It’s a warm spring evening, the kids are playing outside. The smell of burgers on the grill fills the air. Ice crackles as cold drinks are filled and placed on the table. You call the family to the table. A once quiet kitchen is filled with the voices and the sounds of chairs scraping the floor and silverware clanking. Grace is offered and conversation starts. You begin to hear stories of recess and math and friends. Laughter abounds as you are graced with the newest jokes from the playground. And then it happens. Somebody says something in the wrong tone. Somebody rolls their eyes. Misunderstandings lead to harsh words. Chairs are hastily pushed back and people walk away. A once idyllic meal quickly dissolves into anger and an empty table.
Does this sound familiar? Maybe that was last night for you. Or maybe it wasn’t the dinner table. Maybe it was a conversation with your spouse, an extended family gathering, a staff meeting, a PTA meeting, or a church group. We all live in community with others. Community can be beautiful and life-giving. And it also can be filled with disagreements and hurt-feelings. Sometimes situations are hard and things don’t turn out quite the way we planned. Sometimes we feel burned out and like we’re not making a difference. Sometimes walking away from the table seems like the only option.
Through Jesus, we see another way. Remember that time Jesus was sitting at the table with the twelve disciples? At the Last Supper, Jesus was going to announce something huge, something earth- shattering. He was about to offer his body to death on the cross for the forgiveness of sins for all time. What did the disciples do? They argued about who is the greatest among them. They denied their capacity for betrayal and obsessed over power struggles. Jesus could have walked away from the table. We would have. But Jesus was motivated by something more important than the squabbles of his friends. He was motivated by his deep, unending, gracious love not only for his disciples, but for all humanity. Jesus stayed at the table so he could complete his work of grace on the cross.
Jesus promises us that he will complete the good work that he started in us too. Sometimes that means having endurance and staying at the table with an attitude of humility and love. Staying at the table allows space for trust to build, miscommunications to be cleared up, and healing to take place. God doesn’t keep as at every table. There are some tables that are right and wise to leave, but God asks us to come to him for wisdom and discernment before we walk away. We never know what God can do, what obstacles he can overcome, if we choose to stay at the table!
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4