Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house. Many tax collectors and sinners were eating with Jesus and his disciples. Mark 2:15 (CEB)
One of the Pharisees invited Jesus to eat with him. After he entered the Pharisee’s home, he took his place at the table. Luke 7:36 (CEB)
When Jesus came to that spot, he looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, come down at once. I must stay in your home today.” Luke 19:5 (CEB
Apparently, Jesus knew how to score an invitation to dinner!
This week in our Lenten study, Surprise the World! Five Habits of Highly Missional People, we turn to the second practice in the BELLS acronym—Eating. Our author, Michael Frost, invites us to eat with three different people this week—and at least one who isn’t connected to the Church—as a way to continue our quest to live “questionable lives”—lives that invite people’s inquiry and offer us the chance to share our faith.
As I am filming this devotional, the COVID-19 is still alive and active throughout our Conference. And though vaccinations are being readily administered even as I speak, at the time this video is shared, planning meals with multiple people throughout the week may not be high on your list. That being said, I would encourage you to not simply skip over this week and this practice. I would encourage you to think about COVID-friendly options: schedule a Zoom dinner with someone; arrange a socially distanced coffee date; or, if the weather allows, invite someone to take lunch outdoors with you.
I would also challenge you to have a longer vision about this practice because living lives on mission with Jesus aren’t supposed to be just a Lenten thing. And as much as COVID might challenge us to engage in this practice safely, if we’re honest, this is a missional practice that can be difficult even when there isn’t a global pandemic. Of the five practices, I believe it is the one that most pushes us out of our comfort zones into new conversations and relationships—something that isn’t always easy even for the most faithful disciple of Jesus.
Yet this is what Jesus modeled so well— gathering for meals and entering into conversations with people from across the spectrum of life and faith. Yes, he performed miracles and preached a counter-cultural way of being. But there was also power in his incarnational presence in the everyday moments of life. And the same is true for us. Sitting down around the dinner table, or in a booth in the local café, has the power to break down barriers and give us opportunities to share Christ in real ways. And besides—we’re Methodist. The missional practice of eating together should be second nature to us!
But seriously, I believe this is a practice that is both accessible to the newest Jesus follower and just as challenging to a life-long Christian. And so, whether you’re diving into this week or committing to the practice in the post-COVID future, I think there are a few things we can do to prepare ourselves for this kind of “questionable” living.
To begin with, we need to start by being honest with ourselves and acknowledging our roadblocks—both external and internal. What might get in the way of us engaging in this practice? Maybe it’s time. A schedule so packed, that sharing a meal would mean the person would have to be running errands with you while you ate. Or maybe, it’s self-consciousness—like that feeling you had in your middle school lunchroom when you didn’t know where to sit. Or perhaps it’s that you can’t think of any people in your life that don’t know Jesus.
There can be plenty of roadblocks besides CIOVID. But don’t let those roadblocks deter you from accepting this challenge to share your table with someone. Start praying about it. Find another person in your church and commit to helping each other meet this challenge now and in the future. Pray for courage; for who God might be calling you to eat with; for the opportunity for invitation; and for God to work through these moments to bring tangible experiences of God’s grace.
Once you’ve tackled your roadblocks, then begin to establish rhythms. Back in pre-COVID days, my husband Steve and I made a conscious decision that we wanted to practice hospitality and sharing our home and our table as a practice of incarnational faith. So, every Sunday throughout the fall, we would invite people over to our house for lunch and football. They might be people we ran into in that week and said, “Hey what are you doing Sunday?” Or they would be people who came to church and we said, “Come on over.” Incorporating it into the regular rhythm in our life and family made it easier to invite people to the table, or the couch, or the floor. It created opportunities for new relationships to form and to share life and the love of Jesus in an intentional way.
Maybe it’s not football for you. Maybe it’s Thursday night fire pits and s’mores. Maybe it’s bringing your lunch to work or setting aside a specific day that you order in or go out for lunch and inviting a different co-worker each time. Or maybe it’s a rhythm of delivering meals on wheels and a pattern of regularly visiting those who might eat alone. Living missional lives isn’t about adding another thing to our schedule. But it is about seeing each part of our day and week as an opportunity to be a part of what God wants to do in this world.
And finally, we have to remember—this practice is not first and foremost about the food. It’s about relationship. You know, when I first thought about this practice, my thought was, “We need to approach this like Jesus.” We need to eat with sinners and tax collectors. We need to go to Zacchaeus’ house. But as I re-read these passages, I couldn’t help but wonder if maybe it’s the other way around. What if we’re the sinners and tax collectors and, by inviting people to our house or our table—people we might not otherwise have reached out to or shared a meal with –we’re inviting Jesus?
Friends, I think that’s the beauty of being on mission with Jesus. Just when we think we’re taking the presence of Jesus to someone or some place, we find he’s already there and is simply inviting us to be a part of what he’s already doing.
So, may that be the posture with which we approach this week’s missional practice. May we look expectantly for what God will do through these everyday acts. And in the same way that barriers are removed, when we come to the communion table and we experience a fuller relationship with God and with others, may it be so as we eat our way into an experience of God’s Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.