INVITE THE MISFITS
'Then He turned to the host. 'The next time you put on a dinner, don't just invite your friends and family and rich neighbours, the kind of people who will return the favour. Invite some people who never get invited out, the misfits from the wrong side of the tracks. You'll be - and experience - a blessing. They won't be able to return the favour, but the favour will be returned - oh, how it will be returned! - at the resurrection of God's people.'"Luke 14:12-14 (The Message).
Today my contribution is in the form of a testimony. Several years ago, the leadership of my church caught this vision and decided to do exactly what Jesus said, invite those who were 'from the other side of the tracks'. The combined churches of our town run a soup kitchen, so we gave formal invitations to those who came regularly for their soup and bread.
The church members 'came to the party' with great enthusiasm. Donations of food poured in - a beast from a farmer and sacks of vegetables were turned into a sumptuous banquet for the down-and-outs. There were ice creams for everyone, a warm 'beanie' hat and fruit to take 'home' after the party (and who knows where 'home' was?). The young people made the church hall into a festive dining room with balloons and streamers, and then, on the appointed day, the people came streaming in, ragged, dirty and smelly but very excited and orderly.
And in with them came the awesome sense of God's presence in such power that some of us were weeping and others trembling as the people filed in. It was almost as though Jesus Himself had come to grace the party. And He had, for did He not say, 'If you have done it to the least of these, my brothers, you've done it to me'?
The people were seated in a circle and served as though they were royalty. Never had they received such a welcome and been treated with such honour. It was all about them and we, the ones who were so used to having the good things and being served, tasted the joy of turning the tables for an afternoon, serving without any anticipation of a return invitation.
The food disappeared at lightning speed - some enjoyed up to three and four helpings of delicious stew cooked over an open fire. Adults and children ate until they were ready to burst. Together with their meal came a simple gospel message told by a man whom God had rescued from the gutter and given another chance at life.
What a memorable day! At the end of it we were bone-weary, deliciously happy and filled with a deep sense of God's pleasure. He was there and we felt it. We were smitten with a vision and experience which has never left us. Since that first banquet, which we dubbed our 'kingdom extravaganza', our church has held several more banquets and a party for the children of AIDS-infected and affected families.
'Misfits from the other side of the tracks' may be our opinion of the unfortunate ones who were not born with a silver spoon in their mouths, but to Jesus they are His brothers. To Mother Teresa who served the homeless and dying from the streets of Calcutta, they were 'the face of Jesus in disturbing disguise.'
Isn't it time the church of the Lord Jesus climbed down off her high horse and put on the apron of servanthood and, like her Master, knelt down and washed feet instead of engaging in useless rituals which have nothing to do with the reason why Jesus came? He said, 'Follow me', that's all. We made up the rest.
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