I’ve eaten with close to a half a million people and, regardless of who they are or how often they eat with me, they all receive the same welcome.
Jordan was doing God’s work with his hands even when he was sitting on the other side of the feeding line. But after finding housing and becoming the council president of St. Paulus Lutheran Church in San Francisco, Jordan revived the churches meal program for homeless individuals who are HIV positive, led efforts to partner with Project Homeless Connect to provide free prescription eye glasses for individuals in need and has transitioned from a regular guest at dinner to a meal host and a member of my board of directors.
I’m not telling you Jordan’s story to suggest that he is better than anyone else I’ve fed over the years. I’m telling you so that you’ll know that the work we do with our hands sometimes makes it possible for others to do God’s work with their hands.
Housed or houseless, when we serve the homeless, we embody the Messiah who ascended before fully bringing worldly peace, justice and healing. Instead, Christ became the final sacrifice that freed us all to complete the work that was left behind.
I‘ve served food with thousands of volunteers, and regardless of what they do the rest of the week, their church affiliation or their social status, they all receive with the same welcome.
Allen volunteered at nearly all of our Saturday community dinners for four years before I learned that he was the president of Palo Alto University. At one of our Christmas dinners, the board of directors of the psychology school and their family members served the meal. Last June, after seeing the radical welcome our meals offered even those with severe mental health issues, the university decided to give me an honorary doctorate.
I’m not telling you this story to brag. I’m telling you so that you’ll know that you can get the equivalent of a lifetime achievement award because of the love that can be put into serving just one meal.
At the Welcome Ministry our volunteers eat with our homeless guests, because Jesus told us that in doing so we could eat dinner with him. Over the years, many of our homeless and formerly homeless guests began coming to dinner early to help serve the meal, and the line has almost entirely blurred between those who are serving and those who are being served.
Sometimes housed individuals who are volunteering for the first time ask me how I can eat with the homeless and find the courage to do the work that I do. Sometimes individuals who find sobriety or a sheltered place to live ask me why I treat individuals they think aren’t working hard enough to find shelter or sobriety exactly the same as those who are making “better choices.”
I’m not telling you this because I think I’m doing anything that you can’t also do. I’m telling you this to remind us both that with our hands we do God’s work of restoring and reconciling communities in Jesus Christ’s name throughout the world.
We are called to serve and to make it possible for others to serve. May we do so without micromanaging, nagging or judging if they don’t do it the way we think they should, fast enough or efficiently.
We are called to amplify the voices of the voiceless so that those who are last may be first. May we not only do this but also get down on our hands and knees to offer our backs as their soap box.
We are sent out in the world to love our neighbors, dine with Christ and proclaim welcome, regardless of what side of the table we find ourselves sitting on. May it be so.
Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor and the executive director of Welcome — a communal response to poverty. She and her family recently moved from San Francisco to Rochester, Minn.