How Big Is the Table in God’s Reign? – by Ryan Andersen
Theological Reflection – Sunday, October 27, 2013
Ryan Andersen is the Pastor of Advent Lutheran Church in Calgary and a member of the local Kairos-Calgary group. Ryan has also served on the board of Kairos and is a member of the Canadian Interfaith Conversation.
The Healing of the Centurion’s Servant (Matthew 8:5-13)
“ . . . Truly I tell you, in no one in Israel have I found such faith. I tell you, many will come from east and west and will eat with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 8:10-11
Who are our partners in the kingdom of God? Who are our co-workers for justice? When I grew up in a small town, Christians seemed to be unquestionably dominant in doing the work of justice. Even if you walked into one of the local secular justice organizations I would see the same people that I saw on Sunday mornings. It was an almost radical advance that at least at the 10 days for Global Justice meetings there were people from different denominations. When the churches did come, it was amazing how we could together be a force for our common good. What surprises me is how, now decades latter, much of our work and institutions still reflect this image from the past.
The story of the healing of the centurion’s servant is a story that breaks open our eyes to expand our imagination of who just might be a fellow worker in God’s kingdom. The centurion would have likely been a pagan, someone who was required to follow a foreign religion. Yet here he is, sending a messenger on a mission of compassion to ask Jesus to help his slave. Jesus responds by not only healing the centurion’s slave, he also lifts up the great faith of this pagan who is the servant of the imperial power. Then Jesus says what would have been shocking words, the kingdom of God will include those from the East and the West. When Jesus spoke these words, it was before Christianity had spread and it was hundreds of years before Christianity would become a religion of an expansive empire. Could Jesus be speaking of those who followed other faiths and yet had discovered the kingdom of God?
The other week I encountered something quite remarkable. I was at a conference called “The Dawn of Inter-spirituality” it sought to gather people of different religions who have gone deeply into the practice and spirituality of their faith. Amongst these people there was a deep sense of love. This love was not just for each other, it also extended beyond themselves. There was one person who worked with homeless youth and taught them centering prayer. There were others that lived in community and ran an organic farm. There were some that even worked with the United Nations to bring the best values religions shared, such as compassion, into the shaping of our globalizing world. I was privileged to sit in a circle with Buddhists, Jews, Sufi’s and those who claimed no tradition, but were deeply spiritual. While we sat together we discovered that together we shared a deep desire to be sacred activists for our common good. What I felt in my heart as we talked sure felt like a taste of the reign of God. What was amazing to see was who had been invited to the feast.
I have experienced the same life at other gatherings of people of different faiths, whether it has been with the Canadian Interfaith Partnership or locally as people from different religions have gathered to be a part of the development of Calgary’s poverty reduction strategy. As different as the various religions are, when we, like Jesus and the centurion, encounter each other focused on compassion for others, God’s presence seems tangible.
As you read this many of you will say, “well of course!” Still, we must ask our selves, “What do our organizations for justice look like?” “When we take action, who is beside us?” “When we sit down to plan our work, who’s legs are under the table with us?”
We live at a unique time in history. We are living in the middle of the great meeting of the world’s religions. Religions have always encountered each other, but now we are in the midst of a time when our neighbors are Muslims, our co-workers are Jews, our friends are Hindus while the person serving us coffee just may be a Buddhist. It is also precisely at this same time that we are facing global issues that effect all people no matter who you pray to. I wonder if God might be up to something?
So as we gather to do the work of justice and as we seek the in-breaking of God’s kingdom perhaps it is time to ask, “How big is our table?” Is it as big as the kingdom of God?
 The Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. 1989 (Mt 8:10–11). Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.