I grew up in a traditional Midwestern White Anglo-Saxon Protestant suburban family just past the middle of the last century. My parents didn’t have the proverbial average 2.5 children, just 2. In our kitchen, each member of the family had an each equal side of the square wooden table, and our own solid wooden chair.
I remember being fascinated by another kitchen set up I saw when I went to a friend’s home during college. Lisa Marcucci was from an Italian family outside of Pittsburgh. In her family’s kitchen, there was a long rectangular table with a chair at either end. On the long sides of the table were open -backed benches. I remember thinking it looked a little uncomfortable not to have a back to lean on. Then I remembered that Lisa was a twin, and six more of her siblings were twins and there were some singles mixed in there, as well. When we sat down to eat it was clear how helpful those benches were as younger ones were sentenced to the end so they could hop up and get anything that was needed and older ones stepped over and out of the bench, arriving or leaving for work and sports. And there was room for me. Mrs. Marcucci said, “There’s always room for one more at this table.”
My husband’s family has an expression that always reminds me of the Marcucci table. “Sit like you have a family.” The first time I heard Gene say it, we were in church. It was a signal for people sitting in a pew to scooch on over, get closer. Quit acting as if you don’t know each other and can’t touch each other. Make room for one more.
Church ought to be a place where we sit like we have a family. Where we can sit a little closer. Where the benches or the tables accommodate whoever shows up. Church is a place where there is always room for one more.
Family, let’s be honest. Most of us, think we are the ones making room. We think of ourselves as the ones who were planted in these pews, who can decide to make way for someone new, whether we do so graciously or give someone the fish eye.
The truth is, almost all of us, are the late arrivals. Someone else had to move over and sit like they had a family so we could be in the pew, at the table, or in the pulpit.
Unless you trace your ancestry to one of the 12 tribes of Israel, somewhere back in time, there was a conversion in your clan. Your tribe, your ethnic group, your nation was grafted into the family of God.
We are people from another nation because we were welcomed by people who hadn’t expected us to be sharing a seat at the table.
How quickly we forget that we are those who are saved by grace, not by our own doing. Before too long, there we are, staking out whole sections of salvation as if it belonged to us, and building tables with just enough space for those who act like us or look like or we just like. There we are acting just like “certain people” in Luke’s gospel, using the law or scripture to keep out “all other peoples.”
When we hear about the hot potato issue of circumcision getting tossed about from hand to hand in Acts, we might remember that we are beneficiaries of how that issue was handled.
It good guidance when we find ourselves about to duck a hot potato issue landing in the pews of the current church. Tony Robinson writes “In dealing with change and conflict, we should follow Acts in paying attention to the prehistory of the conflict and carefully defining the issues or question for debate or discernment. In Acts, the next move was for the body of apostles and elders to listen to the testimony of those involved. What had Peter, Paul and Barnabas experienced? What did they perceive God to be doing? What was going on? Thus we have a deliberative body listening to the testimony of what people have seen heard and experienced. By definition, testimony is not primarily argumentation for a position. Rather it is telling what we have witnessed. It is telling our story.”
You may have noticed that there have always been hot potato issues in the Church. You may have tossed around some of them yourself – the ordination of women, LGBTQ inclusion, accessibility, the American flag in the sanctuary, gluten-free communion. And you may have noticed that there are “certain people” who make you hot under the collar or just uncomfortable and you are uncertain about including them, making way for them.
Have you talked about it? Have you talked with them? The witness of scripture says that we have to sit closer and talk as long as it takes, with those who claim the presence of Jesus. We scooch on over to them so we can sort out the issues, debate and decide, cuss and discuss, and keep on. We have to know the history behind our differences before we can find the future. And sometimes it’s as hard to know our own history as to know the history of others.
We need to listen with great attention to the stories – to tell our stories and listen to the stories of others. The stories of what God is doing in our lives, the miracles and wonders of the transforming grace of God in others – are beyond argument. They draw us closer to one another and nearer to God and make space at the table.
As Peter says, “We have no business trying to out-God God.” We are Gentiles, who by the grace of God, and the testimony of those who have gone before us and the hearing of the whole congregation have been grafted into the body of Jesus Christ. We believe that God out of sheer grace has moved to save us and include us at the table.
With gratitude as our starting place, let’s look around and have some discussion – some discussion and maybe even dissension. Let’s put the hot potato on the plate and feast on it. Let’s lean in and listen to the stories of what God is doing – just as God always intended to do. God is making all things new – even the Church.
Move on down. Sit closer. Make room for one more. Let’s sit like we have a family.