Pelham Road Baptist Church | Greenville, SC

Many Seats but One Table

“Jesus called us to be more than solitary Christians.
He asked that we be a part of His body the church.
We ask you to prayerfully rise to the challenge.
Become a part of a church where your presence makes
a difference.”

The first sentence grips us. “More than solitary Christians” got my attention. Can’t you be a Christian without being in a church? Can you be “The Lone Christian”? My first response is “Yes, you can be a solitary Christian, all it takes is a willingness to surrender your life to Christ.” We are not a group that promotes “no salvation, outside of the church.” A relationship with Jesus makes us a Christian, so I’m not sure about that first sentence.

But then I think what kind of chance does anyone have practicing the values of God’s kingdom without any support? Can you live in a foreign country by yourself with much success, when you don’t speak the language? Weren’t we told to never swim alone? There is much support for the necessity of a group.

Sure we can swim by our self, but should we? So maybe we can be solitary Christians but Jesus called us to be more, this is the point. We need each other so we are called to be together to be more.

A community, a team, a village, a family, pick your word, the point is solitary is more than lonely, it is dangerous. This is why we have a team, a church, people who walk with us through this life. Jesus called us together, we break bread together. Ironically while Jesus is broken in this meal we are unified.

Alone we are broken but together with Christ, and our brothers and sisters we are becoming whole. When we come together, really together in one spirit with one purpose unified in our Lord to share this meal
The anxious are filled with hope
The hopeless are blessed with hope
The hurting are healed
The weak are made strong
The lost find their way
The desperate are filled with faith
At the table of grace

Jesus found tables to be more than furniture. He saw tables as meeting places. One such instance happens in Simon’s home in Bethany. Jesus, some Pharisees, at least, one woman of the evening, and the disciples were gathered around a table. Of course, all of these people saw things differently, they were not uniformed. The Pharisees were a bit concerned that Jesus would allow such a woman to travel and eat with him. The disciples, of course, wondered why Jesus would even be seen with a Pharisee. One group believed the other doubted. One group had power the other powerless and yet Jesus did not segregate. Jesus used the table to bring people together, table diplomacy was the way of the Savior. Let’s not divide, let’s listen and see what happens. Table diplomacy is where all are invited and Jesus is the common denominator.
When we come to this table the invitation and the company remains the same. What unites us, remains Jesus, he is the common denominator. We do not practice uniformity, we come to this table from our own uniqueness but we all come to the table for the same reason, broken people in need of God’s touch. He calls us and we come and in coming we recognize we have one Father with many siblings.

One Sunday years ago, I was watching “Meet the Press.” I often taped it to watch later on Sunday afternoon. I don’t remember all the guest and I don’t remember much of the debate, what I do remember is the final segment. Tim Russert was the host and the final segment was usually light-hearted. On this occasion, one of the guests, Al Hunt, considered by most a left-leaning journalist, tells Tim, he and Mary Matalin (who was also a guest), a conservative consultant who was chief of staff for Dick Cheney, need to be going. The reason Al explains is “His son’s baptism, Mary is going to be the godmother.” So after an hour of debate, not only do these two political rivals go and worship together, but they are close enough to be godparents for each other’s children.

You name it and we have allowed it to separates us, politics, money, religion, and sports. The only thing that unites us is Christ the Lord who invites us to this table, “Come to the table, not because you agree, or because you are perfect, but come because the father has invited you.”

In a church our size, any one of you may know well 10 to 12 people. If you sing in the choir it could be as many as 25. These groups become our friends, we are attracted to them and they to us—this is friendship. In this group, you talk about your family, the world, and plenty of issues. Most likely those closest to you agree with you on most things, when you don’t agree with someone or have little in common you usually drift to a different sub-group. It’s natural.

While you may know these 10 to 25 people of our church family I know most of them, I should. So while you might conclude from your sample size that everybody is just like you, I know that not all of you are the same, not all of you agree, and yet here we are TOGETHER at this table. There are many seats but one table. There are many disciples but only one Lord.

In this room are people who believe God will save everyone and those who believe it is possible for people to forfeit salvation once saved. We have people who believe strongly in gun ownership and others who believe a gun culture is eroding our values. We have people who don’t think they have worshiped if they do not hold a hymnal; and others who wished we used the screen more. We have some who support and rejoiced when gay people were given the right to marry and others who are deeply troubled by that Supreme court decision. In other words, we are not the same. Yet In this very room, there’s quite enough faith for all of us. And in this very room, there’s quite enough grace for all of us. And there’s quite enough joy and quite enough power to chase away any gloom. For God’s joy and God’s grace are in this very room. And in this very room there is a seat for all of us.

Yet what have, and who we are is a mere reflection of who sat around the original communion table. Imagine with me the table, the Jesus table in the Upper room. Here sits Matthew; a Jewish man who loves his family so much he would do anything to put bread on the table. Times were so tough and jobs were so hard to find he went to work for the Romans as a tax collector. Of course, the other Hebrews considered him a sale out. He became known as “Matthew the tax collector.” He was considered a traitor, a carpetbagger to us from the south and all he was doing was trying to feed his family. And, here sits Simon. Not the one known as Peter, but a Simon nonetheless. Simon was a Hebrew of the Hebrews; he was a patriot a true believer in Moses, the Law, and the Temple. He despised all things Roman. Especially Hebrew’s who traded their heritage for the Roman coin. The traitors he believed would have a special place in Sheol. He was willing to give his life in battle for what he believed. If there was a Roman protest he was there. He longed for the day when the Romans would be overthrown and the Hebrews reign again in Jerusalem. Because of his radical opinions they called him “Simon the Zealot.” In part to distinguish between him and Peter, but in part because he was a firebrand. But here sits Simon the Zealot by his brother Matthew the Roman Tax Collector.

Over here we have Peter. A laborer, fishermen. His days were long and his life was hard. Repairing the boat, mending nets, and selling his catch. Rugged and independent he was a man Charlie Daniels and Hank Williams Jr would appreciate. A country boy can survive, no silver spoon for Peter, no debutants, just long hours and low wages. Sitting here is John. John and his brother James were also fishermen, but unlike Peter, they were not just fishermen. When Jesus called John he left his boat but he also left his servants. John was a man of wealth. His days started on the shore making sure each boat had nets but his day wasn’t spent in the sun. He drank coffee and sought buyers for his catch. Each day the boats returned and John settled up with his employees and he took his cut and returned home. It was still work, it was still stinky, but John’s life was a dream not a chore. Here they sit, John and his silver spoon, and Peter with his wooden one brought together not by fishing but by a fisherman.

We keep trying to make a homogenized world but it can’t be done. People refuse to be homogenized. So how can we live in a place where we hold different opinions, vote for different candidates, practice different religions, and are afraid of different things? Uniformity is impossible— but unity is not. Unity, however, is not found easily, it is found by following Jesus, worshipping Jesus, and practicing the kindness Jesus taught. At this table we find our unity in one place—Jesus.

There are many seats but one table. In this room are Republicans and Democrats, hawks and doves, the wealthy and the struggling, the disciple and the seeker, the organized and the spontaneous, those who seemingly have it all together and those who are still trying to find it, those who sing and those who mourn, people who see the glass half full and those who see it as half empty. Yet none of those differences matter at this place. For we are brothers and sisters called together by our father. At this table of grace the size of our bank account does not matter, where we live does not matter, what we wear does not matter, at this table diversity meets Jesus and we become one in Christ. Jesus unites Simon the Zealot with Matthew the tax collector asking only that they follow HIM.

In a world breaking apart we have been entrusted with the glue to hold it together; here it is the body broken.