Imagine that you and your family are invited to dine at the king's table. You are invited into a beautiful hall. There is a long table spread with amazing breads fresh from the oven, juices from the best vineyards and succulent meats.
When you enter the hall you realize some of your friends and neighbors have already arrived. The room is full of dignitaries, teachers, children and even an annoying woman who cackles as she laughs. A bell rings. It is time to sit down. But instead you look around the room, point at the cackling woman and tell the king, "I won't partake of your feast if I have to sit with her at the table."
Every time we attend church, we are all invited to sit at the king's table and feast on his words. We are surrounded by the wealthy, poor, friends, family and strangers. All of us hungry. All of us needing to be fed with love, hope, the bread of life and the meat of the gospel. Will you choose to join the king at the table?
Try this little exercise
Close your eyes and imagine you are sitting with the Savior at a feast.
On your left is your next door neighbor.
On your right is a local government official or IRS auditor.
Next to him is a sinner, a woman of the night.
And next to her is a disabled man who is unable to clean and care for himself.
Your children are climbing on your lap crying.
How comfortable are you? What does the Savior say?
In the New Testament in the book of Mark, Chapter 2, we read about a feast similar to the one you are imagining. The Savior is sitting with sinners and publicans (tax collectors). The scribes (royal lawyers) and Pharisees (politicians) asked the disciples, "How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?"
The Savior heard them and he said, "They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance."
So how does this apply to you and the annoying people you go to church with?
Tony Cooke religious leader and author reports that 66 percent of people leave churches because they are offended. It is the number one reason on his list of reasons to leave church.
So, in essence, 66 percent of people are invited to feast on the Lord's word and would rather leave the king's table hungry than sit next to someone annoying or offensive.
Understandably, some offenses are very real. Some hurts are lifetime traumas. None of us will forget the pain caused in the priest scandal that hit my own small town and injured adult men I know and care for. We cannot reduce the trauma and pain true victims suffer.
However, we can continue to work on practicing what the king asks us to do. Without subjecting ourselves to further harm, we can work on forgiving and giving our pain to our Savior, so that we can sit and feast. We can scoot down a few seats and look at the person across the table with a different perspective and on occasion see our own flaws reflected in her face.
Paul admonished followers of Christ in the book of Mathew to, "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you."
Then, he goes on to explain by sharing what I consider to be the most important part of his message, "For if ye love them [only] which love you, what reward have ye? ... And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so?" (Matt. 5:41, 44, 46-47.)
This set of scriptures tells me three important things.
1. The Lord was fully aware that we would meet all kinds of people in life and in church, including people who would curse us, be our enemies, hate us and be all around generally annoying, offensive and even vile.
2. Even though we would be persecuted, or victims of their meanness, we are expected to continue to serve, to attend, to persevere and to go on even when the going is difficult. More than that, he asks us to love them, bless them, pray for them and do good things for them.
3. He understands our pain. We are not asked to endure any more persecution, abuse or all around meanness than he endured. However, because we have been given much, he expects us to go the extra mile and learn to love everyone.
Neal A. Maxwell, World War II veteran and past university president, said, "Imperfect people are, in fact, called by our perfect Lord to assist in his work ... Unsurprisingly, therefore, we do notice each other's weaknesses. But, we should not celebrate them. Let us be grateful for the small strides that we and others make, rather than rejoice in the shortfalls. And when mistakes occur, let them become instructive, not destructive."
He goes on to ask an excellent question, "If the choice is between reforming other church members, or ourselves is there really any question about where we should begin?"
When we pull our family away from the king's table, we can starve generations to come. Choose to look in the mirror when finding fault and to look to the Savior for compassion and love. Enter into the king's feast, but leave your hate and anger at the door. The feast is ready to begin. Let the annoying offenders sit with you. You might find you have a lot in common.