“No one gets an invitation to our church until they first get an invitation to our table.”
This recent comment by a fellow writer counts as a major “ah-ha” moment in my Christian walk. It’s currently transforming how I love my neighbor, and how I approach inviting them into the community of my home church.
An invitation to a Sunday morning service seems like a risky endeavor. We casually ask a co-worker to come view our Christmas musical, or we place an invitation card in our friend’s mailbox. Perhaps we feel self-conscious or tongue-tied when we lean over our neighbor’s fence and blurt out “Wanna come to church with us Sunday?” However, most of us sacrifice little to extend these offers. If our friend says yes, we save them a seat. If they say no, life goes on. R easonably comfortable boundaries are maintained.
An invitation to our table is more risky.
The table is where we pull up an extra chair and squeeze in. We sit face-to-face instead of side-by-side. We bump elbows while we pass the bread. Awkward silences and nervous giggles are often on the menu.
However, over time, self-conscious small talk eventually gives way to intimacy at the table.
Inviting people to church is not a central theme of many Biblical stories, but sharing a meal at a table is highlighted repeatedly. It’s where Joseph extended grace to his brothers after they threw him in a pit and left him for dead. (Genesis 43) It’s the place where the Psalmist praises God for preparing a feast in front of his foes. (Psalm 23) The table is where we find Christ and His disciples sharing one last meal before the crucifixion.
The table is a place where we serve grace, kindness, and mercy. It’s where we pass around heaping portions of gentleness. The table forbids judgement and welcomes empathy. It’s where we refuse to taste bitterness and instead let the good work of Christ season each conversation.
Eating a meal together transcends culture, gender, background, personal histories, and socio-economic status. It’s where God met us, and where we’re commanded to meet others.
How should we set our table?
First, invite the neighbors. When the religious leaders asked Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Jesus responded by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. His point? Everyone, no matter their standing in society, is our neighbor. It ranges from the people we’d like to get to know better to the people we wish we didn’t know so well. It includes difficult extended family members, annoying co-workers, the Bible Study friend who gossips behind your back, and the next-door neighbor who’s 6 a.m. lawn mowing wakes you every weekend. Jesus commands us to love Him and love others. Jesus dined with sinners, the outcasts, the downtrodden, and His best friends. He set the example, and we are called to follow in His footsteps.
Select the theme. The theme of our dinner invitations has little to do with decor and everything to do with community. When Jesus and the disciples stopped at the home of Mary and Martha, both sisters responded by loving Jesus the best way they knew how: one worked, the other worshiped. While Martha busied herself in the kitchen, Mary listened to Jesus’ teachings in the living room. Martha’s work was good, and Mary’s worship was good; each had its place. However, Jesus gently reminded Martha that her work at that moment kept her from the important task of making time for her guests. Jesus knows the value of work and worship, but understood how to prioritize them. When guests are in your home, they are the emphasis, not the prep work. The theme of every meal around your table is always people.
Plan the menu. Conversations are remembered long after a meal has been served. Still, much of the mental block that keep us from inviting people to our table include “I can’t cook” or “I don’t know what to fix” or “My house isn’t set up for entertaining.” Preparing a meal for one’s family can seem overwhelming at times, let alone when we invite another family to partake.
The Bible rarely mentions the menu of feasts, with one exception: the bread and the wine at the communion meal. That implies the rest of the food placed on the table isn’t as important as the people gathered around the table.
However, it’s important to serve something. Keep it simple! A bowl of chili with a side of crusty bread works great in cooler weather. Tacos, spaghetti, and seasoned roast in the crock pot are other simple meals prepared with minimal fuss (and can be prepped with the help of kids). One woman who mentored me in my newlywed days said she and her friends used to gather around the table with a toaster, loaf of bread, and a jar of peanut butter every Sunday night. The friendships, not the food, remain the highlight of those memories.
When Jesus took the bread and wine and lifted it up in front of His disciples He said, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of Me”. (Luke 22:19) As we invite others to our table, may we do so in the same hospitable spirit as the One who sacrificed Himself for us all.
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