Today we met with our simple church family (with an extra couple as guests). We shared a great lunch together, the kids had a teaching and craft time of their own while we visited, and then while they ran off to play together, we discussed the values that we as a group hold, the ones that we use as touchstones or milestones to keep us on track and mark the journey. Everyone had one or more thoughts to contribute, and discussion ensued on pretty much all of them.
You can see how making space for all of this meant that today we were together for 6 hours, a little longer than the average church meeting! Actually, 4 hours is probably a minimum meeting time for our group, but we only meet fortnightly. This leaves room for more extended discussions as well as ample visiting together… one of the values that we do seem to hold and express is that of sharing our lives together. By not holding meetings that we swoop into, rush through, and swoop away from, we make a kind of intentionally-created space within which our lives are shared. This, coupled with the fact we’re always meeting in homes with food involved means that there’s always an element of “table.” I love the image of table as a place to share lives as well as share food. It’s also a place to share communion, so there’s an aspect of spiritual family as well as natural community. I’ve said before that life happens “between the lines” and this is one manner of ensuring that our own spaces “between the lines” intersect with one another. Today, of course, this was obvious with the pot-luck meal and kids all running about (normally the kids are absent from our gatherings), which gave it that kind of family/community feel that we’ve come to value and which was commented upon in the discussion of values.
So we were talking about values. There were many great ones, but one that sticks is a corollary to the family/community value just mentioned… it’s the value of being a welcoming community, a place where friends and guests can be brought in and welcomed, regardless of their present location in their own spiritual journey. This is of course something we would love as a gathering or as a community to be welcoming to others. We didn’t start out this way… at first we weren’t really welcoming outsiders, mainly because we didn’t know what we were welcoming them to. We’ve given up on the question, let others label it (and they have, Arlen says we’re a church), we’re just “doin’ our thing” together.
There’s a lovely custom in some cultures where an extra place is set at the table. Sometimes this is done at special meals only, or it may be a regular thing but the thinking behind it is always the same, it’s for the uninvited guest, the wayfarer or stranger who happens by at mealtime and is invited in. In a way, it’s a sort of statement that there’s no such thing as an uninvited guest… a place at the table is always held for such occasions, and any who wish to fill it are welcome there. This, I feel, is an excellent value for any gathering such as ours there’s no such thing as an uninvited guest; all are welcome…. and those who come may be prepared to be engagedin the sharing of lives together, to find a home in the space between the lines where life happens. The actual act of setting a table is a sign of hospitality offered, but to offer this deeply means to open your heart, to keep space available for those who may need it. Perhaps this is the image behind Revelation 3:20, where Jesus wishes to enter and dine, to share table fellowship. Perhaps as Abraham found, entertaining strangers and showing them hospitality is like entertaining Jesus himself. Or at the very least, angels… as the letter to the Hebrews urges, “Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” (We talked about brother love today as well).
As “Missional Chickie” observed today, Psalm 68:6a (NIV) says “God sets the lonely in families.” In the same context, God is called “a Father to the fatherless, a defender of widows.” These are not small matters to the lonely, the fatherless, and the widows… and in this manner then, we can act as God’s welcoming family, participate in the love he wishes to show and the family he wishes to have for himself. In this exchange, we sometimes find that in making room for the lonely to have a place to call home, we ourselves are touched… and we may just discover that it was we ourselves who were lonely all along, but no longer.
It’s a God-thing, a Jesus-value. Set the extra place at the table, and keep some open space in your heart… this is yet another way to “Live your faith. Share your life.”