Thirty-five minutes into a sermon that was running a touch too long, it happened —
unplanned and unprepared for.
I turned to welcome people to the communion table, inviting them to bring their faith. Not the faith they thought they should have, or wish they had, or expect to have, but the faith they had at that moment. As I spoke, my voice started to crack.
“Look at the response to your faith,” I choked out. “See the love that is given to us all, regardless.”
I managed to make it out of the worship center and to shut the door to the office behind me before totally losing it, sobbing as an emotional wave of gratitude, sorrow, confusion and joyful knowing rolled through my body. I was overcome once again at the profound act of sacrificial love of Jesus acted out around that table.
See the love that is given to us all, regardless.
No hierarchy or privileged positions, no performance requirements or passwords needed, just faith. And even that — the faith required to approach — is itself a gift from the One who sets the table, serves us and serves as the sustenance of the meal.
Leading up to this moment, I was teaching Genesis 15:1-6, a passage centered on one of Abram’s encounters with God. The text says that Abram is fresh off a magnificent series of public testimonies to his faith in the One God. He keeps peace with his family by moving tents. He sets up an altar at Mamre, and worships. He tithes to Melchizedek and refuses the spoils of war due him for routing an enemy. By all outward appearances he seems rock solid. But when the Lord appears to reassure him, Abram backs up and unloads a wagon of doubt and arguments about why the things God promises him just ain’t gonna happen.
Exhibit A? A barren crib.
The Lord’s response is so intimate, so concrete, so dramatic that only when we sit for long periods of time with the story do we begin to really see it. Abram is alone, in his tent, looking at the empty spaces he and Sarai have longed to be filled with children. The Lord does not chastise Abram, doesn’t instruct him to just “have more faith,” doesn’t explain how or when it will happen. Instead, He takes Abram outside — and I find it extremely interesting that He takes him without asking him to step outside or to follow — and tells him to gaze at the stars. This is such a gentle scene, such a perfect response to the questions, doubts, fatigues and fears. He doesn’t try to convince Abram by reason, but instead gives something concrete for Abram to fix his imagination on, to “show” him what will happen.
I think that’s what happened to me as I turned and looked at the table. There it was in wood and metal, juice and cracker: what had happened, what was happening still and what would happen. In spite of my own questions, doubts, fatigues and fears, here was something concrete that spoke to my imagination in a way arguments and exegesis never can.
And I was undone.
John Ray is a missionary, spiritual director and the elder responsible for teaching at Grace Church of NWA. John and his wife Jane spend way too much time packing and unpacking, vacuuming dog hair and chasing raccoons off their porch. They much prefer sharing good food and good coffee with friends, reading and trying to keep up with their daughters.