The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.Psalm 23
Part of what I like to do as a minister, is to find something that’s part of our everyday lives, and show us how it has a connection to God. There are things all around us, every day, things we don’t often think about, that are so full of meaning. We take them for granted.
But if we stop and notice them, part of God’s kingdom can be made clearer. God is more present, God is closer, God is more real, than we realized before.
Jesus used to do this a lot. Jesus liked to talk about everyday things, that everyone knows, and he would show us how God’s kingdom is reflected in them. Jesus would use the most ordinary things – a seed, a lost coin, a field of ripening grain – and use it to help people understand how close God’s kingdom is to us.
The thing I’d like us to notice today is something we take for granted – a table. In most of our homes, the table is the center, the heart of the home. It’s the place where we pile the mail when we bring it in. It’s where we dump the groceries. If you’re at our house, the cat always tries to jump up on the table, and we always shoo it off.
But the table is the heart of the home. It’s where we gather for meals. It’s where we sit and discuss things. It’s the place we shell peas and chop vegetables, and arrange flowers, and when our kids were little, they’d sit and color at the table, or do their homework.
One of the things we always do in our family, at every meal, is to join hands and say grace together. Sometimes it’s a silent grace, a silent prayer of thanks. Sometimes it’s a traditional prayer – we have several of these traditional prayers in our family, that we learned from our parents and grandparents. And every time we pray them, we feel a connection with the generations of people who said them before us.
Sometimes we ask a guest to say the blessing. Sometimes we take turns saying grace. It was a big deal, when our kids were growing up, when the youngest child was old enough to say grace. But we always join hands and give thanks for the meal together.
The Bible mentions tables frequently. If you look up the word “table” in a concordance, a list of all the words in the Bible, you find the word “table” hundreds of times.
In today’s Scripture, in among all of the other familiar words and images, about shepherds and pastures, about paths of righteousness and the shadow of death, it mentions tables. It says that God prepares a table for us. In some translations, it says that God prepares a banquet for us, an overflowing table.
That’s an echo of the story of the manna in the desert, where God provided a meal of fresh food, every day, where there was nothing. People were starving, and God gave them food, every day, for forty years, till they found their new home.
It’s an echo of the Lord’s Prayer, where Jesus says, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It’s an echo of the time when a huge crowd came to hear Jesus, and at the end of the day they were hungry, and the only food in the whole crowd was a couple of loaves of bread and a few small fish.
And Jesus gave thanks, and blessed what there was, and shared it with everyone, and there was more than enough, with plenty left over.
It was a miracle, and everybody knew it. And they all went home that night and talked about it. It’s one of the only miracles that’s remembered in all four gospels. There was no table, not even a roof over their heads, but Jesus made a banquet for them that day, an invisible table for everyone who was there.
It was at a supper table, that Jesus had his last meal with his friends, and invited them to share the bread and wine, where he washed their feet, and prayed for them, and foretold his own death and resurrection.
And it was at another supper table, on Easter Sunday, where Jesus sat down with two of his friends, after a long day’s walk. They were afraid, because Jesus had been killed, and they thought that they might be next.
And they were confused, because they’d heard a rumor that Jesus was alive again, and they didn’t know what to make of it.
Jesus had walked beside them, all through that afternoon, and explained again why he had come, and what he had done. And they still didn’t understand, until they sat down at the table for supper with him, and he gave thanks. And suddenly, when Jesus prayed, they recognized him. And then he was gone.
And even though it was the middle of the night, they came running back to town, to tell all the others what they’d seen – that Jesus was alive again, that he sat down beside them at the supper table.
Tables are really important in the Bible!
Here at Springfield, people often tell me that they feel closest to God, not just at worship on Sunday morning, but at the meals we share. The barbecue, the fish fry, Circle meetings, our monthly fellowship meals. When we come and prepare a meal, the kitchen is the center of our meeting, and our table fellowship is the heart of our life together.
I’d like to look at a different piece of furniture in our meeting today. It’s one we see every week, and use it all the time in many ways. But somehow, we hardly ever think about it. It’s something we take for granted.
It’s a table that sits at the front of the worship room, right in front of the pulpit. We use it all the time, but we don’t realize just how important it is.
It’s an old table. No one I’ve asked has been able to tell me how old. It’s been here at Springfield for a long time, probably close to a hundred years.
It’s pretty worn and battered by all the years of use. It could probably stand to be refinished some day. It’s here, and everybody sees it, but we don’t think about it very much.
It’s a table. It holds things. It’s strong and sturdy.
We use it most of the time to hold flowers, just to brighten up the room and give it a splash of color. Here at Springfield, we usually use artificial flowers, but often people will bring special flowers – last week we had special flowers to honor Millie Simmons at her retirement, and she took the flowers home to enjoy them.
Every week, we use the table to hold our offerings. Most people, if they have a name for this table at all, would call it our offering table. We always say a prayer of thanks and dedication, each and every Sunday, when we take up our offering. We don’t take our gifts for granted. We know that we need all of our gifts, to do the work that we want our meeting to do.
This Sunday – the first Sunday of the month – we also use the table to collect our offering of food for COAT, which is one of the main missions of our meeting.
In a lot of Quaker meetings, especially in England, there won’t just be flowers on the table, but a Bible.
In some Christian churches, the table will be high up, on the platform, like an altar. The table is elevated and removed from the people. In other Christian churches, the table is on the same level as the people, or they’ll even move it into the midst of the congregation.
In many churches, every week or once a month, the table is used for communion. They bring bread and wine, or sometimes bread and grape juice, and they have a mini-meal to remember the Last Supper.
Quakers don’t usually serve communion. We feel that every meal has a connection to the Last Supper, and every time we sit down together is an opportunity for a sacrament, a holy moment when Jesus is truly present
Many churches take communion out to the sick and homebound members of the church – I wish we could do that somehow
I was really impressed, when I visited the Episcopal church where my daughter went in Florida, where they distributed communion to all the homeless people and the street people who took shelter on the porch of the church
In a lot of Quaker meetings, the table is used as the clerk’s table, at monthly meeting for business
In Jewish synagogues, they use the same table for fellowship meals and also for Bible study
Here at Springfield, during Advent, we often set up a second table, with the Advent wreath on it, and we use this table for the Nativity creche
That’s a lot for an old, battered table to carry. I think we might look differently at it from now on!
It’s the banquet table of God. It’s the offering table for our gifts. It’s the table that holds our flowers, and brings a touch of beauty to our worship.
It’s the table Jesus sits at, where we recognize him, where we welcome him, and he welcomes us. It’s a symbol for our fellowship table, and it’s also a symbol for all of our tables at home.
Quakers believe that every table – a kitchen table, a cafeteria table, a picnic table, even a lap with a sack lunch in it – is a place where Jesus can be with us again.
This is the clerk’s table, and it’s the table where we welcome Jesus, at Christmas, and where we hand out the flowers for the Flowering Cross at Easter.
Every table is an echo of this table.
And just as a reminder – Jesus was criticized, because he sat down at the table with sinners, and people who had a bad reputation. It’s not recorded that Jesus ever sent anybody away from a table where he was sitting. And maybe we shouldn’t, either.
Jesus never knew a stranger. All those people who came to supper with him that day, at the miracle supper of loaves and fishes – Jesus didn’t say anything about who deserved to eat. He just saw they were hungry and he fed them. That was enough for Jesus, and it should probably be enough for us.
Jesus didn’t ask what country they were from. He didn’t ask what party they belonged to. It says they were all different ages. Men, women and children. Didn’t matter to Jesus. Being hungry was the only reason for being there, and that was OK.
I hope you’ll all see this table differently, and remember that your own table at home is a reflection of this one.