One of my very favourite churches is Ponsonby Baptist in Auckland, where there is always much food for the mind and soul.
The Sunday before last, I was lucky enough to visit once again, and several parts of the service were so profound and helpful that I wanted to share them with you too. The church is going through a series on communion, exploring different aspects of ‘the Lord’s Supper’, and one of the themes of the day was ‘feasting’.
When we walked in, there was a delicious morning tea spread on the communion table. People were eating, drinking and catching up with each other before the gathered service kicked off.
The church organist introduced, with infectious enthusiasm, an old hymn about feasting (sorry, I didn’t know it and don’t remember what it was, except it might have been by Hubert Parry?), and to the delight of my three-year-old (who had insisted for an unknown reason on leaving the toy corner and sitting in the pews, bringing a dinosaur and an astronaut to share with his baby sister) he had changed a couple of lines to include thanksgiving for wine and chocolate. SBJ was tickled about the mention of chocolate even the next day.
The service consisted of a curated collection of another ten or so things to engage with (this isn’t in order or exhaustive, it’s just what I recall):
- a call to worship, written for the occasion by the pastor
- two Scripture readings from Luke’s gospel, one to open the service, and one for the sermon to explore
- a ‘contemporary reading’, chosen and read by a member of the congregation
- the hymn for us to sing together
- the film clip below
- a musical performance by the choir and organist, and a reader in between verses
- a sermon
- ‘free-for-all’: an opportunity immediately after the sermon for anyone to say anything to the gathered community. This Sunday it was a mix of prayer requests and updates on people’s lives, discussion of the sermon and of other elements of the service, and feedback on a community quiz night held the night before (one guest had called it the best night of his life, so we all celebrated that!). All the things people had said were then gathered together in a prayer by a person who had been taking notes.
- a sung benediction – the same one each week.
Impressively, each of those penetrated through the buzz of having two small, active children in the pew with me (my husband was at a course), and lingered long enough for me to write them down now, ten days later.
Here is one of them, for you to contemplate and consider, or, well, enjoy. My little one was enthralled and wanted to show everyone when we got home, too. So we did.
In her excellent, compelling sermon (she’s the best preacher I know), Jody drew several threads together, including the movie and the 1 Second Everyday smartphone app, to remind us that ‘meals tell stories’.
A Call to Worship
I realise this is slightly backwards, but the next thing I want to include is the reading and prayer that opened the service.
That triggered a response from one of the guests: “How fortunate the one who gets to eat dinner in God’s kingdom!”
Jesus followed up. “Yes. For there was once a man who threw a great dinner party and invited many. When it was time for dinner, he sent out his servant to the invited guests, saying, ‘Come on in; the food’s on the table.’
“Then they all began to beg off, one after another making excuses. The first said, ‘I bought a piece of property and need to look it over. Send my regrets.’
“Another said, ‘I just bought five teams of oxen, and I really need to check them out. Send my regrets.’
“And yet another said, ‘I just got married and need to get home to my wife.’
“The servant went back and told the master what had happened. He was outraged and told the servant, ‘Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.’
“The servant reported back, ‘Master, I did what you commanded—and there’s still room.’
“The master said, ‘Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full! Let me tell you, not one of those originally invited is going to get so much as a bite at my dinner party.’”
[The Message translation via Bible Gateway]
May we know ourselves to be misfits, homeless, wretched.
And may we, in the same moment, know ourselves to fit, have a home, have hope, in your presence God. We gladly accept a seat at your feast because of Christ Jesus.