Mission trips are enriching and humbling experiences. I was 40 years old when I participated in my first one. We went to Lake Charles, Louisiana to help rebuild homes and lives after Hurricane Rita tore through the city. Our leader and trip coordinator was a retired pastor I greatly admired. He had decades of mission experience, and shared wisdom and advice with us in preparation for the trip. One of the the things he told us was that people would be grateful for our help and would offer us food and drinks.
“Accept them,” he said.
He explained there might be a temptation to say no if we thought the person was being generous beyond their means out of sense of obligation. It was not our job to make that decision for them. We might be offered food we didn’t recognize or think we’d like. Barring food allergies or ethical restrictions, we were advised to accept and eat at least a small portion. When someone offered us hospitality, we were to accept it because refusing it would display a lack of respect to the soul and person. The pastor’s advice to drop my paternalistic, privileged attitude (my words, not his) has stuck with me all these years. He taught me to say “yes” was to say grace.
Recently I realized there was even more depth to this lesson.
The people we served had no idea what kind of people we were when we weren’t roofing, repairing fences, or clearing debris. They didn’t see our petty squabbles about church policy, estranged families, drunken self-pity, and criminal records. We were each invited to their table because, at least for that moment, we had all gathered in the name of Christ. And that’s all they needed to know.
We can have a lot of trouble extending the same grace to people we know well. If you knew all my bad behaviors – or thought you did – you might not think I should be accepting communion. You really might think I shouldn’t be offering it. But in that moment, whether we are giving or receiving, we are gathered because of Christ. In that moment, we are what Christ hopes we can be all the time. All the other moments of our lives may range from imperfect to downright wicked, but at Christ’s table we gather for a single, pure purpose. Grace allows us to accept the Bread of Life. Grace allows us to offer the Cup of Salvation.
When Christ invites us, we are to say “yes.” And that’s all we need to know.
May the peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all.