All Are Welcome to the Table – June 2, 2019

by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens

Sam came to church on Sunday: he just walked right in and sat down. He sang the hymns, listened to the sermon, greeted other attendees, and chatted with the pastor after worship. He stayed for the potluck brunch and the after-church program and decided to make the local United Methodist Church his church home. He became a regular, sitting in the same seat each Sunday morning and was pleasant and engaged in worship. He often arrived early and asked the pastor, How can I help?” and she would give him odd jobs. When she would suggest something he often asked, “Is this someone else’s job? I don’t want to step on anyone’s toes.” He loved the church and loved being a part of the community.

After several weeks, a group of elders came to the pastor with their concerns. “What shall we do about that man?” they asked her. “Who?” she asked, not knowing that there was a problem. “The homeless man, Sam. He smells bad and many of our church members are complaining. They don’t want him here.”

After a moment to think, she asked the elders, “What should we do? Should we throw this man out? He is helpful and kind, engaged in worship and loves this community. Shall we throw him out because he is not clean?” (1)

In our scripture lesson from the gospel of John, we hear the intentions of Jesus, repeated time and again, but they seem so impossible to us that we do not hear them. Let me repeat the scripture for us to hear them once again: 

‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.’  that they may be one. This is what God wants of us, a lesson we have yet to learn. That we may be one. 

In our United Methodism 101 classes – and in our Confirmation lessons – we discussed our United Methodist beliefs and one that makes a real visible difference in the life of our church is our belief in an Open Table. 

In the United Methodist Church we have 2 sacraments: baptism and Holy Communion, and unlike other denominations and other churches in our Christian family, we believe that Holy Communion is open to us all. There is not need for special rituals to make us clean, no requirements of age or status, no prerequisites for you to join us at the table. This sacrament is open to you. And to everyone else. 

This is why you will see the children – baptized and non-baptized alike –  enter into the sanctuary during Communion to share in the bread and juice. This is why you may see new people  – who do not have a relationship with the church – come and partake in the sacrament. Jesus offers this meal to all of us, clean and unclean, rich and poor, those who are faithful and those who are sinners and everyone in between.

As he was developing this movement we now call Methodism, John Wesley, our founder, addressed a myriad of questions and problems and challenges from those around him who were threatened by his new ideas about how to respond to God’s grace. Some of his followers declined Holy Communion because they were convinced of their unworthiness.

“I am not worthy.” They would say.

He said, “Have Communion anyway.”

“I haven’t had time to prepare my heart.” They would say.

He said, “Have Communion anyway.”

“I am unclean.” They would said.

He said, “Have Communion anyway.”

In his sermon entitled, “The Duty of Constant Communion,” Wesley answers some common objections to those who believed the Lord’s Supper could be celebrated too frequently and by those who were not prepared for it. 

In it he writes, “God offers you one of the greatest mercies on this side heaven, and commands you to accept it. Why do not you accept this mercy, in obedience to his command? You say, “I am unworthy to receive it.” And what then? You are unworthy to receive any mercy from God. But is that a reason for refusing all mercy? God offers you a pardon for all your sins. You are unworthy of it, it is sure, and he knows it; but since he is pleased to offer it nevertheless, will not you accept of it? He offers to deliver your soul from death: You are unworthy to live; but will you therefore refuse life? He offers to endue your soul with new strength; because you are unworthy of it, will you deny to take it? What can God himself do for us farther, if we refuse his mercy because we are unworthy of it?” (2)

We are all unworthy of God’s grace…. But do we refuse to accept it? We are all unclean in some way , we are all sinners. And that’s why we NEED God’s grace. That’s why we need to be in the presence of God, not denied from his communion. 

As for Sam, he was not clean – he smelled, but was that a reason for the elders of the local UMC to force him out? With the leadership of their pastor they addressed the problem in a new way: they had a church bathroom with a shower, so some of the Trustees fashioned a curtain rod to make the shower more private and they stocked the area with everything needed for a good shower: shampoo and soap, razor blades and shaving cream. And because Sam arrived early each Sunday, they established a time that Sam would use the shower. “From 8:00-9:00, this is Sam’s bathroom.” 

Furthermore, the church ran a thrift store, so some of the ladies shopped in the thrift store for clothes for Sam – shirts, pants, shoes, anything he needed – and set up a closet near the shower for Sam. When the pastor showed Sam what the church had done for him, he was moved. “Why would you do this for me?” he asked. “You are a part of our family, Sam. And we love you.”

We all are a part of God’s family – the clean and the unclean, the worthy and the unworthy, those who follow the rules and those who don’t. God offers each of us a place at the table. Who are we to say, “No, thank you.” Who are we to deny someone else a chance to know the Living God. 

May we, who have been blessed by the love of God, invite others – clean and unclean – to share in the glory of the Living God, the Bread from Heaven, the Bread of Life. And may Jesus show us the ways we can work in our community to share God’s grace with a hurting world. Amen.

  1. Rev. Olivia Latu, recounting a story from Honoka’a UMC
  2. John Wesley, “The Duty of Constant Communion” found on