Growing up, my Thanksgiving and other holiday experiences were pretty homogenous – they were often spent gathered with family and other people who were exactly like me. Each person at the table shared the same race, background, economic status, and general worldview as I did. It’s important to note that I absolutely love my family and the experiences that we have had during our holiday celebrations over the years. However, as I have grown in my faith I have begun to understand that seeking to live like Jesus means that I will inherently invite people who are different from me into the sacred experiences and moments of my life.
This year, I found myself unable to attend my traditional Thanksgiving gathering with the rest of my family for various reasons. Unsure of how I was going to spend the holiday, I resigned that I would likely make a frozen pizza and watch the Cowboys game. However, a week or so before Thanksgiving one of my best friends and co-pastors asked if I would join his eclectic gathering of friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving. I agreed to join them and was excited about the unique experience that it would bring.
Those who attended the meal included:
A Muslim, human rights attorney and his family who fled the Taliban in Pakistan and sought asylum in the U.S.
A friend of mine who had experienced a life-altering stroke in the prime of his career
The step-brother of our host who has fought and defeated cancer, but lost his arm to the disease
A man who is walking through a difficult and painful season with his wife
A collection of other friends and family members each with their own pains, joys, and experiences
We found that when we gathered around the kitchen table to share in a meal and discuss what we were thankful for that each of us had experienced both great joy and pain in the past year. Some experienced immense loss, others suffered from terrible sickness or emotional trauma. We had the opportunity to create a safe and sacred space to understand each other’s unique perspectives a little better. For a few moments, we chose to exist in a specific place with specific people over a delicious meal.
When I read about Jesus in the Gospels, I am struck by the number of instances in which He was described as sharing a meal with people who were unlike Him. Tax collectors, prostitutes, pharisees, the poor, the sick, and the broken sinners of the day were the kind of people who attended dinner parties with Jesus. Jesus himself describes His kind of guest list in Luke 14 as consisting of: the poor, crippled, blind, and lame (Luke 14:21). When we commit to living like Jesus, we must realize that an important part of experiencing the Kingdom of God is learning to create space in our lives for people who are different. Our aim should be to seek out relationships across boundaries that should naturally separate us. When we purposefully seek to engage people who are different from us, we are reminded of the image of God that is within all people, and God’s desire for them to know Jesus.
I would like to challenge you, as one of your pastors, as we quickly approach the Christmas season – this year, seek to intentionally invite an individual (or a family) who is different from you in race, religion, socio-economic status, or political affiliation to join you at either:
Then, if you’re willing for an additional challenge, plan a time to eat a meal with them to discuss the experience. Together, consider what it means for you as individuals and collectively that Jesus came into the world as a human, and sought to love and embrace people who were vastly different from Him. I believe that when we intentionally seek to love and engage with people who are different from us we begin to better understand what it means to live like Jesus.