Sunday, August 25, 2013

a very rich speaking event

Last night was one of the most rich speaking engagements I’ve ever been part of. Last year I spoke to the Churches of Christ ministers at their annual Magarey lecture. I focused on the importance of our sense in the mission of God. A number of those present wanted to continue the conversation and the result was an invite to last night – to be part of Conversations at the table.  But as a feast rather than a talkfest!

I arrived to find a four course dinner, lights dimmed, candles lit, flowers laid out around tables. It was extraordinary.

Between each course I engaged a Scriptural text and explored four themes – companions, manners, words and communion. I wanted to provide examples of how to do church around tables, not to try and be fresh or relevant or cool. Rather in response to Jesus, who did so much of his ministry in conversation at tables.

Course 1 – Companions
I began my inviting them to plan a special meal for 4-6 people. Who would you invite? Where would you have it? What would you eat? What would you celebrate?

I then read the Parable of the Great Banquet, in Luke 14:15-23 and asked if anyone had stories of times when you’ve invited “poor, crippled, blind, lame.” This opened up some great conversation, about how we’re changed by the simple acts of inviting the strangers to eat.

I introduced them to John Koenig and his research into churches and food.

“we have seriously undervalued our church meals, both ritual and informal, as opportunities for mission … to realize this potential, we, like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, must have our eyes opened by the transforming presence of Christ at our tables.”

And the four hospitality practices he offers.

  • Practice: serving graciously by finding ways to encourage eye contact and genuine conversation.
  • Practice: setting tables in ways and places that reflect God’s abundance and creativity.
  • Practice: seek role reversals by finding ways for all to contribute (a diversity of gifts, each has its corresponding service.)
  • Practice: committing to a long-term, intentional project.

Course 2 – manners
I asked if Christians should eat differently and suggested a number of practices that might mark Kingdom manners. This included placing on the table all the cans (cleaned) used to make the meal we were enjoying and inviting folk to talk about the labels, what we know of the prayer needs of that country and pray for those people. Intercession!

Course 3 – words
I used the movie The Kings Speech, to ask what it means for us to find voice, to share our story as part of conversations. It was spliced with a number of video and art explorations of woman at the Well in John 4 – her sharing her story uniquely.

Course 4 – communion
We finished with communion. It allowed us to draw the evening together – to “Do this in memory of” the table fellowship of Jesus, the manners of the Kingdom, the words.

I finished with one final conversation around table, the Emmaus story in Luke 24, to remind us that the cup is the cup of the new covenant, in which Jesus continues to be recognised around tables; not just in the past, but into the future.

Why such a rich night? The multiple senses – food, lighting, environment, conversation, cans, wrapped around justice, mission and hospitality – made for an evening that was rich, yet inputting. The people at tables were from diverse churches, making it a time of relational growing. Mission was made as simple as eating, as challenging as Jesus radical Kingdom manners.

A night I will remember for a long time.

And I’d love to do this with other groups – an evening of mission as conversation at tables.

Posted by steve at 09:48 PM

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