The bright yellow linen tablecloth was adorned with festive orange linen napkins. The fine china dishes were covered with turkey, dressing, gravy, mac and cheese, potato salad, deserts, and much more. It was in our lovely fellowship hall this past Sunday afternoon, and while one might expect that this feast was prepared for our faithful members, the guests of honor for this elaborate Thanksgiving meal were actually some of our local homeless population.
It goes with out saying, I suppose, that the homeless do not “need” fine china, or turkey and dressing for that matter. When people are hungry and hurting, they will, as our homeless ministry director brother Paul Cash often says, “Eat anything and lots of it.”
Need is not the issue, at least not the need of the stomach. The need of the heart, though, that is another matter entirely.
Each and every week for many years now the workers in our homeless ministry have driven into town with the church van, picked up folks from the local shelter, and brought them to church for a meal and a gospel message. Many of them have come to receive Christ as their Savior through the years, some have gotten drug and alcohol free, gotten jobs, homes, and are “back on their feet.” All have come to know that Christ and his people love them. And it is that last part that drives two of our ladies each year, Maryann and Melanie, to bring their own fine china, prepare the elaborate meal, and serve it to those who have nothing.
Their stomachs would be filled with just the food. Their hearts are filled with all the rest. The message that comes through loudly and clearly to them is, “you are of infinite worth. God has not forgotten you, and neither have his people.”
That is a powerful message.
In Luke 14:12-14 we read, “Then said he (Jesus) also to him that bade him, When thou makest a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends, nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbours; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompence be made thee. But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”
Please understand the nuance of all that Jesus said here. He was not forbidding us to ever make and share a meal with family, friends, or neighbors. He was commanding us to turn our eyes away from that which would surely be a benefit to us, and toward that which could only be a benefit to those who needed it the most. He was giving us a “motive check.”
The word he used for this meal, though, was the word “feast.” It means exactly what it sounds like. Linen tablecloths and napkins. Fine china. Fantastic food and all the fixings. He told us to lay out that kind of a meal, a feast, a special occasion, for the poor, the maimed, the lame, and the blind.
Who in the world, heart-wise, “needs” it any more than they do?
People need to eat every single day. But when seasons like Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, the need goes much deeper than the stomach. The heart longs to “be like everyone else” who is gathered around a fancy table, laughing, talking, getting seconds, hoping they do not get full before they have both the pumpkin pie and a slice of the cheesecake.
Simply put, special occasions make people feel special.
And in God’s sight, every single one of these people are special. They may have, often through their own choices, ended up without a roof of their own over their heads. But Jesus loves them so much that he is willing to freely give them a mansion in heaven. And as we dish out fancy meals onto fine china for them, it softens their hearts to hear the message that Jesus died for them, rose from the dead, and that if they will repent of their sin and ask Christ to save them, he will gladly do so.
Maybe it is time for God’s people everywhere to take another look at the invite list for the upcoming holidays.