Church dinners, potlucks, covered-dish suppers: the insider knows the difference and what to expect. The insider knows about scoping out the all the dishes before beginning to load up on the ones at the front end of serving tables. They know the dangers of soggy paper plates and what happens to a jell-o salad when it gets too close to a hot three-bean casserole.
Insiders know that timing is everything. You don’t want to arrive too early for fear of being the first one at a table and having to watch others who arrive later look your way and then sit somewhere else. You don’t want to arrive too late, because not only is the food hopelessly picked over, the only seats left are next to people with whom you’d really rather not have to make small talk.
Outsiders at church dinners know none of this. They end up with jell-o juice seeping through their soggy one-ply paper plate that was too full by the time they got to the good stuff at the other end of the serving table. Table conversation is hard to come by, so they spend most of the dinner contemplating the bottom of their Styrofoam cup.
Church dinners. Whose idea were they, anyway?
It turns out that they were God’s idea. No sooner had God poured out the Holy Spirit and started the church, than the new Christians, full of the Holy Spirit, started having church dinners. And God blessed them mightily (Acts 2:42-47). Wherever the church went, the church dinner followed right behind.
The Apostle Paul tells about the nightmare of the church dinners in Antioch of Syria. Being the church, the Christians in Antioch decided to have church dinners. We know of no issues with the jell-o salad, but we know that the insiders made sure they didn’t have to sit with the outsiders. When Peter, an insider, decided to go over to the outsider table and strike up conversation, to hear their stories of the love of Jesus, the leaders of the insider group shamed him into not doing that again.
Right to his face, Paul confronted Peter and told him he was wrong, that insiders and outsiders should share the same table and listen to each other’s stories about the love of Jesus (Galatians 2:11-14).
From Antioch on, the standard for church dinners has been set. It’s not about casseroles. It is about insiders and outsiders sitting together and telling their stories about the love of Jesus.
Yes, we’re having a church dinner on Sunday. It’s right after worship in Fellowship Hall – fellowship, from the Biblical word for sharing and having all things in common. Most of us there will be church people and we know about church dinners. But we will be Presbyterians and Baptists. We will be white and black. We will be tempted to sit with the people we know best and who are most like us.
But what if Presbyterians and Baptists, blacks and whites, were brave enough to sit together and tell stories about their experiences with the love of Jesus? And maybe a little about being a Baptist or a Presbyterian. Possibly, even, about being white or black in 2016 America.
It hasn’t taken much time to see that the identity politics of the last few years lead down a dark and dangerous dead-end alley. Hash tags and hyphens have no power to overcome the ugly stain of racism and division that has been a part of our good country’s life from the very beginning. Denial is worse.
Might a church dinner begin to do what hash tags and hyphens can never do? Maybe.
On Sunday the people of First Baptist Church of Langhorne and Langhorne Presbyterian Church will worship together. My very good friend, Pastor Luke Mason, will preach. And, yes, I know, Luke preaches like a Black Baptist. When we sing “10,000 Reasons” and “In Christ Alone,” white voices and black voices will blend as one. When we come to Christ’s Table (the true church dinner), Baptist deacons and Presbyterian elders will serve the Body and the Blood given for all.
On Sunday, following worship, white Presbyterians and black Baptists (and maybe a few black Presbyterians and white Baptists) will gather in Fellowship Hall (the word fellowship has to do with sharing and having all things in common) for a church dinner.
Our church dinner just may help fulfill a dream from God’s word that tells us how good and pleasant it is when God’s people dwell together in perfect unity (Psalm 133).
Don’t worry about the jell-o or the three-bean casserole. Let’s live the dream.
See you Sunday