Monday, October 25, 2010

The Jerusalem Pot Luck

In the early church the believers would regularly gather for a meal called the Agape, or Love Feast. They pooled their resources, much like today’s believers. Who has not enjoyed a pot luck dinner either at church or a friend’s home? That was the scene in the young church as it seems everyone brought his or her favorite dish to share with the gathered fellowship. Growing up a Southern Baptist, I’ve enjoyed my share of such gatherings and I’ve sampled the favorite dishes of scores of saintly cooks.

The idea of the Love Feast was to portray the togetherness of the young church. The membership at this time was made up largely of Jewish converts, but there were an increasing number of Gentiles that were coming into the fellowship through their faith in Christ.

Into the midst of this effort at togetherness crept some legalistic, narrow Jews who insisted that God’s plan was for the Jews and that Gentile believers were in some way second class citizens of the kingdom.

Even Peter and many, if not most, of the church leadership were influenced by this prejudice. Paul states that Peter was more than ready to associate and sit down at table with Gentile believers on most occasions, but that when these narrow Jews were around, Peter would separate himself from them.

Paul confronted Peter and all the others who were being hypocritical and took them to task for showing such partiality. The account is in Galatians 2:11-13.

Sadly, today many who profess to follow Christ show the same sort of partiality, although it often follows racial or socio-economic lines. Our youth and I got a lesson in our oneness in Christ on a trip several years ago. I posted this a couple of months ago, but again, here’s the story.

Some years ago we took our youth choir on a singing tour up around the Great Lakes. One of the last stops was at the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago. When we arrived we didn’t know what to expect. All we knew was that this was an African-American congregation located in what Jim Croce referred to as “the baddest part of town.”

As we stepped down from the bus we were greeted by the pastor, James Butler, a slight, 60-something gentleman, and a young man who introduced himself as Mark. I asked Mark, a rather round type with a ready smile, if he also was on staff. He explained that he was a “deacon-in-training.” Judging from his Christlike demeanor and his eagerness to help, I would say that he had already mastered the art of “deac-ing.”

After enjoying the meal the ladies of the church had prepared for us, we made our way to the sanctuary for the evening’s celebration...and what a celebration it was! Our kids sang their hearts out. And the dear saints of the New Rose of Sharon Baptist Church responded with rejoicing. And the more they rejoiced, the better our choir sang. In fact, from my vantage point at the sound board in the back of the sanctuary, I noticed that Wally, our choir leader, was getting into it also. I’m not sure that he had both feet on the floor. Dancing, for us tighty-whitey Baptists, was strictly taboo. But throwing caution to the wind, we all entered into the celebration. We were having church!

When it came time for me to conclude the service with a brief message and altar call, I felt impressed to share the account of heaven in John 14. In this passage Jesus tells his disciples that he would soon be preparing for each of his followers a room in the Father’s house. I shared my interpretation of the passage, which is that we will all be one huge heavenly family living under one roof and dining at the same banquet table.

After I had concluded the service (so I thought), Pastor Butler came forward and expressed appreciation for our choir’s presentation and announced that their choir would like to respond in an appropriate fashion. It was at this point that we began to have church. It was amazing the sound that came from this 20-voice choir, accompanied on a Hammond B3, Leslie speaker and all. They started with a mellow song about how Jesus takes our burdens. Then, after an up-tempo song about joy, they launched into “O, Happy Day,” with deacon-in-training Mark singing solo. Wow! I’d never heard it like that before. By the time they finished their last song, we thought the roof might fly off.

What a taste of heaven it was. And that’s what heaven will be: all the saints of all the ages, red and yellow, black and white, gathered round the throne singing the praises of the Lamb. And sitting down as one around the marriage feast.

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