By Rev. Riley Palmer
Those who call Jesus Christ both Lord and Savior are part of a spiritual family. The Family of God consists of people from every walk of life, every tribe, tongue, and nation. It is a great honor to be called by His name, and we have a high and holy purpose to fulfill. We are Christ’s hands, feet, heart, and mind in this world.
As such, followers of Christ have a long history of serving others. We take our example from Jesus Himself. John 13 records our Lord, “rose from supper. He laid aside His outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around His waist. Then He poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around Him.” The UGM has always been a place where Christians have been able to work out their calling to serve.
But, what about eating? Didn’t Jesus “rise from supper,” after eating the Passover meal with the disciples?
The challenge to be conformed to the likeness of Jesus includes the task of eating with the people we serve. All too often, we rightly fulfill our calling to service but wrongly neglect our calling to share the table. Jesus was criticized for sharing His table a little too liberally. Matthew records in chapter 9 of his gospel:
“And as Jesus reclined at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were reclining with Jesus and His disciples. And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ But when He heard it, he said, ‘Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. Go and learn what this means, “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.’”
Jesus believed that eating with people showed mercy. I surmise it’s because sharing a meal is an act reserved for family.
Jesus came to adopt people into the Family of God. He didn’t just serve those in need; He allowed them to become His family, really and truly. God in the flesh came to reconcile all people to Himself, and by doing so, we all find ourselves as equals in the presence of our Lord. In the gospel of Matthew chapter 12, a man comes to Jesus and tells Him that His family is outside, waiting to speak to Him:
“But He replied to the man who told Him, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Doing the will of our Father in heaven binds us together into a big, spiritual family. And, I think that we have an obligation to treat everyone, especially those we serve in the name of Jesus, as family.
The bottom line is this: we who are not homeless, hungry, addicted, or deeply struggling people, we have a rich opportunity to eat with, and learn from, those who are. In doing so, our attempt to be a blessing shows us a new humility—for we are the ones being blessed. In reaching out to be family to others, we find ourselves being reached out to.
Struck by a deep desire to extend fellowship to our brothers and sisters in need, I began to find occasion to eat dinner down at UGM. I entered through the famous “East Door” and got in line with everybody else. The first couple of times, I didn’t even talk to anyone. I felt very out of place. I thought that everyone there would see I did not belong.
But, they didn’t. We were all united in a common need to eat. Hunger—both physical and spiritual—is a great equalizer.
As I stepped up to the kitchen window, I was handed a tray of food. The men of the mission served me; they even cleared my plate, washed my dishes, and left me with a “God bless you.” It was humbling.
In time, I made some friends. I prayed for them. It became so valuable to my spiritual growth, I began to invite people from my church. I set up three simple rules for “successful ministry.”
- Actually eat there. You have to actually go through the east door and have a meal. It’s surprisingly easy.
- Make a friend. You will be surprised at how easy this is, too. Give it some time and actually try. If you see some of your church friends down there doing the same, make sure you do not sit with them. Rather, find someone you don’t know. After a time or two, I found that I had conversations easily with people who I had seen before or somehow recognized me. Simply learn a name and commit that person to memory.
- Pray for that friend. Even if they aren’t really your friend, you just know their name. You would be surprised at what happens when you begin to pray for them. You will find that they are praying for you.
I am deeply challenged to just be a friend to someone in need. Most people in need have their physical needs met. Places like the Union Gospel Mission do an amazing job meeting those needs. The friends I have made at UGM don’t need my food, my clothes, or my money. They need my friendship. I believe our churches need to provide something they do not have: spiritual family. We should be eating dinner (it’s free!) with those Jesus cherishes.
I hope to see you, just through the east door.
Reverend Riley Palmer graduated from George Fox Evangelical Seminary and is the pastor at The Adopted Church. He and his wife Corissa, who is a graduate of Women's Recovery at Anna Ogden Hall, have three beautiful children. When he's not chowing down in the dining room at UGM, Riley spends time preaching in evening chapel services at the Mission.
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