- The Table
- Psalm 23
- Lyndol Loyd January 6, 2019
Joni and I were fortunate enough to have both our daughters, my parents and Joni’s parents at our house for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. One of the things we did together was to eat Christmas Dinner at the new dining room table Joni and I purchased this past year. As we gathered around that table for the first time, I began to think about how many important moments of our lives end up being spent around a table.
During my years growing up, I have more memories than I could count that are arranged around a table in a house at 209 S. Jackson Street in Wheeler, Texas, lingering over food and just talking and laughing.
My parent’s house had a galley style kitchen at that time with space for a table at the end. Our table was octagon shaped. It’s a funny thing about tables, at least in my family, we’d always sit in the same place.
Everybody had their own chair. My Dad would sit with his back to the kitchen entrance. I sat across from him with my back to the window probably so I wouldn’t get distracted by any activity taking place outside. My sister sat against the wall because she was the smallest and it was easiest for her to slide in back there. My mom sat with her back to the rest of the kitchen most likely because that was the easiest spot for access to the oven, stove top, and refrigerator.
There was also a chair in the corner just in case one of my friends or my sister’s friends would join us. At moments like that my Dad liked to pretend that he was adding up a bill and then pronounce how much the meal was going to cost our friend to which my sister and I would roll our eyes.
Even though my sister and I were very involved in school activities and sports and my parents owned a variety store that they operated, family dinner time around the table was a constant in my life. It was a time for conversation, process the events of the day, and to connect with each other.
On Sunday mornings, the table was full of pancakes before my family headed off to Sunday School and church. Sunday lunch was most likely a roast, carrots, and potatoes – a meal I quickly tired of as a child and eventually craved once I was a college student.
I was thinking this week about words from a great thinker and writer, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a wonderful little book, Life Together, where he talks about Christian table fellowship. I thought, “How many of us need these words?”
Bonhoeffer wrote, “[People] should not eat the bread of sorrows; rather, [the Bible says] ‘eat thy bread with joy.’ God cannot endure that unfestive, mirthless attitude of ours in which we eat our bread in sorrow, with pretentious, busy haste…or even with shame. Through our daily meals [God] is calling us to rejoice, to keep holiday in the midst of our working day.”
Lest you think Bonhoeffer didn’t have anything to worry about when he wrote these words he was leading an underground seminary in Nazi Germany being persecuted by the people who would eventually kill him. He said, “Eat your bread with joy.”
The table I’m seated at this morning actually belonged to my grandmother. Joni and I inherited it at a time when we were no longer living in a furnished parsonage and didn’t own any furniture. It must have had three or four coats of paint on it when we received it. I stripped it down and refinished it, but after my girl’s preschool-age usage we decided to give it a coat of paint.
When we moved to Orlando, this table ended up in our bonus room for craft projects and games and wouldn’t you know it, the paint began chipping off. Eventually, I found the motivation to refinish the top once again and repaint the base so that Joni and I use it in our breakfast nook today.
Interestingly enough when the girls are home each of us has our own place that we sit at, just like when I was growing up.
We never voted on this. There was no seating chart. Nobody made assignments. Some deep human instinct in the soul tells us, “We need to have a place at the table.” I want to have my chair. I want everybody in my family to have their chair, and I like it when their chairs are filled.
In the midst of thinking about the tables of our lives I’ve begun to realize how quickly our tables appear and then recede and it raised a question for me and one I think that might be important to you as well, “Are you getting enough time around the table with the people who you love?” I hope you are.
The Bible has quite a lot to say about tables. In Israel’s history, they put together a tent to show this odd, nomadic people God wanted to be with His people.
It had hardly any furniture in it at all (this tent), but it did have a table. The Book of Exodus gives explicit instructions on how this table was to be constructed. It was so prized it was to be overlaid with gold. It was tiny, just about 3 feet by 1-1/2 feet by about 2 feet high, and there was a pitcher on it where they could put wine and a special kind of bread. God said, “Put the bread of the Presence on this table to be before me at all times.”
Does anybody here like the smell of fresh-baked bread? There’s nothing like that. My Aunt Elaine is a fabulous cook, and by far the best thing she makes is her homemade bread. I was fortunate enough to have some of it last week and it melts in your mouth.
In the Bible, this bread is called a wonderful name. The old King James translation calls it “shewbread” or the bread of the Presence, the bread to show, “God is here. You’re not alone.”
In the book of Leviticus, we’re told there were to be twelve loaves of this bread on the table, and anybody in Israel would know immediately what that meant. That meant there was a loaf of bread for every single tribe.
“There’s plenty for everybody,” was what He was saying. “There’s a place at the table for you.” They say the sense of smell evokes more memories than any other of our senses, God was saying, “I want that aroma in my house all the time, so every time you come in you’ll know there’s a place here for you. I want you at my table.”
There’s a poignant table theme to the life of David. When David was young, strong, handsome, successful, warrior, and popular, old King Saul was envious of him, and Saul did a terrible thing. He tried to use the table, which is supposed to be a place of love and fellowship, as a way to destroy David.
He invited him to come and sit at his table. To sit at the king’s table was a big deal, but Saul was going to kill David. David got tipped off and stayed away. David’s best friend, Jonathan, who was Saul’s son, found out what his dad was trying to do, to kill David, Jonathan got up and left his father’s table.
To leave the king’s table was a serious, serious act during table fellowship.
That was a way of Jonathan saying his primary loyalty belonged to his friend David. Years later, when Saul was dead and gone, and Jonathan was dead and gone, David asked if there were any of their descendants still alive so he could love them. There was one, a young boy, a young, crippled boy, named Mephibosheth.
David tracked him down and said to him, “I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather…and you will always eat at my table.”
To eat at the king’s table meant to live under the king’s protection and to be treated like a member of the king’s family. Mephibosheth was terrified by this. Remember his grandfather had used the table to try to kill David, so of course, he’s afraid the same thing might be going on.
He says this poignant statement to David, “What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me? My grandfather tried to kill you. People could think I was an heir to your throne. I’m the warrior.”
David said, “No I want you at my table.” He’s so committed to this action that four separate times in this little passage, four times, we’re told, “So Mephibosheth ate at David’s table like one of the king’s sons.” You can tell a lot about a person’s heart by who they make a place for at their table.
This story makes me think about the 23rd Psalm.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul;
He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
Eating is a funny thing. Appetite is a funny thing, the way it comes and goes. There are certain times you can’t eat. If you’re anxious, you’re not very hungry. If you’re afraid or you’re worried, or you’re really mad, you can’t eat.
“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” This is an amazing and wonderful statement. Our Good Shepherd is so good He brings so much peace that, even in the presence of my enemies, even in the valley of the shadow of death, I can sit down at His table and be at peace and eat.
You can tell a lot about a person by who sits at their table. Jesus was constantly getting in trouble for this. In His culture, to sit at the table with somebody was to extend to that person acceptance, love, protection, and friendship.
One scholar puts it this way, “The shared table is the shared life.” Jesus did this with the strangest people, and he got hammered for it by religious leaders. The Pharisees asked His disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Another time they said about Jesus, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
He got in a lot of trouble about the table, and he never apologized for this. He would never stop. In fact, in that same chapter in the Bible (Luke 15) Jesus tells a story about a table.
This particular table had three chairs: one for a dad and one for each of his two sons. The boys were very different. One day, the younger boy says, “I don’t want to sit at your table anymore. I want whatever would be coming to me after you die, old man, but I want it now.” He gets up from his chair, and he leaves his father’s table. Every day the old man sits at the table, and every day he looks at that empty chair and thinks about his boy.
Some of you know the pain of an empty chair around your table, and maybe it’s because of an estrangement, a runaway, a separation, or a loss. It’s a strange thing. Even the father in Jesus’ story, even Jesus’ Father, can only wait and suffer and love. It’s a funny thing about a table.
One day, his boy comes home, and the father is so excited he kills the fatted calf and puts his best clothes and ring on the boy.
He has his best food on the table, but now the older boy gets up. Now he leaves the table, and he’s judgmental and bitter and self-righteous because he knows who deserves to sit at the table and who doesn’t deserve to sit at the table, and he deserves it, and that other brother doesn’t deserve it. If that brother is going to be there, he’s not going to be there.
When the story ends, the old man is outside talking to the older brother. “Why don’t you come on inside?” Because the father suffers over every empty chair, and it’s not about deserving. It’s just about love.
When I think about love, I think about a table. I hope you get the table right. I hope you don’t hurry through your life with so many things to do, so many jobs to accomplish, so many prizes to win, so much money to accumulate, that you don’t just sit around the table sometimes like real, simple people do, and talk and laugh and love.
I hope you enter into deep community around the table so when the crisis comes (and guys, I’ll tell you, the crisis will come) you have brothers and sisters who will come and linger with you around the table, because sometimes I’ll see people who wait until the crisis comes and then it’s too late.
I hope you are meeting and praying for and loving people who are far from God. I hope when you see people and your first instinct might be they act wrong, or they dress wrong, or they talk wrong, you’ll remember the father and his table and his pain over the empty chair.
I hope you remember, eventually, it was sitting at too many tables with too many of the wrong kinds of people that was the sort of behavior that got Jesus killed, but He just couldn’t stop.
On His final night on earth, Jesus sat down at one last table. He was with His disciples. They had sat with Him at so many tables before and had seen Him sit with so many surprising people, but now it was just them. That table, too, had bread, the bread of His Presence, enough bread for twelve people. That table, too, had wine.
It was the last time He would sit at a table, but it was the first time that table, the Lord’s Table, would be available to human beings. Now 2,000 years later here we are at the Table. We don’t deserve to be at this Table. It’s not about deserving; it’s just about love. It’s about a cross. It’s about grace. He still sits at His table, and there is a place for you. When I think about love, I think about a table.
Heavenly Father, we think now about all the tables of our lives, how when we first arrived on this earth we were welcomed to a table we had done nothing to deserve. God, you know everybody’s heart in this room right now. People who come with gratitude and joy and people who come with heaviness and sorrow. Now we all come to your Table like little children, like brothers and sisters, and we remember we do not deserve to be here. We are not entitled to this. We love and adore Jesus, and we don’t want to miss this moment. We want to be with you right now, so we ask Father, would you meet everyone at this Table? In Jesus’ name, Amen.