Bessie wished she had a dollar for each biscuit she made in her lifetime. She rose before the sun and started the daily ritual. The holy trinity of biscuit making was three simple ingredients. Self-rising flour, buttermilk, and lard. Although her cupboards had been low on occasion, she never ran out of these three ingredients.
Life had been unkind to her. What remained of her broken heart became bitter and hard. Biscuit dough required a soft touch. As her fingers worked the dough, it awoke the place within her that still knew how to be gentle. How to nurture, love, and care for people. She measured no ingredients. The recipe was a part of her now. She followed the rhythm of her routine. The process soothed the ache in her soul.
A line formed at the back door. The smell of the flaky delicacies baking in the oven rang the dinner bell calling the hungry to gather. She yelled through the screen door, “Come on in.”
The Bible tells the story of Rahab, a prostitute in the city of Jericho. Her house supplied both lodging and favors for travelers. Bessie’s home resembled a harlot’s house with the shady characters who crossed her threshold.
Bessie loved the downcast and outcast alike. They lived on her doorstep lured by the intoxicating fragrance of biscuits. She welcomed them into her home. Bedded them down on her couch. Prepared seats of honor at her table. Fed them the last of her food. Like Rahab the prostitute, she ushered those with criminal records out the back door to a place of safety.
Bessie was poor, but she could see beyond material need to the heart of people who were poor in spirit. She had compassion for people worse off and fed them from her own table. She was practicing the truest form of biblical hospitality – to care for strangers.
The New Testament word for hospitality is a combination of two words which means love and strangers. The meaning of hospitality is love of strangers.
Tim Chester writes in Meals with Jesus, “When Jesus came to seek and save the lost, He came to eat and drink with sinners. Jesus’ ministry strategy was a long meal.”
What does food have to do with evangelism? Everything! Just think about how often food is mentioned in the Bible. Jesus understood the connection with food and human hearts. It connects us with people and cultures. When we gather around a table, we enjoy the food, but what we really savor are the people around the table.
Throughout history, the table has been the center of relational life. It is a place to go and be yourself. A place to belong. The table reminds us of the joy we find in connection and relationships. It is about hunger, both physical and otherwise, and the connection between the two.
While it sounds fancy, hospitality evangelism is simply the art of loving people into the Kingdom of God through food. It is a process of getting to know people and developing trusting, loving relationships to present the good news of Jesus Christ. It may start with a slice of pound cake extended to a coworker that leads to a casserole during a family crisis. It’s celebrating life with people in the big and small moments over food for the purpose of sharing the gospel at just the right moment.
The Southern table has traditionally been so much more than a piece of furniture beautifully dressed for holiday meals and special occasions. It is a place of belonging that speaks the language of love, relationships, and nourishment of every sort.
As we wrestle with how to reach the lost, is it possible the dinner table is our mission strategy for people starving for connection, belonging, and community? Leonard Sweet writes, “Our culture is hungry for table time.” Could our impromptu invitation for chili and cornbread lead someone to Jesus?
In the book, Come & Eat, Bri McKoy writes, “It’s amazing how often the Bible records Jesus showing up at a table to share a meal, and furthermore, how many times Jesus Himself extended the invitation to come and eat. What if there is more power in the simple invitation to come and eat than we can even begin to fathom? What if, in sharing a meal, in our eating and drinking with others, we truly can proclaim the Good News? What if the most accessible and consistent way we can share the love of Jesus with others is right in our home? Right around our very own common dining room table?”
Is evangelism as simple as yelling through the screen door, “Come on in” and adding another chair and place setting at the table? If so, let’s throw wide open the doors of our homes, gather the downcast and outcast alike, bring them to our table and eat!