It happens at the table. Of course, at New Song we have kind of stacked the deck. When we commissioned our communion table, we asked the artist to carve the words “You Are Accepted” on it. And it is during those moments of holy communion that I see the gravity and the grace of those words begin to unfold in people’s hearts. I have lost count of the number of times I have looked out into the sea of faces that make up my congregation and seen the tears begin to flow. Some people cry quietly, silent tears streaming down their faces. Some choke on their sobs and double over from the weight of it. And some cry without the benefit of tears. They have already shed too many. The well is dry. But I can see the crying flow out of them like ghosts as the haunting of all that has been done unto them in the past begins to leave them.
At the table, the gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgendered brothers and sisters who bless us with their presence begin to realize their rightful place within the beloved community of God. For we celebrate an open table, one in which every person is not only welcome but…well, accepted. And that kind of radical of acceptance of who we are touches something deep inside of us that for most of us is closely guarded under lock and key. For there we have tucked away all of those things that have been said to and about us: you are not good enough, thin enough, man enough, rich enough, talented enough, straight enough, young enough, white enough, godly enough (whatever THAT means?!) There is no word limit on that little melodrama we star in. But there are other words, too–the defiant words that hiss back “Yes, I am!” We dare not utter these out loud lest we be found lacking in humility. But something in that deep place knows it is true. God’s fingerprints are all over us, so how could we be anything but beloved?
I stand at the table with the intention of inviting. I am the one Jesus sends into the streets to call all the common folk to the banquet after the nobility have snubbed the invitation. But I am aware of the cost of admission. Yes, ostensibly it is free, open to all without reservation. But it isn’t really, is it? To come forward will cost you a few cents at least in courage. And then there will be a tax expected in service. For if you come to feast and renew at this table, you must also walk away knowing you are now equipped to invite others and care for those who cannot make it to the table under their own power. And last, but certainly not least, there is a gratuity required for dining with us. You will be asked to become a full-fledged participant in our family, extending your heart in grace to others and letting your brothers and sisters in Christ love you back just for who you are.
“The place where God calls you is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” That quote comes from Frederick Buechner and it is so true for me. There are not words to capture the gratitude I feel that God has called me to serve an Open & Affirming congregation. It is not just a plaque on the wall. It is who we are and how we live. What brings ME to tears at the table is when I see my community of faith respond to those who weep among them. No one cries alone at New Song. I do not prompt them. When they see someone’s locked heart begin to open and the pain and joy begin to leak out in tears, they move with arms open ready to embrace and love without condition. That is what being Open & Affirming looks like at my church.