1 Corinthians 11-12: This Table is Open to All #30daysofPaul

Rob Bell and your humble blogger

I had the incredible opportunity to attend Rob Bell’s “Everything is Spiritual” show when it was here in Tulsa last week. I’ve been a Rob Bell for a while, ever since I read his paradigm-shifting book “Love Wins,” and his stage show is absolutely mind-blowing. If you get a chance, go. Cancel everything and go and take a notepad and just listen to him talk. It’s really mind-blowing.

The stuff he talked about fits right in with what we are experiencing here in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. Today’s chapters move us back into Paul’s overarching theme in this letter of Christian unity.

In the talk, Rob described the fundamental progress of the universe towards greater complexity, depth and unity. He spoke of how evolutionary processes have caused all living things, including humans, to defy all expectations by becoming more complex by coming together to create something bigger. Particles combine to become atoms, atoms combine to become molecules, molecules combine to become cells, cells combine to become planets and rocks and plants and animals and us.

He asked, near the end, “what is the thing we are being invited to create together?” What is that thing in the future that humans are to come together and make, that thing that may be inconceivable and unimaginable to us now, but is nevertheless real and desirable and damn near inevitable?

One of the most moving statements he made was about racism and the way it works against the progress of nature. “Racism,” he said, “defies the essential unity of the universe.” Things like racism and bigotry and hate tear us apart, instead of building community. 13.8 billion years of history show an undeniable story of progress, one that some humans work so hard to push back against.

We Christians have a long, rich history of unity, interwoven with a tendency to build walls and tear apart communities and segregate ourselves. Paul, in chapters 11 and 12, ties the essential unity of Christianity, how it is like a body made up of many parts working towards a common goal, to the practice of communion, that brings all Christians together around one table, equally valued and equally important.

Communion is at the center of the Christian tradition. The earliest Christian believers gathered not for worship services and praise bands and prayers of the people, but to share meals, to be a community gathered around the most universal of human needs, the need to be nourished and fed. Communion is at  it’s best when all are welcome, when it reflects the example of the Jesus who ate with everyone – tax collectors, prostitutes, thieves, everyone.

Too many denominations and Christians place conditions around the common table. They have requirements to join in communion, to be a part of the community gathering together. I’ve long rejected these traditions and found my home in the denominations that practice an open, inclusive table. My church homes- the United Methodist Church and the Disciples of Christ-place no restrictions to who can join our communion tradition. This creates a beautiful practice whenever communion is had, as all identifiers and categories are left behind like one’s coat and hat as all are given the bread and the cup. No matter the struggles and sins and suffering in one’s life, everyone is welcomed in and loved in this most basic of Christian traditions.

Through the Lord’s Table, we are able to serve one another every time we are together, making a habit of the art of service. Rob described serving as “when you intentionally decide to align yourself beyond yourself.” What a beautiful way of reminding ourselves why we live with ultimate regard for the Other. he also said, “suffering is not an intellectual exercise,” meaning that suffering is one of the most intense of human experiences and only by identifying and unifying ourselves with others can we join in their suffering, understand, and then work to liberate them from it.

The last Rob Bell quote I want to share: “Line yourself up with the fundamental direction of the universe.” He repeated this mantra over and over. The universe for 13.8 billion years has been moving inevitably towards complexity, depth, and unity. In a word, it has been making constant progress. As Christians, may we always line our selves up with that progress, by practicing the unity of One Church, One Body, One faith.

Next: 1 Corinthians 13-14

For a PDF of the 30 Days of Paul reading plan, click here.

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