It is really exciting to me to preach on World Communion Sunday. Communion is one of the main reasons I am pursuing ordained ministry. I have stories about being excluded from Communion because I am a lesbian, stories about being shut out from philosophical conversations because of my faith tradition, and even more stories about being excluded from meal times because I have an autoimmune disease that painfully restricts my diet. Each of these stories hurt deeply but each of with has strengthened my faith in a God who I deeply believe wants all children fed – physically, spiritually, metaphorically. I can sense the Church changing drastically, despite the establishment panicking and desperately trying to hold onto a model that is comfortable at best, but often uninspiring and, sometimes, alienating. Many millennials see the Church as hypocritical, as preaching good news which cannot possibly be true if you just take one second to look through the stained glass into the world outside. We face crushing debt from institutions that promised us A Future and delivered only anxiety and our parents’ basements. We were taught that Dr. Martin Luther King ended racism and that to acknowledge race was perpetuating racism, but now we see Black children being murdered by police who get away with it. We were taught that women no longer were limited to being teachers and secretaries, but we see that even when women DO get paid the same amount for the same jobs, they are often not hired for those jobs in the first place. And we see the way the Church overall digs its heels in to maintain the status quo. To quote an independent Internet musical, Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, the status is not quo.
Because I sense the change in the Church which raised me, which nurtured me, which loved me, I am working on two Masters Degrees. In addition to the Masters of Divinity which I need to become ordained, I am enrolled in a program called the Masters of Public Leadership. I will take classes at the Fox School of Business at Temple which will help prepare me for ministry that looks maybe more like running a non-profit organization than like being a pastor. I know that in spite of everything I was promised as a little girl, the world is harsh to women, especially to queer women, especially to young women. In the church, it’s harder. I was raised with a female pastor so it did not occur to me until I was an adult how hard it would be to be a female pastor myself, but I have classmates who think women should subordinate to men, who think Paul’s urge to women to keep quiet was not just a sign of the times when women weren’t properly educated but a call from God for men to shut up their wives. As of 2012, in the Presbyterian Church, women make up 60% of the congregations but only 33% of the ordained teaching elders or ministers. We just feel more comfortable with men. The status is not quo. And so I am on a slightly different path.
But the reason I haven’t given up entirely on ordained ministry to work in a non-profit, even though that is likely where I will end up, is because of Communion. I know what it feels like to show up for church in a new place, alone, afraid, unstable, and be fed from the Lord’s Supper and to have peace wash over me. When I was working in Christian Education, my job required me to leave worship after the Children’s sermon and for that reason plus some others, I did not get to share in Communion from February until September. That was hard for me. The elements which point to Christ, which symbolize the community of believers we profess to be, which taste like forgiveness and acceptance, those elements are why I feel called to ordination. The Communion elements encourage us to die and to be reborn. They tell us to dismantle the systems we are too comfortable with and to feed everyone, especially when we expect to be fed by those people instead. The Communion elements demand that instead of building higher walls, we build longer tables. The status is not quo – and whenever we partake of Communion we remember Jesus and the work he did to fix that.
In the passage I just read from Luke, Jesus comments sarcastically on the status quo. “For real?!” he seems to say. “You honestly think that I can just, like, give you bigger faith? If you had any faith at all you could move the mountains. But you don’t even feed your hardworking servants before you feed yourself! You don’t even say thank you. Come. On.” When I began dating as a teenager, I was told not to judge partners by how they treated me, although that matters, but by how they treat the waiters at restaurants. Do they treat their servers with dignity – saying thank you, looking in their eyes, leaving a large tip? Or do they treat them like robots who have to “earn” their tips? When you are in a situation of social superiority, how do you treat those who are beneath you? Do you pay them enough that they can eat? Do you share your home? Or do you maintain the status quo, in which the minimum wage has not increased in seven years, and the minimum wage for people who earn tips has not increased in twenty-five years? The status is not quo.
In the Communion liturgy we are about to read, Christ makes himself the servant of his disciples. He feeds them bread and wine when they should have been served by others according to the customs of the day. In the lectionary passage, he suggests a distortion of the social order, one in which everyone is fed, even those who are below us. This is hardly the only instance in the gospels in which the followers of Jesus are encouraged to change the status quo. Instead, Jesus consistently insists on building tables for food and flipping over the tables of inequity. Jesus wants the children fed, the immigrants fed, the refugees fed, the servants fed. Jesus wants healthcare for everyone. The status is not quo, and if it is our job to sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land, it is our job to make sure we are building tables instead of walls.
The hymn I chose to follow the sermon, and after which I titled this sermon, “Welcome Table” is one of my favorites. We sang it at the General Assembly in 2010, when I and a group of people from around the country were lobbying the commissioners to vote on more inclusive language in the Book of Order concerning lesbian, gay, and bisexual clergy and staff. “I’m gonna sit at the welcome table, one of these days, hallelujah” we sang. I do now sit at the Welcome Table, insofar as I can get ordained in my preferred denomination as an out lesbian. God willing, I will continue on the path I’m on, and soon I will be able to not only sit at the Welcome Table but serve at the Welcome Table.
I have a lot of faith in the power of the Church to make the Communion Table the Welcome Table. Summit will be donating its portion of the special collection today to Heeding God’s Call, a faith-based collaboration in Philadelphia dedicated to ending gun violence. We take seriously the commandment not to commit murder and by extension to prevent murder. We cannot serve at God’s table if God’s children have died before they could eat. There are so many ways to live into the promise and challenge of Communion, so many overwhelming ways the world needs help. But I believe that communities who share together the meal of God -whether that meal is a spiritual taste as in Communion or a feast of plenty in which everyone can partake regardless of social standing – communities who feed each other can work together to change the world into the one that Jesus wants for us. The status is not quo, but when we worship together and celebrate Communion together, we are breaking it down and building something better. We just need a little bit of faith, a little bit of music, a welcome table, and each other.