FROM TIM DOERING
Table Manners, Part 4
God seems very fond of tables. He really likes family/community meals, which of course is what the table represents. In the Old Testament, the LORD essentially builds the calendar of His people around the feasts. Jesus may have made an early career around building tables with Joseph. The gospels reveal Jesus spending a lot of time around tables, food and feasts. He gets labeled as a drunk and glutton (foodie?). We see him providing wine at the wedding; feeding 5,000 (Jews) and 4,000 (mixed crowd) when their stomachs were rumbling; confronting Simon the Pharisee for his lack of common courtesy and commending the sinful woman for her generosity of spirit; He’s a regular at Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ home in Bethany and where he seems more concerned with the conversation than the meal.
How did Jesus approach tables? Reading the gospels gives some clear insights into his manners:
He was clearly assertive in pursuing dinner plans.
He didn’t mind inviting himself over.
He cared for the needs of those at the table.
He pitched in with provision.
He seemed to make a point to eat with unlikable or culturally acceptable folks. He gains a reputation for eating with tax-collectors and sinners.
He wasn’t afraid of wasting time at the table or money being spent for the occasion.
Vulnerability, emotion, confrontation, & prayer were regular parts of the meal for Jesus.
While we may be able to imagine him asking some conversation starters and sitting back and smiling while the disciples flowed around the table with whatever was on their mind… He clearly seized moments. The table seemed to provide an opportunity to process things. He was waiting with intentional conversation. Sometimes the moments seem to present themselves. Other times he seems to create them. But he saw the physical, social and spiritual parts of the meal weaving together and he stayed present in each area.
Take a minute to reflect on each of these principles
in your own approach to the table.
Think also of our aim in this series
of our manners at the regional church table.
How do these apply
to our inter-congregational relationships.
When our ministries and our walks with the Lord are no longer characterized by shared tables it should be a red flag. Desks are not mentioned in Jesus’ ministry. Tables are. Something about the table humanizes us and keeps the “religious stuff” grounded.
For 1500 years the table was at the center of Christian worship and at the center of church buildings in the form of an “altar table.” As Christianity grew as a world religion, the table trended toward religious ritual separated from relational reality. It often became a commodity offered to the scared or self-righteous, and a weapon in the hands of the powerful. But the table was meant to be a gift from God, an invitation to remember his presence, an opportunity for consistent reconciliation with God and one another.
Over the last 500 years the center of Christian worship has gradually shifted from the table toward the pulpit. Powerful preaching and teaching are vital components of the life of the Church, but power can also be destructive when not used according to its purpose. Preaching should always lead us to the table. Otherwise it unintentionally leads us toward independent self-improvement for God, rather than humble confession and reception of grace from God that leads to grace and love for one another. Like the altar table, preaching can also become a religious ritual; a commodity offered to the scared or self-righteous; weapons in the hands of the powerful.
What Jesus is really looking for is table conversation: “I have wanted so much to eat this Passover meal with you before I suffer” (Luke 22:15). His table is made for honest, grace-filled, truth-in-love relationship. That is made possible because of the meal. At the table our food is Christ; not deep or relevant preaching; not magic bread or wine; not a shot of spiritual ecstasy, not tools to self-improve. This invitation to this table extends to each of us who are aware of our sins and desire reconciliation with Him and one another.
Lord help us to respect the table, to stay at the table and to have honesty and openness at the table. We need the corporate ritual reminder of this family table to keep us grounded, connected and accountable.
Table Manners Tip #3- Come to the table often and keep it real.
P.S. As I write this Joshua Harris is the latest in a growing group of Christian leaders walking away from their faith or falling into tragic sin. Perhaps we will speak of this in our next article. In the meantime, please pray that the leaders we seek to serve will find the tables where accountability, honesty and vulnerability are possible. That they will stay at those tables. That God will strengthen and encourage them. That those of us working at support and connection for these leaders will be given great wisdom, compassion, strength and favor for the task. We know that there are spiritual forces bent of destroying us. We crave your prayer. Thank you.