“Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” There is no commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NIV)
So just exactly how do you love your neighbour when the very sound of the doorbell sends most of us into hiding? Let me suggest to you that the solution is to eat out more often! I don’t mean ordering out for pizza, but rather that if you are not quite ready to open up your own home to your neighbour, then find where people are and go out to eat with them!
Acts 2:42-47 makes it clear that eating together is a very important way to grow healthy relationships. Nobody shares a meal with anyone unless there is a desire for deeper relationship: just think of your first date! When you sit down to eat with someone, you are saying, “You are worth my time. I want to really know you. I value you.” You are taking things to the next level!
A ministry at Hillcrest Baptist Church in Saint John, New Brunswick, that we call Soul Food was born almost a decade ago to respond to the needs of the hungry in West Saint John. Initially, the program was designed to be like a soup kitchen with delicious food, worship music, and the gospel message all being offered as a service to the community. Then something shifted a couple of years ago and our little ministry absolutely changed.
We invited the congregation to join us at the Soul Food program, and the meal time became an opportunity to care for and sit down with our neighbours. We were no longer providing a service as much as we were having meals with our friends. In a period of about two years, the ministry grew from about 15 to 20 folk to around 80 to 100 people. We absolutely fell in love with them and they knew it!
The dynamics continued to evolve. Those who initially came to receive a service were soon working alongside us. Our Soul Food people now helped with setup, teardown, leading hymns, serving the food, and so on. Some days when I go into the kitchen to see what is happening, I realize I am the only Baptist there!
This sort of ministry can get a little messy, but I believe it is the kind of pure religion talked about in James 1:27. People crave genuine love in relationships. For too long we have let the fear of making mistakes keep us from doing God’s work when he has simply desired obedience from broken people to love others honestly.
Love is the lamp that lights our way as we engage with other precious lives. If someone has a different religious or spiritual viewpoint, sexual identity, or moral system, they need to know that, regardless, they will be shown love and dignity. People are often surprised to find they have just sat with the senior pastor for lunch. They are confused that I haven’t judged them for the jokes they told, or the opinions they’ve shared, or the clothes they are wearing. The realization that can follow is that if the pastor (or another Christian) doesn’t reject me, then maybe God doesn’t either.
It wasn’t long before people realized that they were sincerely welcome to be part of the church family. Some now join us in worship on Sunday mornings. It has brought a beautiful and sometimes challenging change to the service.
In Revelation 3:20, we see that Jesus is knocking on the door of your heart. He is asking to be let in so that he can sup with you. He is not waiting for you to be perfect or have it all together before he will meet with you. Likewise, we are called to go and knock on the hearts of people even if our or their lives are messy.
So, go ahead … eat out a little more this year and love your neighbour!
Rev. Andrew Morse is the senior pastor at Hillcrest Baptist Church. He loves to love God and the people created in God’s image.
First featured in the March 2018 Tidings magazine. More about Tidings and Atlantic Baptist Women here: https://www.atlanticbaptistwomen.ca