One important pathway to mission in the neighborhood is “the meal.” This is what I have been learning these past many years. (This what Life on the Vine talked about this past Sunday at 9 a.m.). It all starts by someone inviting a few Christians who live in close geographical proximity (neighborhood) to share a meal at the same time every week.
This may take some doing.
People are reticent to commit to such a thing. You must be persistent to overcome the inertia of isolation in America. There will be a natural ferreting through people who have no intention of coming out of their isolation. We must be ok with that. We must find the ones who are as hungry as we are. We must together come to see a vision of life together over time and the richness of the Kingdom that can bring. So I suggest probe as to people’s longings for friendship and connection. Paint pictures of an earlier time when people lived alongside life-long friendships that provided a depth of life that has been lost in the modern American landscape.
An extension of the Table.
When we gather to eat, we must make sure to invite people to share this meal as an extension of the forgiveness and renewal in Christ. As we each bring something to share – a salad, a main dish, a desert – we receive a full meal in return, the blessing of fellowship and the Kingdom. This meal in the neighborhood is an extension of the Table at the Sunday gathering. This is in stark contrast to eating as individuals sitting and watching television. At the gathering at our house, we have a rule. Everyone must sit around one table. (and this can be both a humorous and creative endeavor when the group approaches 20).
And so we pray, invoking Christ’s “special” presence here as we eat. Just as we received of the body and the blood around the Table on Sunday, so now we are opened once again to His forgiveness of sins, the renewal in His Spirit in the New Covenant, the reconciliation between us, the bonding of this way of life in Christ. Christ is present in this space. He has conferred on us a kingdom, not as “the Gentiles” lord it over one another, but as servants living in the overflow of his forgiveness and new life (Luke 22:29). This is shared life in God’s presence.
A rich social dynamic is set into motion.
As we sit around this table, we try to practice a “relaxation,” a ceasing of striving, and letting things be as God is using us in each others lives. Let us listen to each other, be “with” one another. We talk and have wonderful conversation tending to each other’s lives. There is much empathy, affirmation, reflection. There’s nothing programmed here. It’s just people talking. At all costs, we sit around one table, no matter how many of us there are. We are present for one another. There is an awareness that God can use our words to minister, speak truth, share grace and healing. We are reminded as we eat that this meal is an extension of the Table of our Lord.
There comes a time, somewhere around desert and coffee, when the leader proposes a puzzling question. God uses conversation to help us grow and sort out our lives. This puzzling question can focus on our vertical individual life with God, our communal life with one another, or our life with others in the neighborhood. What is your biggest struggle with God? Why do you come here every Friday night (when our house gathering meets)? How do you spend time “with” the least of these during your week? Often the questions come from the proclamation on Sunday. Often we read a small text from Sunday. We hear about what’s going on in neighborhoods so we can pray, help and participate. There are seasons here. For many months we might have to talk about our life together, our struggles so as to gain a sense of trust, community and friendship. Reaching out to the lost ones in our neighborhoods may have to wait til we get ourselves “together.”
About 8:30 p.m. we call the children together (who usually went off and started playing somewhere else) to pray. They know by now that we end the evening with prayer as one family. We pray for all the things we have heard, that His Kingdom come into our lives as we submit to His reign. At our house it’s Friday night, yet even so, children still need to get home to bed.
All of this has been made possible in the death and resurrection of Christ that we shared on Sunday around the Table. And it is from this Table that the new life can be shared together in Christ for God’s mission in the world. It is from here, that mission springs naturally out of our everyday lives in the neighborhoods. It is nothing more or nothing less than the practice of living life together in the Kingdom.
What happens here does not stay here.
I have realized that this meal that starts on Sunday, that extends to Friday evening at our home, also extends every time I gather to eat a meal with someone hurting, or lost or struggling in the neighborhood. Indeed, even to those living outside (or in rebellion to) the grace of God in Christ. When I have that no.13 breakfast sandwich at McD’s (with no sauce, no cheese, and on an english muffin – because food must be life giving not life killing!! 🙂 ) with someone in McD’s, I share something special, a space where God is at work to extend grace, forgiveness, renewal of the Holy Spirit between us. Through Jesus Christ. I tell you I have seen it happen over and over again with only me cooperating.
The Table of our Lord was never meant to be sequestered into a maintenance function of the church. It is the start of a subversive relation that undercuts the world’s violence, sin and rebellion. Can we teach this as a missional practice?
I must tell you, I consider what happens at my house on Friday evenings as precious, as central to my life, as the Sunday gathering. It is not possible however without the breaking of the bread/wine (ground zero for God’s mission) that we share there on Sunday! This Table is threefold, it begins at the worship gathering, extends into the home and then the neighborhood. It offers life that is so rich. Through this “social sacrament” God works to bleed his forgiveness and new life in and through his people into the neighborhood. This is not a program to be implemented. This is a practice to be cultivated … of living life together in Christ for His Mission in the world.
I think the Table is one of the practices that shape our lives into mission in the neighborhood. You? How does this work in your church?