Building a Bigger Table

Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Building a Bigger Table

5 mins

Mark 14:1-9

It was two days before the Passover and the festival of Unleavened Bread. The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to arrest Jesus[a] by stealth and kill him; 2 for they said, “Not during the festival, or there may be a riot among the people.”  3 While he was at Bethany in the house of Simon the leper,[b] as he sat at the table, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very costly ointment of nard, and she broke open)the jar and poured the ointment on his head. 4 But some were there who said to one another in anger, “Why was the ointment wasted in this way? 5 For this ointment could have been sold for more than three hundred denarii,[c] and the money given to the poor.” And they scolded her. 6 But Jesus said, “Let her alone; why do you trouble her? She has performed a good service for me. 7 For you always have the poor with you, and you can show kindness to them whenever you wish; but you will not always have me. 8 She has done what she could; she has anointed my body beforehand for its burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the good news[d] is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.”

The theme, Building a Bigger Table, grows out of synod’s ongoing focus To Do Justice and the Bible verse from Micah 6:8: What is it that the Lord requires of you? Do justice, Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God.

 2020 has been an unusual year in which we’ve learned how to live through a pandemic, learned how to be people of faith during COVID-19, experienced a financial crisis, and protests against racial injustice….many learned how to work at home, homeschool children, social distance, care for elderly loved ones without being able to see them in person… layered over all of this is an aggressively divisive political climate leading up to a presidential election in November. 

How has your church built a bigger table?

Who are the people missing from your churches today? 

Is there a place for them at the table in your congregation? 

Are there steps, obstacles, invisible walls, unwritten rules that prevent people of different abilities, race, sexual orientation, economic background from fully participating in your congregation?

How can you build a ramp, so all are welcomed at the table?

Are there rules that keep them away or are there invisible walls with invisible signs that say, 

You can come to our church if you learn our ways, sing our songs, eat our food and become just like us. We really don’t want to learn your ways, sing your songs, or eat your food. We won’t change for you.”

Is there an invisible sign next to your church sign that Welcome…White, middle class, middle age, straight people, just like those of us already here.

Is it just “understood” that this is a church for people with names like ours… Johnsons, Nelsons, Petersons, Olsons, and Andersons?

How can you build a ramp, so all are welcomed?

In the gospel reading from Mark 14, notice this, Jesus was sitting at the table in Simon the Leper’s house when the woman broke open an alabaster jar and anointed Jesus’ head with costly perfume.

This is crazy! What is Jesus thinking!! This is all culturally uncool. When this story was told in the first century in ancient Palestine, the people who heard it were shocked. Jesus sitting at the same table with a man named Simon who is or was a leper and allowing an named, unrelated woman to touch his head…violates the religious purity laws, it was all against the religious laws of the day. Good JEWS don’t do that!   Jesus breaks the rules, shatters the laws that separated people, men and women, clean and unclean. 

Look closely at this text. The woman broke it open, the Greek word is suntribo, which also means to crush , to shatter, to break apart. This is a word that connotes strength and power. 

Not only did she shatter the jar, she got noticed by the others in the room for her outrageous, lavish, generosity of pour expensive perfume on Jesus’ head. The unnamed women then witnessed 

Jesus crushing the stereotypes, breaking down the wall between men and women, shattering the idea that there was such as thing as clean and unclean people… so that there would be a place at the table for them all.

Then just a few days later, Jesus’ body was broken open for us…Jesus’ blood poured out…for us. The unnamed woman was anointing Jesus for burial.  

2000 years ago, Jesus BROKE IT OPEN!  He continues the work today through us breaking down walls in our own hearts and teaching us how to build ramps and bigger tables…. 

Love without Barriers

2000 years ago, Jesus broke it open, his life death and resurrection was all proclaiming a new way, the reign of God, the reign of love, without barrriers or walls, love without limits, love without exception.

Galatians 3:26-28 for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith…there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no male and female, for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. 

Make a bigger table, put in the leaves, gather up the extra chairs, find all the plates and silverware you have because all are welcomed at God’s table…Jews/Greeks, Jews/Romans, Male/Female, young and old, abled/disabled, children/elders, slave/free, rich/poor, black and white and brown…did I mention male and female? 

For over 400 years of Lutheran history, women were not allowed at the table as pastors.

It was only 50 years ago that the first woman was allowed to preside at communion. It was 50 years ago Nov. 20, 1970 when Elizabeth Platz was ordained in the Lutheran Church. Now there is a place at the table for women pastors. We are grateful for those who built the ramp that made it possible. 

It was 40 years ago that the first women of color, African America, Latina was ordained a Lutheran Pastor and it was 10 years ago that openly LGBTQ individuals were ordained as Lutheran pastors. 

On the one hand, today we celebrate that all are welcome at the table, no exceptions, and we gather to celebrate all those who have worked so hard for justice; to teach, challenge, and convince, change minds, change policy, change of hearts, build ramps so that all of God’s children have a place at the table. On the other hand, we acknowledge we have a long way to go to become a fully inclusive church. 

So Much to Offer

As Lutherans, we have so much to offer…we have this amazing theology of grace and forgiveness that the world is dying to hear…we have the story of Jesus…the good news about his life and death and resurrection that so many have never heard….we have hope and a faith community that means so much to us….are we willing to share it with others….?? We have the sacraments-the water of grace and the table of love that are open to all…how can your church let them know they have a place at the table?

How will we address our biases, our prejudices, our sin of racism, sexism, homophobia that intentionally or unintentional put up invisible no trespassing signs. What will WE do to accept and deal with our white privilege, fragility, superiority…how can we use it to build ramps?

What will we do to take down the invisible signs on our hearts and our churches that limit our love for our neighbor?

How will we change so all will know that they have a place at the table?

When we gather together again in assembly, we will be challenged to acknowledge that intentionally and unintentionally there have been many who have been excluded from a place at God’s Table in our churches and in our ministries. We confess the sin of the things that we’ve done and the things we’ve left UN Done. 

We will recommit ourselves to the work of Justice in every congregation in our synod and in everything we do as a synod…

If we really want to have an inclusive church, if we really want to be a church that loves without limits, we’ve got to be the one that build the ramp, and build a bigger table…

There were three steps up to the altar that kept Rodney from the table. Those who were physically able built a ramp so that we would all be on the same level. 

If we really want to have an inclusive church, one that loves without limits we will be the ones taking special classes to learn about white privilege and racism…

If we want to become a racially diverse church we are the ones that will need to take the first step to build relationships, friendships with persons of races different than our own. 

If we want to be a Reconciling in Christ church 

We are the one who will need to take the first steps and the second steps to build friends and connections with persons of the LGBTQIA+ community. 

In response to God’s great love for us in Christ Jesus we live out the greatest commandment to Love God and Love our Neighbors as Ourselves. We are God’s hands and God’s feet when we are the ones that build the ramp and build a bigger table so all are welcome. No exceptions. 

Thanks be to God, AMEN

This article was orginally reported by
Pastor Elizabeth Bier

Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.