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“The welcome table shows the world what is possible when we live in love and not in fear. It is both our legacy and our destiny.”

Sermon preached at All Saints Church on Homecoming Sunday, September 17, 2017, by Mike Kinman.

Interested in ordering the mats woven by Syrian refugee women? Visit Thistle Farms at https://thistlefarms.org/pages/the-welcome-project.

 

Listen first, then sing.

Me: We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days (Alleluia)
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table
Gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

Everyone: We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days (Alleluia)
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table
Gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.

All God’s children gonna sit together
All God’s children gonna sit together one of these days (Alleluia)
All God’s children gonna sit together
All God’s children gonna sit together one of these days.

She came across the sea with nothing but a life vest on her back.

Her name is Suad. She was in her mid-thirties when her husband was killed by ISIS in front of her three children. Soon after, they fled their home in Syria. With nothing but brightly colored life vests on their backs they got into a tiny boat just praying that somewhere on the other side of the sea was a place where they would be welcomed and could be together. A new place they could come home. When they finally landed on a beach in Greece, they tossed the life vests aside and found their way to Ritsona refugee camp. And there they waited.

Her name is Suad.  She is our sister. Because we live together under one sky.

Suad’s eldest sons, age 19 and 16, have been in and out of camps and relocated to different countries. Now they are both in Germany. Her 13-year old son, her baby, is with her at Ritsona. They have their relocation papers for Germany but they have been waiting for eight months for a departure date.

There is a lot of waiting when you are a refugee.

Suad and her son dream of being reunited with his brothers in Germany so they can live together not just under one sky but under one roof as a family. To sit at a table and have a simple family meal that would be the most sumptuous feast not because of the food being served but because they would finally be sharing it together. They wait and hope to sit at that welcome table one of these days.

But for now, Suad and her son wait in a refugee camp on the coast of Greece. That’s where they were when Becca Stevens and some of the women from Thistle Farms met her and other women like her, and together they had a vision. Go back to that beach and gather up all those colorful life vests, tear them into strips of cloth and weave them into beautiful welcome mats.

Weave them into mats that would remind the world that none of God’s children are disposable and that all of God’s children are creations and creators of deep beauty.

Weave them into mats that people could put in front of their homes and businesses, churches, synagogues and temples as a way of saying loud and saying clear that refugees are welcome here.

Mats that could be sold with the money helping Suad and her sisters and their families start new lives. To buy and build welcome tables all over the world where all God’s children could sit together.

Mats that would remind us all, across thousands of miles, across chasms of race, class, culture and ethnicity, that we are all God’s children living under one sky.

Take those discarded life vests and weave them into mats that would be their cry to a world that is ignoring and has forgotten them that they are alive and they are beautiful and that they are waiting and waiting and waiting to sit at the welcome table one of these days.

And so, they did. And the Welcome Project was born. Suad and other women refugees in Ritsona coming together with women who have escaped violence, addiction and sexual exploitation in America to create things of great beauty and break the chains of economic slavery.

And so this past Good Friday, Becca sent me an email from the shores of Greece with a picture of what looked not so much like a welcome mat but a table runner. And Becca said “we’ve made our first mat … and it’s a little bigger than we planned. How much would All Saints Church pay for the very first mat made by Syrian refugee women? $150?” And immediately I wrote her back and said,

“No… but we’ll pay $250”

… because that’s how the economy of God’s beloved community works.

And so several months later, a package arrived, and this morning draped across this table from Syria to Greece to Nashville to Pasadena, from Suad’s hands to ours this Homecoming Sunday, is this beautiful sign of welcome. This beautiful sign of solidarity. This beautiful sign that though we are separated by culture, language, class and thousands of miles we are one – Suad and her sisters and All Saints Church – we are all God’s children under one sky.

A few minutes ago, we sang, “We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.”
This song was first sung by people who, like Suad, knew what it was like to be ripped from their homes and have no welcome anywhere. It was first sung by images of God who were kidnapped from their home in Africa and brought across the sea to have their labor tortured out of them.

Years later, it was sung by their descendants who a century after what they were told was emancipation still found no welcome in a country that continued without compensation or reparation gladly to pocket the wealth they generated.

And we sing it this morning as a judge in St. Louis has once again made it clear that in 2017 black lives still do not matter in America, that in fact they can be taken with impunity, that there is no amount of evidence of murder that is greater than the self-defense excuse of white fear.

We sing it this morning as we bar refugees from landing on our shores, as ICE conducts raids in our communities and as income inequality and gentrification put more and more people on the streets. And yet, still we sing.  We sing with conviction. We sing with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. We sing because God puts breath in our lungs and a song on our lips. In a world that seems to get less welcoming and less forgiving by the hour, we sing:

“We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days Alleluia.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table one of these days.”

Today is Homecoming, and today we sing “We’re gonna sit at the welcome table” because we believe that no matter how homeless we feel, no matter how homeless we are, somewhere there is a homecoming for us, somewhere there is a welcome for us.

But as bold as it was for those who didn’t even own themselves to dream of someday sitting at a welcome table of honor, what we do here every time we gather is even more unthinkably bold. Because we don’t just sing about it for the future, we proclaim it as a present reality.

Because today while those among us are still criminalized and marginalized, targeted and oppressed, we set up a table and have the audacity to say this is Christ’s table.

We have the audacity to say whoever you are and wherever you find yourself on your journey of faith you are welcome at this table.

We have the audacity to say that this is the welcome table … and that together we and all God’s children are gonna sit at the welcome table, we are gonna be the welcome table – not one of these days but right here, right now, today.

We have the audacity to say we are not just going to hope for that welcome table someday but that we are going all in to be that welcome table for each other and for the world right here, right now, today.

That we are going all in for those among us who are criminalized and marginalized, the targeted and the oppressed.

That we trust the Gospel of Jesus Christ tells us that when we talk about those among us who are criminalized and marginalized, targeted and oppressed we are not talking about some “them” as opposed to an insular “us” but rather there is no “them” there is only “us” … and what happens to one happens to all.

That’s we trust that is what it means to all be God’s children under one sky.

Because the truth this Homecoming morning is all of us are trying to find our way home. It looks different in each one of our lives. For some the journey is more difficult than others, but we are all fighting our own battles. Like Suad, all of us are looking for a seat at that welcome table. And like Suad, we are tired of waiting. Like Suad we have seen too many terrible things and we are tempted to live in fear. Like Suad, we are looking for a place where we are loved not as a guest in someone else’s home, not as a neighbor but as part of the family, as fellow children of our creator sitting at that table that is God’s and ours and everyone’s.
The truth is this Homecoming morning that we are all fleeing something and we are all dreaming of a better life on the other side of a stormy sea, and the truth of the welcome table, the truth of Christ is that better life lies in each other’s arms. Each of us has a life vest that we are clinging to, a vest that is everything we are and everything that has happened to us and even though we might think they are useless and ugly, they are all just waiting to be woven together into a beautiful tapestry. A beautiful covering for our welcome table that will show the rest of the world what is possible when we live in love and not in fear, when we seek not so much to hold onto our own privilege but yield to each other’s truth, when we seek restoration instead of retribution, yielding instead of domination, grace instead of consequence.

For us as All Saints Church, this welcome table is both legacy and destiny. It is who we have been in the past and who God is calling us to be in new and more powerful ways today and into the future.

For us as All Saints Church, this welcome table and this Homecoming is our pledge to God and to one another the we reject the economy of scarcity and squeezing as much labor as possible for the lowest possible cost and instead that we will love and give extravagantly and prioritize and amplify those most on the margins and in the crosshairs.

To not just to see diversity as decoration but to take the deep richness of race, class, culture and generation in here and out there and ensure everyone has an equal seat at the table, an equal chance to offer their gifts and an equal place in the beautiful tapestry that will be
created as our lives are woven together in love.

For us as All Saints Church, this welcome table and this Homecoming is our pledge to God and to one another that when others try to build walls to keep Suad and her sisters out, we will tear them down, when the world tempts us to fear Suad and her sisters, we will love them even more deeply, when the world tells Suad and her sisters that freedom and being reunited with their familys must wait, we will not rest until Suad and her sisters and every one of God’s children is set free.

For us as All Saints Church, this day and this table are our holy covenant to be and to build God’s beloved community of justice and love. And it is our deepest joy to let God sing that community into being through us.

And so sing we will.

We sing that the time of waiting is over. That the time of freedom has arrived.

We sing that the love of God in us and through us is not just a nice sounding phrase but the most powerful force for change in the universe and God’s voice is just getting warmed up.

We sing with conviction. We sing with the sure and certain hope of the resurrection. We sing because God puts the breath in our lungs and the song on our lips. In a world that seems to get less welcoming and less forgiving by the hour, we sing with many voices as one this song of the ancestors that every time we gather is fulfilled in our singing:

We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table here today (Alleluia)
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
Gonna sit at the welcome table here today.

All God’s children gonna sit together.
All God’s children gonna sit together here today (Alleluia)
All God’s children gonna sit together.
All God’s children gonna sit together here today.

We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table here today (Alleluia)
We’re gonna sit at the welcome table.
Gonna sit at the welcome table here today.

 

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