“The Kingdom of Heaven is like …”
We recognize this introduction to many of the parables that Jesus tells, but I want to share with you another parable of the kingdom that happened on November 9 in Sharpsburg.
It was our night to serve a meal at the Neighborhood Table. The kitchen crew was ready. Outside in the hall, we were standing by, ready to review the plan for the evening. Over several months we had made many adjustments. Now we were a well-oiled machine.
Duane welcomed the group and reminded us – as he did each month – about the mission of the Neighborhood Table: “This is not a soup kitchen, this is not a restaurant, this is a community meal. So when you have finished serving, have a seat and meet someone new, and share a meal together. That’s why we’re here.”
It was now just a few minutes before 6:00 PM when we would spring into action – serving drinks, delivering plates full of food. Pastor Ben came into the hall to thank us and then asked us all to follow him into the dining room. We all exchanged looks – “What’s this all about?” This was not part of the plan.
We lined the outer walls of the room as Ben thanked us for our commitment to the Neighborhood Table, and launched into the familiar spiel: “The Neighborhood Table is not a soup kitchen … it is a community meal.” We had heard it all before, but then there was this:
“We have been sharing a meal together for a little more than a year now – we have gotten to know each other, we have become friends, and we decided that it’s not right that you should always be serving us. So tonight, we want you to just have a seat, and our volunteers will serve you. There are reserved seats at each table – enjoy!”
There was confusion, some nervous laughter. Some of us took our seats and dug in as the food was served, others couldn’t quite get their heads around this and just kept on serving until they were “invited” to have a seat. We had come with our good intentions and our well-laid plans, ready to serve. Many of us were not ready to be served.
It threw us off a little – but that’s how grace works: it’s unexpected, and sometimes, most times, it can be hard to receive. We learned that night that the Kingdom of Heaven is like a community joined together around tables for a meal where there is no distinction between those who came to serve and those who were there (we thought) to receive.