For a year now, we’ve been hosting a weekly gathering for the kiddos in our neighborhood. Sometimes, it’s been Krispie Kreme donuts and orange juice in the morning around a fire in the backyard. Other times it’s been marshmallows and hot chocolate after dinner. It’s always been a rather informal, the backgate-is-always-open neighborly event and it’s always been in the backyard.
Last fall, I got a wild hair and decided that it would be awesome to buy a couple of picnic tables and put them under the big oak tree in the front yard. I’m a dreamer and as I began to envision picnic tables in the front yard, I also began to envision twinkling lights hanging from the trees and candlelight dinners with our neighbors and Saturday afternoon picnics and Sunday afternoon homemade ice cream parties. I also began to have dreams of a huge pergola and a brick fireplace, but my husband has yet to configure a way to hang some twinkling lights thirty feet above the tables, so the verdict is still out on the other.
But more than all of that, I began to imagine how our neighborhood would change if we began to eat together.
Because I live in an impoverished neighborhood, there is quite a bit of shame associated with food. Food envy is an actual thing here and hunger gnaws at the bellies of both children and adults. Food is eaten alone and often in secret because their simply isn’t enough to go around. There is little joy or happiness associated with the table and truthfully, very few families in my community even have tables at which to eat.
Which brings me back to those picnic tables.
On a Friday afternoon, after I had convinced my family we needed to move our backyard party to the front yard and serve a full meal, we drove out to the next town over and picked up two eight-foot tables. We placed them under the big oak tree and filled in the area around them with a couple of loads of pea gravel. A few weeks later, we hosted our first neighborhood dinner and just this past Sunday, we shared a meal with forty neighbors.
Can I tell you something? This weekly meal is transforming our community, one meal at a time.
It’s changing our community because eating together around a table is where we are learning to bear with one another. Walls are coming down and bridges are being built while food is passed. Food is becoming the great equalizer among us, reminding us we’re all needy. The table is where we are beginning to look one another in the face and remind one another of the good we see. It’s the place where we are learning that there is no one greater than another and that here, over plates of BBQ chicken and baked beans, we belong to a family bigger than the one that can fit in our ramshackle of a house.
I think this is why Jesus spent a great deal of time eating and drinking with all sorts of people, particularly sinners in dire need of a place to belong. He came to usher in the dawning of a new kingdom, a new family, where everyone was invited in to wear a robe and a ring and be given a new name.
Wherever Jesus went, Love walked among the people and everyone was invited to the table called Grace.
And this is the model we’ve been given to follow, friends.
It’s not a six-point strategic method for winning lost souls or a four spiritual laws pamphlet or a seven night revival with eighteen stanzas of Just As I Am.
It’s a table, a meal, and Jesus in us.
A new kingdom is breaking, y’all.
And I see it breaking over bread.