How to Bless Your Neighbor
All right. Good morning community!
How’s everybody doing? Yeah, that’s like Sherry said, good energy! I like it. I like it. And, we’ll say a special hello to all of you who are joining us digitally online. And I think Sherry mentioned, leave us a comment so we know where you’re tuning in from and watching from.
Okay, here’s what I want to start. How many of you, you know, you like food? How many of you like food? All right, that feels about right. Okay. How many of you love food? I love. There we go. Alright. that’s when I kind of figured to, we are as a culture, we’re a group of people that we do, I think love food.
We love it. In fact, we’re so serious about food as Americans, we even have competitions centered around eating sorts of food. You’re probably familiar with the different professional leagues. Maybe, maybe not like the competitive hot dog eating. Yes? We have a fan of Joey Chestnut there, right?
You guys know Joey Chestnut? This guy? I thought I heard kind of a collective groan there. Actually, competitive hotdog eating is not the only competitive food eating league. There is also competitive crawfish eating, right… That seems like a lot of work. There’s also, onions, onion competition.
We’ve kind of teared up. Just thinking about that one. How about this one? Fruitcake. I don’t even want one piece of fruit cake, right? Why…? Or, and there’s also beef tongue… That’s so gross. I didn’t put a picture up. There you go. You guys were anticipating that like… Oh… No, I didn’t even want to put a picture up there.
I think the nastiest one of all I found was this one, a mayonnaise eating contest. All right, you’re with me on that one. Here it is. The world’s record for most mayonnaise consumed in a single sitting is four different 32-ounce bowls of mayonnaise eaten in just eight minutes.
Anybody want to try and take on the champion? No takers? Alright. As Americans, for the most part, we love just about everything has to do with food, but here’s where we’re, here’s where we’re headed this morning. I think this is going to be great. Did you know, and I’m convinced of this, that I think eating is, actually, one of the best ways for us to make a difference in the world and also to carry out the Jesus’ mission.
Can I get an amen? All right. There we go. We’re with or with Emma. Come on. This is eating. We’re talking about eating. We’re in the middle of a series. It’s been a terrific series called “How to bless your neighbor”, and it’s all about this mission. The mission, our mission around here is, is helping people find their way back to God.
Now. Occasionally I’ll have people all hear them say like, ‘Oh yeah, I love it that our church’s mission is about helping people find their way back to God.’ And they say it with some enthusiasm, some pride… and that’s good. But it’s not just your churches’ mission. If you’ve come to the place where you identify yourself as: I’m a follower of Jesus, this is also your mission. It’s my mission. This is our, not just the church’ kinda corporate… This is our mission to help people find their way back to God. And what I’m discovering is that some of us, we take this on, but we actually find ourselves kind of “hoping” people find their way back to God.
We ‘hope’ people find their way back to God rather than we ‘help’ people find their way back to God. And what we’ve discovered, both of the old Testament, going back to Genesis 12. And then as we get into the gospels, which are the stories of Jesus’ life, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in the new Testament, how he lived.
What we’re discovering is the best way to be about this mission is to do what we call ‘being a blessing’. And there’s even specific kind of practices that we see in the life of Jesus that we’ve kinda put into a simple acronym to help you remember them. And so, we’ve been talking about each of these every week.
We began two weeks ago talking about ‘Begin with prayer’. And then the week after that, we talked about the discipline, the practice of listening to other people. Not talking first but listening to them. And here’s the thing. If you have, if you missed that week, I’m telling you, go back, get the podcast, go back, watch the video of Ian and Sherry.
I’m telling you, it’s great stuff and it’s very, very, very practical. Now, here’s what we’re going. Here’s what we’re going to go today. We’re actually go to the third practice, which is the practice of ‘eat’. All right? We as a people love to eat. But we also, many of us find ourselves eating on the go, eat in the car, eat all alone…
But eating with people, intentionally eating with people can actually be really, really important. Perhaps more important than most of us realize, both for us and for others. In fact, there is a substantial amount of research that’s out there right now. That shows just how important it is, for example, for kids to eat with their parents more than one place.
They’d come back with research that talks about when kids consistently, as they’re growing up, eat with their parents, they actually will eat healthier, as adults. They actually have a lower risk of having an eating disorder. They actually will have, often there’s a correlation, they’ll have less use of cigarettes, drugs and alcohol, a better self-esteem, lower depression, and actually better grades and higher test scores.
They said all of that correlates just to eating together. There’s enormous benefits, and here’s what we discover as we kind of read with a different kind of lens, the Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John biographies of Jesus. That Jesus recognized how important it was to eat together. In fact, it’d be fun to do this, but I’ve kind of already played my cards.
It’d be fun to ask you like, ‘Hey, what do you think are some of the most important, most significant things that Jesus did while he was here during his earthly ministry?’ And I have a hunch, should we get your feedback. you would kind of say, Oh, well, his teaching was really important because that teaches us how to live. His miracles are really important because his miracles kind of confirms that he was God.
Or you might pick like a particular thing like walking on the water, right? Or maybe dying on the cross. I mean, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. But do you realize this: part of the way that Jesus changed the world was through eating. Part of the way that Jesus changed the world was through eating.
Alright, I’m going to say that again cause I thought I’d get an amen on this one. Okay? Part of the way that Jesus changed the world was through eating. Yeah. I mean, come on. I mean, I could challenge you guys with a lot of things. This is kind of a softball, right? I’m going like, Hey, go eat.
People go out there and, right? This is a good one. That’s what he did. And that’s, and, and I want us to be thinking about this cause we think about, let’s go back just briefly. Jesus’ ministry, how much is centered around meals? Where was his first? A wedding feast, which is basically a meal.
Miracles that he did like feeding the 5,000: a meal. Night before he’s crucified, that Thursday night, he brings his closest friends together and he commemorates that event with a… Help me out. What? A… meal. Exactly! Right after his resurrection, first thing he does, he gathers a couple of them together on the beach and they have breakfast… it’s a… meal! Right? Over and over we see this.
Eating was a very, very, very big deal in Jesus’ culture. And sometimes I think… Sometimes we get it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes as people, you know, we scarf down a meal while we’re driving with our knees somewhere… I’m not sure we get how big a deal it was to eat with people back then. Because eating with someone was a statement ‘I want to be associated with you.’
When you sat down with a meal with someone, it was affirmation of their value and their dignity and their worth. Back in Jesus’ day, when you eat with somebody that was almost like a signal that you love that person and they were now in closer proximity in your in your social circle.
That’s why it was so outrageous to religious leaders that Jesus frequently ate with the lowest and most despised of people in his day. Cause they were going like, no, no, no, no. You can’t eat with those, but you should be eating with the good people. Well, we see one great example of this in the, in Matthew chapter nine. It’s actually in the book of Matthew. Matthew actually writes the story of Jesus but includes himself in it.
And here’s how it goes. It says, “as Jesus went from there. He saw a man named Matthew sit at the tax collector’s booth. Jesus says, ‘follow me’. And Matthew got up and followed him. While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and sinners came and ate with him and his disciples.
When the Pharisees saw this, they asked disciples, why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners? On hearing this, Jesus said, it’s not the healthy who need a doctor but the sick but go and learn what this means. I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous but sinners.
So here, here, here’s what we just read. What’s taken place is Jesus is kind of walking along and he sees this tax collector’s booth, and there’s Matthew. Now, I don’t know if he knew Matthew already or not. Maybe he did, maybe he didn’t. But he gets to know Matthew and in getting to know Matthew, he actually says these two life changing words that he actually says to all of us, but he says them in that moment of Matthew, he says, ‘follow me’.
What we have to get is how remarkable that was because Matthew was a tax collector. A tax collector was kind of like the scum of the earth. The people back then. They were like local lackeys to this evil Roman empire, and most Jewish people considered them kind of traitors because the way they made their living was by literally charging more taxes than they actually owed, and then just keeping the excess for themselves. As much as they possibly could.
So, Matthew was amongst this group that was despised, looked down upon, and the religious leaders, when they see Jesus saying, ‘come follow me, be a part of my inner social circle here…’ They’re shocked. They don’t get this, and here’s what I want you to get.
So, he says, ‘follow me’, Matthew actually says ‘yes’, and what does Jesus do after that? Because what we have to remember is like Matthew, he’s not yet written this part of the Bible. He’s not yet seeing the crucifixion, the resurrection. No. He’s just taken his first steps to find his way back to God. Matthew is. And the first thing that Jesus does, he doesn’t have to get him signed up for some discipleship class.
He doesn’t say, ‘Hey, read this book of the Bible. Memorize these scriptures.’ Those are all good things. I’m all for all that, okay? What’s the first thing that Jesus has Matthew do? What does he do with him? Talk to me. Right. Eat. He says, ‘Hey, Matthew, how about we have dinner together?’
Someone at first service pointed out to me going, but did you notice? He said, ‘how about your place?’ Good point. They did. They ate together, right? They ate together. They would eat together. And when Jesus gets there and he’s at Matthew’s house and he’s eating with him, who else was there? Other tax collectors and other people specifically referred to as ‘sinners’ and sinner was kind of like this umbrella term that will be used in a very derogatory way for anybody who is not religious and also include anybody who had a very kind of explicit, immoral life, like a tax collector or maybe a prostitute.
And so, I mean, they’re outraged. The Pharisees are, this is going on. This is scandalous. And so, they try to undermine Jesus’ authority by starting to talk to the disciples there. And here’s what they say: ‘why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’
And I imagine Jesus overhearing the Pharisees talking to the other disciples, and maybe he’s got a big old chicken leg, you know, and something to drink. And he kind of puts it down for a second. And then he, he says this to them. He said, it’s not the wealthy that need a doctor. It’s the sick. And he’s not saying that the Pharisees are the healthy ones.
He said, listen, no, we’re all sick. We all need a doctor. And then he goes on and he actually quotes from the Old Testament and he says this, he says, ‘Hey, why don’t you go back, go back to your studies and learn what it actually means to say I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ And it was a little bit of a dig at the Pharisees because they thought they were the experts.
They knew the old Testament inside and out. And then the Pharisees see, here’s where Jesus was poking at him. These pharisees where like all stars at performing religious, religious rituals, keeping all the rules. But what they did is they ignored the poor. They ignored the vulnerable, the ignored, the marginalized.
And I think Jesus is here. And community. And I think he’s saying to us, Hey, good job today showing up for church. Good job showing up, but don’t just show up for church. When you leave here, I want you to show up for the people I put around you that I want you to bless. I want you to show up also for the people.
Cause otherwise, if you just show up for church and you know, show up for the people that God wants you to bless, then who are we in the story? Right. And see, Jesus was so clear about his mission. The Pharisees on the other hand, I mean, their mission was about, I mean, they were just trying to be obedient to the regulations and the rules and be right.
But Jesus was all about the people. And I think Jesus would tell us to, Hey, prioritize people. Prioritize the people that I have intentionally, strategically put into your life. And this tension that we see here, this, this is not something that was just kind of a one and done, only happened one time.
Now you see this kind of checkered throughout the gospels. Look here in Luke in another place in Luke chapter seven it says, the Son of man, this is Jesus talking this time, the Son of man, which was actually, this is a favorite phrase that Jesus liked to use for himself. He’s like, ‘Hey, I’m someone who’s with the people, for the people.’
The Son of man came eating and drinking. And some of you all say, ‘Oh, here’s a glutton. Here’s a drunkard. A friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ Jesus wasn’t a drunk, he wasn’t a glutton, but he’s so frequently ate with people like that, they got accused of it. A lot.
And here’s the thing, and I want you to get this. What we see in Jesus’ life is that eating was integral to his mission of helping people find their way back to God. He blessed people. And changed their lives by sharing a meal with them. See, eating was a big deal in Jesus’ culture.
You know what? I still think, and I think we underestimate this, we vastly underestimate this. It is still a big deal with people. Let me ask you this. If you wanted to move an acquaintance to a friendship, okay? You got this person, you’re just acquainted, but you want to move into a friendship, what’s the best strategy that you could use? A meal. Right? Come on. Do you guys, some of you are single. Some of you used to date back in the day, right? Right? Guys, you see a girl, you were like, wow, I would love to move this relationship from acquaintance to friendship. What do you do? Thank you. Okay. One person here has a chance to get the date. Okay. Yeah. You ask around, right? And usually it’s a meal and if you really like are going to spend some money on the meal right. Cause you’re hoping I would love to move this from an acquaintance to a friendship. And if you’re in sales, come on, you guys know this. The sales too. I mean, right? If you’re trying to close a deal, I mean oftentimes, ‘Hey look, let’s go have it. Let’s go out. Let me take you out to dinner. Let me take you to golf and let me, let me take you out for a drink.’ Cause you want to get to know the person isn’t really relationship being built. I want to move this from acquaintance to a friendship.
I know for like for Sue and I went when Sue and I were first dating, I mean the first couple of dates. I mean I knew I was into her. I wasn’t sure she was into me. And I was… and I don’t think she even knew for sure if we were dating or not. It was one of those, you know, how that starts sometimes? Or maybe it was just us.
But there was a moment when I knew I was serious about her and I could tell she was kind of into me. And it was the first time we went out to eat together. It was Eurelio’s Pizza down the South suburbs down in Homewood, Illinois. Okay. It’s the very first Eurelio’s you’ve ever been down there you gotta make the trek down there, and I still remember that. And it moved from an acquaintance to a friendship and to what, you know, hopefully more.
Here’s the thing. I want you to hear these words. This is from a Catholic theologian, Henry Nouwen. Brilliant. Listen to what he has to say. Actually, this is so, I think, so good. I probably could have skipped the whole sermon and just emailed all of you this. Okay? So pay attention to what Henry Nouwen says. He says, ‘when we invite friends for a meal, we do much more than offer them food for their bodies. What we do is we offer them friendship. We offer them fellowship. We’re offering good conversation, even intimacy and closeness. And when we say – I love this – help yourself. When we say, take some more, don’t be shy. Have another glass. We are offering our guests not only our food and our drink, but also ourselves and a spiritual bond grows, and we become food and drink for one another.’
I’m telling you, when we eat together, we are sharing everything we have included our faith and the opportunity to share our God. I’m telling this is, this is something I think we’ve vastly underestimated. Now, this is a simple thing to do and we do this regularly. But it can also be a difficult thing to do intentionally with other people that God’s calling us to bless.
And so, when we don’t do it, we end up hoping people find their way back to God instead of helping people find their way back to God. Now, one of the things we did is we gave you a, did you get the cards when you came in? Everybody grab one of those cards. I think we gave you; everyone just looks like this.
Go and hold those up. Got those. I would love you. I know you guys can do more than one thing at a time. You could do two things at a time, right? So, grab a pen in the chair in front of you, and go ahead and write down. I would love for you to fill that. Write down who are the people and places that you think maybe God has intentionally put them in my life to for me to bless them.
Who are the people or the places? The people might be your friends, might be your neighbors, coworkers … go ahead and write those… just write’em down. It will be a good at a good exercise for you to do that. The places… It might be, it could be a local coffee shop, it might be… In my case, it has been different breakfast places. It might also be an apartment complex where you live. It might be a nursing home, might be an organization that you, that you love to volunteer at to folks who are hungry and marginalized or hurting, but who are the people who are places? Now, my experience has been, as you start to write down those names, people and places, all of a sudden excuses start to come to mind. ‘Oh, ah, I can’t do that, or I shouldn’t do this, or I don’t know if I can…’ And here are some of the excuses that I’ve often heard. Alright, here’s an excuse. Excuse number one: ‘I don’t like to have people in my house.’ Some of you are going… I can hear the giggles.
Okay, that’s you, right? And maybe for you, it’s, it’s kind of like, you don’t really, really don’t know how to cook, right? You really don’t know how to cook. And now if you don’t know how to cook, and this… The other day our family was doing something… I think we were all on vacation together, and the kids, my young adult kids now, they were asking me, I said, ‘So dad, if you were at home and you had to cook something for dinner, what would you cook?
And it was just like that. Like, I literally am so lame when it comes to cooking. I literally, I was frozen, like 60 seconds. I… nothing could come up. I was like ‘errr, humm…’ And they were just laughing hysterically at me. So maybe some of you are like that. You’re just… You’re just deprived in this area.
Alright. So, if you don’t, you’re not gonna, you don’t want to have them come in and care then carry something in, right? Order something in. Uber, ah Grub hub, whatever. I mean, we got, there’s so many options now, right? And here’s the real thing I want you to get to. It really doesn’t matter so much what you have.
You can have peanut butter and jelly and Doritos for Pete’s sake. All right? No, that’s bad? Okay, I’ll, I’m getting no, don’t do that. Okay. Maybe take it up just a notch. All right? But here’s the thing I want you to get. It’s not so much about what you have, it’s with whom you’re having it. That’s the priorities. Not so much about what you have is with whom you’re having it. Here’s another excuse that I’ve heard too. ‘I don’t know what I’d say. Okay. I kind of like it. I could find something to fix or I could, we could go out to eat or I could order something and that probably is not a problem, but I don’t know what I’d say. I dunno what I’d talk about.’
Here’s the deal. This is your opportunity to use the second practice we talked about last week, which was… What was the practice last week? That’s exactly right. Listen, see, we get stuck thinking we’re going to have to do all the talking. You don’t have to do all the talking.
In fact, some of the most popular people I know are people who are great at asking questions and then listening and doing less talking. So, here’s what I’ve done. I’ve actually come up with a list of questions. Here you go. You can take a picture of those right now, okay? And for those of you who didn’t, weren’t chimed in on the date thing, if you need a date, this is how this, these are great questions while you’re on a date, okay? Except for this last one that’s not so appropriate, okay? But seriously, you go, where did you grow up? What was your family like? What kind of job do you have, or have you had, what do you like to do for fun? What are your dreams for the future? And if you are with a couple that’s dating or with their marriage, they love to tell the story of like, where did you meet? I mean, that takes like 20 minutes right there, right? They love telling that story. It’s always, that’s always fun.
Ask questions and listen. Listen. Here’s another excuse that I’ve heard. It’s this one here: ‘You know what, I think this is a great idea. I just don’t know if I have the time. I don’t know if I have the time.’
Okay. We got to reorder our thinking here. We got to start thinking differently. Okay. Cause my hunch is you probably do have the time. You just don’t realize it yet. I’m going to pick on somebody, Sarah, I’m going to pick on you. Okay? He’s going, Oh my goodness. I knew this is going to happen. I had a nightmare about this.
How many times do you eat every day? Three times, three times that the guy I called in for the first service, he said five. So that was surprising. I was expecting three. Thank you very much for being compliant three times. So, three times every day. That’s 21 times a week. Probably the majority of us, that’s probably what we do. Right? You already have in your schedule, okay? As busy and as chaotic it is, you find a way 21 times every week to have a meal. Right? And most of us are like that. We find a way to eat. What if, what if, don’t add something to your schedule. What have you said? Okay. Of those 21 different allocated slots of time, what if one or two of those, I found a way to include others, every week.
What is just one to two of those? I’m not gonna add anything. Just one or two of those, I found a way to actually include others.
My friends, Alan Hirsch and Lance Ford, they wrote a book called Right Here, Right Now. They actually said, they said this, let’s go to the next slide here. They said, ‘sharing meals together on a regular basis is one of the most sacred practices we can engage in as believers. Hospitality like this is a tremendous opportunity to extend the kingdom of God.’ I love this. ‘We can literally eat our way into the kingdom of God. If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal just once a week. We could literally change the world by eating’.
Was that the best challenge you’ve ever received at church or what? You could change the world by eating. And it can happen at any table. My table, your table, it can happen in a McDonald’s table. There was, there was a story I just came across, it went viral a couple Thanksgivings ago. It’s about a young man named Eric. An elderly woman named Jan, and both of them were all alone at breakfast time. It was a Thursday morning and Eric said, ‘you know what? I’m going to go to McDonald’s. I’m gonna McDonald’s and I’m gonna get something to eat at McDonald’s.’ And so there he went all by himself. Jan, who was 17 years old at the same idea, she left her home and she also went to McDonald’s and she was there all alone. And so, on two separate sides of this little McDonald’s were Eric and Jan eating all by themselves alone. When Jan had an idea, she saw Eric, she got up and she approached him and she said, ‘could I join you for breakfast?’ Eric quickly said, ‘yeah’. She went and got her food. He grabbed a chair, pulled it up next to hers, so she did sit down and they sat down together in that McDonald’s for breakfast. I think we got a picture of them.
They sat there together for 45 minutes. They found that they both liked art and they talked about art. They talked a little bit about church. They talked a little about Eric’s young son. Eric said Jan even shared some life wisdom with them. She said, we should never judge one another because we don’t know what kind of day the other person is having. And then after they finished, they exchanged phone numbers promised to stay in touch, and Eric walked Jan to her car.
Don’t you love stories like that? I mean, in some ways these people probably couldn’t be more different, but a bond was born where they shared a meal. And I think what made this story a really simple story go viral was because it’s so rare.
The only challenge is what if these stories weren’t rare? What if we made these stories common in our community? What do you think? What do you think this town would look like? If Potbelly’s and Portillo’s and our homes became hubs for eating together, a place where people actually connected, actually listened and actually cared.
I think in the process we get to help a lot more people find their way back to God. And I think every one of us would fulfill our calling and we’d be a tremendous blessing, a tremendous blessing to the people that God has placed us in proximity.
Let’s pray. Father God, we wanna thank you that you’ve given us the simple gift of eating that we already practice, that can be used for changing lives. Lord, I ask that in this very room over the next few seconds and minutes that you begin to bring to mind people, people that you want us to engage with, to pray for, to listen for, and to share meals with. Knowing that it can change them, knowing they can change us, knowing that it can even help them find their way back to you.
Help us make the world more like you meant for it to be. And it’s in Jesus’ name. We pray.