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Come to the Table

Mahatma Gandhi is one of the most respected leaders of modern history. When I taught any number of social studies classes or classes in World Religion, I often showed the masterful film in which Ben Kingsley portrays the great man.

We stopped often—almost scene by scene—to let students ask questions or explain things they otherwise would have missed. Inevitably this led to discussions about faith and what faith required from its observers.

Gandhi was a Hindu; nevertheless, he admired Jesus and often quoted from the Sermon on the Mount.

Once when the missionary E. Stanley Jones met with Gandhi, he asked him, “Mr. Gandhi, though you quote the words of Christ often, why is that you appear to so adamantly reject becoming his follower?”

Gandhi replied, “Oh, I don’t reject your Christ. I love your Christ. It’s just that so many of you Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

According to several sources, Gandhi’s rejection of Christianity grew out of an incident that happened when he was a young man practicing law in South Africa.

South Africa was of course segregated by its apartheid laws and practices. And while the restrictive and discriminatory laws were not supposed to apply to those from what was called the Far East and only to native born Africans, in practice anyone of color was discriminated against and sadly the church was complicit in this evil.

Alas, Gandhi had become attracted to the Christian faith, he had studied the Bible and the teachings of Jesus, and he was seriously exploring becoming a Christian. He had met several Christians, including Indian-born converts. So, Gandhi decided to attend a church service. As he came up the steps of the large church where he intended to go, a white South African elder of the church barred his way at the door. “Where do you think you’re going, kaffir?” the man asked Gandhi in a belligerent tone of voice.

Gandhi replied, “I’d like to attend worship here.”

The church elder snarled at him, “There’s no room for Kaffirs in this church. Get out of here or I’ll have my assistants throw you down the steps.”

From that moment, Gandhi said, he decided to adopt what good he found in Christianity but would never again consider becoming a Christian if it meant being part of the church.

While this is a famous (or infamous) story, there are far too many unknown stories like that in our world, even within the local community. Too many folks who profess faith in God, and even say they are Christians, haven’t been in a church in ages, because they only know a church of rejection and not of grace.

I believe these actions which divide and exclude are counter to the entire narrative I discover in the life of Jesus Christ. Jesus was constantly inviting more and more people to come to the table, and he did this not by sending others away but by demanding we build bigger tables to make room for them.

When I was a kid, we always knew it was going to be a big event when mom added the leaves to make the dining room table bigger. That is what the church should have to do every week—bring out the table leaves.

Of course, the bigger leaves didn’t come out unless there were lots of folks invited. And there are so many folks who are longing for God and just need an invitation. Did you know Walker County has 68,000 residents? And from what I have seen, most of those folks are not in a church on Sunday. They are waiting for an invitation. They are waiting to hear that they are welcome…that we are a community of folks just like them. Folks who struggle and are anything but perfect. Folks who come together to share words of grace and not judgement.

I think the lyrics from the Contemporary Christian band Sidewalk Prophets gives us a start to our invitation.

Come meet this motley crew of misfits These liars and these thieves There's no one unwelcome here, no So that sin and shame that you brought with you You can leave it at the door And let mercy draw you near

Of course, the truth is most folks will need to be invited many times. Some will need a ride. Some will need to be enticed with lunch after worship. Of course, some will never come, but it doesn’t mean we stop asking. Our call is not to be successful but to be faithful.

And yes, for some we will have the hard task of convincing them that Christians can indeed be like Christ, in spite of what they may have heard or even experienced.

Let us all keep inviting others to Come to the Table. (link to song/video)

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