Delighting God by sharing the table

Natasha Murray-Norman

Natasha Murray-Norman

By Natasha Murray-Norman
Special Contributor

The hymn “For Everyone Born: A Place at the Table” has been on my heart these past few weeks. I love this hymn for its lyrics and its hope that one day all will be welcomed with a place at the table. The songwriter, Shirley Erena Murray, published this song in 1998, inspired by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In a time of growing anxiety over what may come, perhaps we can all benefit from remembering the need to offer a place at the table for all.

The imagery of this hymn is an invitation for all to come and be reconciled. Laying aside status, gender roles, age and ability, all are welcome to the table. All have a right to be heard. While these groups gather together it is the call of the Church to be, in Murray’s words, creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace because it delights God.

How can being a creator of justice and joy, compassion and peace delight God? God delights when we are like the Samaritan who finds the man on the side of the road beaten, robbed and suffering. We don’t know if the man’s assailants are ever caught, but the Samaritan’s act of compassion and justice brought healing that was needed for the man to recover.

We are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace when we seek to love one another and drive out fear. The text of 1 John 4:18 reminds us that, “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.” God delights when we remember that we are people who were born in love. Because of the love that God has for us, we in turn share that love with others. However, when we allow fear to settle into our lives, God’s love does not abide in us. God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy, compassion and peace—that is, when we show our love to others.

My family of origin has become quite small over the last few years. However, I still look forward to the fellowship of family gathering around the table. I am reminded of holidays where my uncle would carry a plate to a friend who was homebound, and when my grandmother would offer anyone passing through a plate to enjoy while sitting with us at the table. If you came over for dinner, she would insist that you sit at the table. The formality of sitting at the table was a way for you to interact and have an assurance that you were welcomed, regardless of your affiliation to our family.

I would like to think that in some way I have absorbed this practice of welcome, as well. Table gatherings are intimate, sacred places that allow a degree of vulnerability. With the interaction between the host and the guest, needs are met and humanity is united in the breaking of bread, the telling and retelling of stories, a sense of oneness. There is a place for the young, old, married, divorced, widowed, male, female, broke and not so broke. Dignity is restored. All are welcome.

In these uncertain times, with mounting anxiety growing as to what will happen in the future of our nation and our church, it seems that some have forgotten what it means to offer a welcome to everyone. We have allowed fear to paralyze us and prevent us from offering the fundamental right to all of God’s children: a place at the table.

The Rev. Murray-Norman serves as associate pastor of First UMC Pine Bluff, and chairs the Conference Commission on the Status and Role of Women. Shirley Erena Murray’s hymn appears as No. 3149 in Worship & Song, a supplement to the United Methodist Hymnal.