8/29/04, P13C

“Fellowship Dinner in the Fellowship Hall”
Luke 14: 1; 7-14

t has often been said that the Church is either “one body” or it is “nobody.” Our United Methodist Church logo has, since our last merger in 1968, reminded us of many different flames of fire coming together around the one Cross of Christ. It has become the most recognizable denominational emblem in our nation, and we try to live up to its marvelous meaning and message. At least in name, we are a United Methodist Church.

     Fellowship Dinners have played a big part in this unity. When we get together to eat, more is going on than just eating a meal; the Spirit is working His plan of bringing us together around the Cross.

My earliest remembrance of a covered dish dinner is from the long picnic tables that ran together in two long lines out beside of my Daddy's church near Lincolnton, N.C., the same town, by the way, where they still claim that Abraham Lincoln was really born. Anyway, I was back up there last year and could tell the old-timers where they used to set up the tables, and they said I had it right. I was three years old and can recall the camaraderie and love I felt from that wonderful experience. I hope our little children can still feel that same kind of belonging and church unity as we eat together today. 

During this Campmeeting month of informal worship and on this last Sunday in August we celebrate our church's decision to move to this current site in 1904, 100 years ago. We can feel historically confident in celebrating with a “Church Wide Fellowship Dinner on the Grounds,” that we are reenacting a tradition that has been repeated thousands of times at this current site. However, in modern times, we have our “eating meetings” in the air-conditioned Fellowship Hall. Some brave souls might venture outside into the August heat to eat, but most will not stay outside long. We are repeating what our foreparents have done from our initial founding as a church in rural Carroll County 174 years ago. Many of you were reared in this cherished Sanctuary and remember many wonderful experiences that you have enjoyed with your best friends over your lifetime. The fact is that the Spirit has used common shared experiences throughout Christian history as a tool for establishing mutual love in Christ.

You have a lot to be grateful for if you have memories from this church where you were christened, confirmed and married. There are many traditions from your years here, some good ones, but some comical.

On my second Sunday here I noticed the row of metal folding chairs lined up along the back wall of this newly remodeled Sanctuary. My first impression was to move them, but I was quickly told that some grown ups like to sit along that wall like they did when they were teen agers in this beloved place. If some new preacher were to move those sacred chairs, you would move them back. You are reliving a happy part of your past. History is especially wonderful when it comes alive in ordinary things.

Familiarity creates unity because it breaks down barriers. Our usual table manners are set aside as we eat off of a paper plate with plastic utensils. As Queen Elizabeth has said, “There is no queenly way to eat;” thus, she will not allow anyone to photograph her eating. However, I have inside information from the Bishop to the Royal Family, who was a guest preacher for me once, that when the royal family eats together around a big dinner they act as one typical family who love one other, and they do not try to eat in a royal manner.

You might make a new friend around the table today as you get to know a new person. Strangers in church already have Christ's fellowship in common.

By coincidence, the Gospel Lection for this Sunday, from the Revised Common Lectionary selections, involves Jesus being invited to a Big Sabbath Dinner with the Pharisees? However, their goal was not to build oneness and respect, but to entrap Him.

“On one occasion when Jesus was going to a house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely.” (Lk. 14:1, NRSV)  Some of these Pharisees who tried to trap Jesus at the fake fellowship meal were probably perpetuators of the Passion of the Cross.

Jesus hoped that His own disciples and followers could be one community of faith. In His famous, “ecumenical prayer,” in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night that He was betrayed, He asked, “…that they might all be as one.” (Jn. 17:21)  Paul repeatedly encouraged the early churches to be one in the Spirit. (Eph. 4:3)

What the Pharisees were really upset about was that Jesus pointed out their hypocrisy by vying against each other to sit at the head of the table. You see, they were not even together in their treachery. Jesus even suggested that they should invite the poor, the crippled, the lame and blind to their banquets.  “And you will be blessed because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (14) Jesus was saying that they, the Pharisees, were not righteous.  They did not know that He was on the way to the Cross, which was his fate: The reason that He was born.

And are we righteous? Yes we are! But it is not because we are outwardly pure and good: But, because we are made as righteous by the Cross and the redemption of Jesus' blood. Jesus Justifies us Just-As-If we were just. He changes our minds about things. We were worldly minded, but now, through new spiritual eyes, we see life in a deeper and more spiritual light. And because God has forgiven us, we can freely forgive others and live in Glory forever, and that's longer that a 100 years, or even 174 years.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
8/29/04, P13C