A couple of times a year I find myself at Solomon’s Porch eating a Tribe of Reuben- without the sauerkraut- with a couple of friends who bite into a Wesley Club, or The Calvin with extra tomato. Occasionally, I’ll get adventurous and order one of the Twelve Apostolic Franks, like The Judas, about which the menu reads, “Even he couldn’t deny this one: Bacon wrapped, beer cheese, and tomato.”
Solomon’s Porch is a café just off the campus of Asbury Theological Seminary. Here, I share meals with Lutherans, Anglicans, Baptists, Pentecostals, and Methodists. We discuss our lives over Ethiopian coffee.
We discuss classes. “So Witherington claims that Lazarus is the beloved disciple! What?!”
“Take Church History II with Dr. Zaida Perez. Her Latina perspective balances recorded history.”
Which leads to conversations about what God has done in our history. “You won’t believe what I saw God do in India last summer!” exclaims a UMC intern.
“I’m moved to tears every time I assist with communion. To speak, ‘The Body of Christ, broken for you’ over people is more powerful that I ever imagined,” recounts an Anglican, still visibly moved by the experience.
“I preached a sermon at a home in China a few years ago, and hardly anyone came. But one young man heard the Gospel. He’s gone on to plant 47 churches,” remembers a non-denominational believer from Trinidad.
We’re a mixed denominational bag-a flock of sheep not necessarily prized for the quality of our wool- recounting the Voice of the One Shepherd in our lives.
John 10 reads, The sheep follow him because they know his voice. . . I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd (4, 16).
When Jesus spoke these words “the Jews were divided” (verse 19). Really, they were already divided. There were Pharisees, Essenes, Sadducees, and other Jewish groups in the Diaspora. Yet, we find representatives of all of them in the church. They worship along side converts from fertility cults, Greek religions, and Roman Emperor worship. A mere skim through the Epistles reveals the messiness of their unity. There was a lot of mud on their wool.
Even so, they had one thing in common: they knew the voice of Jesus. They were able to discern it clearly over all the other noise so that they could walk toward Him together.
Jesus strolls through Solomon’s Porch after he announces that he is the Good Shepherd. It’s winter. The frustrated, divided Jews gather around him, and I wonder, as the winter wind whipped down his neck, if he got a foretaste of the coldness his future sheep would harbor against each other. Did he feel the frost on the flimsy fences we’d build between ourselves? He seems to sigh, “I have told you, and you do not believe . . . My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. . . . The Father and I are one” (verses 25-30).
They are One. We are one.
Winter is replaced by spring, and at a high point in our church history, a diverse flock yet again gathers together on Solomon’s Porch.
At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; and they were all with one accord in Solomon’s porch (Acts 5:12).
Maybe they shared a cup of Roman Arabica to jolt awake enough to believe it was true that they were really fellowshipping with a Jew from that sect, an Essene, a Jew from that class. Maybe they laughed about the former, irrelevant distinctions they’d drawn, and asked, “Surely the Gentiles aren’t a part of this flock too? Are they?” But, before they could respond, they were interrupted, because, “Yet more than ever believers were added to the Lord, great numbers of both men and women” (Acts 5:14).
There’s no time to build fences. There’s work to do. There are meals to be shared in the field where we can be still together in order to hear the voice of the Shepherd. There is no time to debate doctrine; only time to ask, “Where have you heard the voice of the Good Shepherd lately? What is He saying to you? To US?” There is only time to live together, confident that He is calling, leading us to amazing adventures-together.
“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” John 10: 3-4
Tiffany Dahlman Spiritual Director and M.Div. student at Asbury Theological Seminary Worships with the Helen Street Church of Christ Fayetteville, NC