Young voices fill the old United Church of Christ building. More than 40 children energetically and noisily move about the basement room that serves as a cafeteria.
It’s another morning at the inner-city church’s summer youth program.
Kids from neighboring families come to the church each morning. Church members and college-age volunteers from AmeriCorps VISTA play with the children, teach them, and remind them that they are loved for who they are.
Then, everyone eats lunch together.
The church’s small kitchen brims with packages of food and all manner of pots, pans and utensils. Shelf space is limited. As you can see from the photo above, the communion cups are stored with the food offered that day.
Food and faith on the same shelf.
That powerful image sticks with me and reminds me that there are two types of religion.
Through us, with us, in us
One type is self-centered and future-oriented. You follow a code of conduct to get some reward when you die. Many Christian churches teach that you don’t get to meet Jesus until you die, and then only if you’ve behaved like a “good Christian.”
And the code-of-conduct for being a “good Christian” varies significantly among denominations and is constantly changing. What was deemed unacceptable yesterday is tolerated today. It’ll change yet again.
Often, these codes of conduct ignore or contradict Jesus’ passionate teachings about how we must treat each other and care for one another, especially for those who are needy, lowly and hurting.
That’s one approach.
Many other faith communities are committed to living the message of incarnation — God feeding, healing and transforming the world through us.
People of incarnation recognize God’s presence through us, with us and in us. They try their best to embody the love, grace, forgiveness, peace and healing that the world so desperately needs.
Through love and love alone
People of incarnation recognize that the kingdom of God isn’t some reward that you get when you die, but a place you can enter now. Your heart is the door. Everyone is invited to enter and enact God’s kingdom through love and love alone.
That part never changes.
The inner-city UCC church has a picture that sums it up. Across the street from the church is its food pantry. There’s a drawing on the wall that shows a line of people waiting to get into such a food pantry.
Waiting in the middle of the line is Jesus.
Churches of incarnation take Jesus seriously when he says he’s right here with us, especially in the poor and the needy. Faith is about recognizing and responding to that presence.
So they respond by feeding the hungry as close family, listening to the troubled and offering help, providing a hug and a moment of hope to someone who’s feeling despair.
Hope, a plate of food, and an experience of God. All coming from the same shelf.