When I think of table, an image that comes to mind is from childhood. With four brothers and two sisters, our table was always full. It had10 chairs around it so at meal times there was usually one empty seat, but not always. Often one of us would bring a friend home so the chair was filled. When needed, we could add more chairs and seat a dozen. Our home was open to others including a man from Guatemala, a family from Indonesia, and a homeless Vietnam vet who was passing through. We sponsored a family from Vietnam after Saigon fell and they lived with us for six months. Even though their religion and customs were different, and their food was definitely not Midwestern meat and potatoes, they were family. I can’t count the number of people who sat at our table. The diversity was something to marvel at. The atheist Vietnam vet, the Buddhist family from Vietnam, college students from California and Florida, and so many others I don’t remember.
I am grateful to my parents for the lessons learned. The person we didn’t know was a stranger only for a short time for once they joined us at the table, they became friends even if for just a brief moment in time. This doesn’t mean that my parents always agreed with the other person but they were still welcomed. I grew up realizing that people from Mexico, Guatemala, Vietnam, and other parts of the United States were different than we were, as well as with an awareness that their differences didn’t make them worse than us. One of my passions today is that we can see the world around us in a similar fashion to the table I grew up with where family was important and welcoming the stranger was too. For my family it was never one or the other, but both at the same time. Each time I serve communion and we share the liturgy saying that “we will feast at his heavenly banquet”, I picture a big table filled with all kinds of people and it is similar to what I grew up around. My prayer is that our society can learn to embrace that which is different instead of seeing it as a threat needing to be removed. I would also remind us that any differences we have are human-made and that at God’s table, all are welcomed. As a child, I knew I had a seat at our table. As a child of God, you also have a seat at the table with Jesus.
Rev. Jim Jones grew up in central Oklahoma and serves as the pastor at Highland Park United Methodist Church in Stillwater and is adjunct instructor at Northern Oklahoma College- Stillwater.