“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters;
and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost.
Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.”
~ Isaiah 55:1-2
With these words, Jesus moved Jamie and me to seminary in 1999. I had no idea what depth these words held for a lifetime of being fed and delighted by Him!
Almost five years ago, Jesus moved us again into a season of following Him into a greater unknown than ever before. Just before inviting us out of the public pastoral ministry I remember explicitly saying, “Jesus, I’m willing to lay down my life for Your mission, but I’m not willing to lay down my life for this.” I think what I meant was that the work, not only of the local church I served, but the Church in general in my culture, seemed to no longer be serving the feast that supplies life. I know that’s a big accusation…and I was a part of it. And I was starving because of it.
Church in general in my culture seemed to no longer be serving the feast that supplies life…and I was starving because of it
I won’t be able to tackle the depth of this topic in one blog, but today I just want to start with what Jesus has been reshaping in me these last 4+ years about the nature of His living body – the Church. In my tradition (Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod), there is a great divide right down the middle about this very nature of what God is doing and how we respond when we gather. In the middle of this divide are real, hurting people who are showing up “without money” to find food for their hungry souls. At the risk of alienating myself from everyone, I’ve noticed a tendency to either burden people with what it looks like to be an amazing missional member of our church, or to burden them with how to believe rightly and purely like us by a certain point in time (I’m sure this is over-characterized…but I’ve experienced both…a lot). We rarely help people find their place at the table, invite them to tell their story, show them how to notice their hearts and minds, and give them time to taste and savor Jesus and His grace for what they notice and what they need.
We rarely help people find their place at the table,
invite them to tell their story,
show them how to notice their hearts and minds,
and give them time to taste and savor
Jesus and His grace
for what they notice and what they need.
I don’t mean to oversimplify a complex issue. However, sometimes stripping away all our pre-formed justifications and “how-we’ve-always-done-it” attitudes, can help us see when we’ve wandered away from this table that is full of free life. I feel like that’s what Jesus has done for me over these last years (I did not accept this stripping away very well). He stripped me of so many of my pretensions and showed me what I had when I lived a life where my heart and soul were buried in the darkness of good, hard work and correct faith – nothing but an empty, starving soul.
I need a table in the Church where I can come without the money of “having it all together” and “my theological ducks always in a nice, neat row.” I need a table where my fears, my doubts, my pain, my guilt, my unrealized dreams, my gifts…where all of me is visible in the light of the One who has set the table, and of the others at the table with me. If I can’t come until I’m theologically perfect or missionally amazing, then the real me never gets to the table to be fed by the hand of God. If I can’t be me-in-process at the table, then who am I supposed to be? Me hiding at the table? Me pretending at the table? Me coming only when I have something amazing to give at the table? Me participating only when I have something theologically pure to say at the table?
If I can’t be me-in-process at the table, then who am I supposed to be?
I know…this brings up all kinds of problematic scenarios, not the least of which is how do you have pastors people can trust are theologically and biblically sound? But here’s an even bigger question: Do we expect that a pastor can live 20, 30, 40+ years without ever needing to fall apart at the table? Learn something new at the table? Have their theology reformed at the table? Have their soul renewed at the table? If our leaders are expected to live a life that doesn’t need the regular appearing of their broken, needy, incomplete lives and theology at the table, what kind of table are we setting for God’s people?
If our leaders are expected to live a life
that doesn’t need the regular appearing
of their broken, needy, incomplete lives and theology at the table,
what kind of table are we setting for God’s people?
God’s table is full. And free. It’s a place to be exactly who you really are and be given exactly what you really need. I don’t want to hide anymore (actually, I do). But I really don’t (know what I mean?). I want to be able to say, “I’m Steve. I have problems. I have addictions. I believe in Jesus, but I regularly believe lies. I need help. I need to be reminded of the truth of what Jesus says about me, and who He is for me. Will you help?”
So I wrote a poem this morning. Maybe, over-simplified, Church can taste like this:
The table is full
Of people and delightful fare;
Full of hearts
Half-empty, pain-wounded, despaired.
Both mingle here
In an awkwardly graceful dance
That fills the people full
Of beauty and romance;
That heals the pain-wounds,
Overflows what was empty,
Resurrects life together
At God’s table of plenty.