007.

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