JONES CREEK — When I preach in a church on Sunday morning I am typically treated to a delightful meal in a lovely restaurant and thoroughly enjoy the food and fellowship. Recently I have been to places like P.F. Chang's, Outback, and Cracker Barrel for Sunday lunch and have thoroughly appreciated and enjoyed the experience.
This past Sunday I preached in south Georgia where life seems to be moving at a bit slower pace. It certainly beats the hustle and bustle of life’s torrid rat race in Atlanta. There are certain places below the Gnat Line that remind me of days gone by life when life was more like Mayberry and less like I-285 during rush hour. In fact, swatting gnats is much easier than dodging careening cars on Atlanta’s “constantly under construction” interstate highway system.
I remember when neighbors actually knew each other, sat on the porch, and talked after all the chores were done. I remember when we would invite the neighbors over for a watermelon-cutting or when we had made a freezer of ice cream. I remember when we actually talked to people instead of texting them. I also remember when church members had preachers in their home for Sunday dinner.
How tragic that many church members have never learned how to be hospitable. All week long they criticize their pastor, and on Sunday they listen negatively as he preaches his heart out. Then they go home and have their favorite Sunday dinner – not fried chicken, but roast preacher.
When I talk about having the preacher for dinner that is not what I mean. This past Sunday I had the opportunity to preach in Jones Creek Baptist Church near Ludowici for the Sunday morning service. The church was not large, but they had a choir and we sang hymns – “Heavenly Sunlight”, “Majesty”, and “I Surrender All.”
After the service I was invited to the home of Jimmy and Anne Eubanks Parker for Sunday dinner. I could smell the tantalizing aroma of beef stroganoff as soon as I got out of my car. When I entered the Parker home I was immediately impressed by the two chocolate pies that adorned the kitchen table and then looked behind me where the beef stroganoff, stuffed squash, green beans, peas, pear salad, asparagus, fruit, and rolls were displayed in an impressive array. Various serving utensils, bowls, and platters filled every space not taken up by Ann’s country cooking.
I was also impressed by the Parkers’ china, which was vintage Franciscan Ware Ivy distinguished by an interlocking pale and dark green charming hand painted embossed design. To be more precise, it was the same pattern that Martha Jean and I had early on in our marriage; and it was the same china that appeared on such television programs as the “I Love Lucy Show” and the “Donna Reed Show."
The Parkers’ dinning room table had seen multiplied hundreds of meals over the years and scores of preachers had been entertained in their home. On Sunday the host and hostess had Jones Creek Pastor Steve Davis and his wife, Becky, Minister of Music Price Chapman and his wife, Connie, grandson Sam Parker, and me as guests for dinner (lunch).
Ann stated, “I grew up in Damascus Baptist Church near Appling and my father and mother, Jack and Fannie Mae Eubanks, were always hosting preachers in our home. I grew up loving the idea of having guests for various meals and I guess I am just carrying on that tradition.
“We have had great Christian musical personalities like Frank Boggs, missionaries from around the world, and many revival preachers eat in our home.”
When I was growing up my parents opened up our home to feed guest preachers Sunday dinner. I would sit quietly and listen in rapt attention as some of those godly men told riveting stories of how they had seen the hand of God at work in the church and in the lives of men and women. Listening to those fascinating stories of redemption and revival had a profound influence in my life and God used those table talks to prepare me for his call into the ministry.
My wife has often prepared meals so that we could have some of the greatest preachers in America come into our home. One of the great blessings of our lives was having Stephen and Heather Olford in our home for a meal after he had preached in our church for an Easter service during my pastorate at Peachtree Corners Baptist Church in Norcross. I am so grateful for a wife who has the ability to extend a gracious welcome and prepare a sumptuous meal for our guests.
I believe one of the gifts of the Spirit is hospitality. I Peter 4:9 says, “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” My wife, as well as Ann Parker and many other women, have that wonderfully welcoming gift of hospitality.
It is interesting that Jesus seemed to think that the dinner table was perhaps the most important piece of furniture in the house. He was always pausing to eat a meal with someone. He apparently often ate at the home of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha in Bethany. He ate with Zaccheus in Jericho after his conversion. He ate with despised tax collectors and other assorted sinners as well as dining with the religious elite. And when Jesus wanted to give his disciples an ongoing way to remember him, he didn’t give them something to memorize, a theology to ponder, or some mantra to repeat. He gave them a meal.
If preachers make you nervous, here is a better suggestion. Have a lost family in your home for a meal. Show them the love of Jesus and share your testimony. That act of kindness could pay eternal dividends.