In Luke’s parable of the Great Banquet, the Kingdom of God is compared to a feast to which the master invites the “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame,” bypassing the rich and privileged who ignored the master’s invitation (Luke 14:21, NRSV).
I thought of this parable recently when I attended Cass Community United Methodist Church’s Regional Experiential Training in Ministry with the Poor, held in Detroit, Michigan in May 2015. In the midst of Detroit’s abandoned buildings and bleak empty lots, like “the streets and lanes of the town” in Luke’s parable, there is a feast of hospitality going on thanks to Cass Community UMC. And like in the parable, it is “the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame” who are being invited in.
After all, what else should we call it when people are fed, housing is found, jobs are created, the lost are remembered, human dignity is respected and understanding as well as compassion are given away freely?
Whether we were learning how to cut glass for beautiful coasters or make a mud mat out of scavenged old tires or witnessing adults with developmental disabilities working at the shredding business or hearing how a kind gentleman began his own business with a micro-loan, Cass UMC illustrated how it practices radical hospitality in all that it does.
At Cass, the Holy Spirit invites all in. Old tires dropped off in empty lots are sought after because this community sees purpose and value in the discarded.
They know that these are not simply old tires but treasures ready to give new life by creating employment and community. Yet people are sought after even more. Everyone has value, gifts, and something to offer.
As we learned the intricacies of making one of those sturdy, beautiful doormats, what looked like it would be a task we could easily handle turned into something a bit more complicated that required concentration and one’s total attention. We found our teacher to be a skilled craftsman, full of patience and helpful tips for weaving these mats.
Mistakes were pointed out and guidance was given for making these right. Laughter and work danced together and no one was left out.
Our teacher shared bits of his life, once having a good job that gave security and support. Then the job left for other shores and he faced unemployment, which eventually led to so much loss—first his job, then his car, then his home. A tale all too familiar in our land.
Yet he was not bitter. He shared that Cass had given him purpose, not just because he had work or had learned this craft, but because he was respected and needed. He spoke of the Wednesday Evening Worship at Cass’ Warehouse and how that filled his soul. After worshipping there just one time, I knew what he was talking about. It filled my soul, too.
This is Cass UMC. It’s a feast where everyone is welcome. No one is left out. Lost? Come in. Sick? You are welcome. Tired, hungry, lonely, cold? You are needed. You are respected here.
In a city where the time for celebration seems to have passed, Cass knows something else.
God is present here, and through the Cass Community UMC, God’s love and grace are shared with everyone.