Kingdom Lessons from the Table

For over a year now my congregation in Nashville, TN, has been providing a meal to the community every Sunday after worship services. We call it Community Cafe and our denomination’s weekly update had a short article about it yesterday. There are several lessons about the Kingdom of the Father, Son, and Spirit  that have been reinforced in my mind as we have participated with Jesus in this ministry.

1. Sermons can be preached without words. Every Sunday our Community Cafe offers a powerful message about the Kingdom because anyone who attends will see young and old, from different races, and from economic backgrounds ranging from homeless to upper middle class, all gathered around the table eating together.

2. Mission means incarnation. We have tried other approaches to ministering to our community – from having one day events to going door to door, but we have seen much better gospel experiences from allowing ourselves to be sent as the Father sent the Son (John 20:21). The Father didn’t send the Son for a one day event or to just hand out some care packages with salvation medicine in them. The Father sent the Son to become incarnate forever in humanity – living, eating, and sharing life with us. When we sit down at the table with people from our community and eat with them, week in and week out, we are building relationships and beginning to live out the mission of the Kingdom in an incarnational way.

3. The gospel has no strings attached. When the Holy Spirit first called us to create Community Cafe he called us to a very simple mission statement: “Feed hungry people.” They can be church members or outsiders, rich or poor, believers or atheists – the only thing they have to have in common is that they are hungry and want to eat with us. Sometimes gospel conversations happen around the table, and guests often ask for prayer. Some of those who come to the Cafe have also started coming to worship services on Sunday and bible study on Tuesday. Some have only come for the meal and nothing more – so far. The point for us is that the simple act of accepting others to our table of fellowship, eating with them, and talking with them, is – in and of itself – an expression of the gospel and needs no strings attached to it in order to be a participation in what Jesus is doing in the lives of our guests.

~ Jonathan Stepp

2 comments so far

  1. Jeannine on

    How wonderful this must be for the members of the community who come – to be accepted right where they are and not ever given a list of things they have to do or change to become “acceptable.” I’m sure it goes much further than you can see, Jonathan.

    This is just a small thing, but for the past year, our small city has seen homeless people camped out at various places (intersections etc) with signs asking for money for food. For a year I have uncomfortably driven by, not knowing whether they were operating a racket or if I’d be feeding an addiction by helping. My little children would look out the window and ask if we could give money to them. So it hit me eventually – for the sake of my children, who cares if it’s a racket? Do I want them to grow into people who will just drive by someone in need? So the next time, we rolled down the window and I let my 6-yr old hand the man just a quarter – he thanked him so sincerely even for that little amount. We’re getting more generous each time now and my kids remind me to bring along a little extra money when we go out.

    Anyway, I am keeping my eyes open for opportunities like this, where we can just openly share the open heart of the Father with the people around us – with no strings attached, as you said.

  2. Pastor Jonathan on

    I’ve had similar experiences with my kids, and come to the same conclusions you did. One project that has been going here in Nashville for the last couple of years is called a “homeless newspaper.” A non-profit produces a bi-weekly newspaper with articles written by homeless people and those who minister to the homeless community. The homeless then sell the paper on street corners, at busy intersections, etc. They keep the profit and, as part of a larger program to help them get back on their feet, they save the money up for deposit and first month’s rent on a place to live. So now in hundreds of places where we used to have people just asking for money we now have hundreds of people in micro-business for themselves. Every time my kids see someone selling the papers they want to buy one – we usually end up seeing each issue several times over!

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