Archive for May 4, 2013

Did you get the invitation?

Our Easter reflections are coming to an end as we prepare to celebrate Pentecost, and appropriately, the focus is on God’s invitation to all people to enjoy the life and grace that is offered in Jesus. The scene is set for the welcoming of all nations in the reversal of Babel which happened on the birthday of the Church. The readings from Acts, and the sermons based on these readings through the Easter season shed light on the preaching and evangelism of Peter and Paul as they overcame numerous arrests and tackled the many questions that arose as the first Christians struggled to figure out what a life built on Christ’s teachings meant to early church. What we discovered was the diversity of the people who were accepted into and became part of that early church. 

The central theme in the Easter readings was the simple theme of invitation. In Acts, we Gentiles from all walks of life are baptized and accepted into the new church, In Revelation the invitation to all who would ‘drink of the waters of life’ is proclaimed, with the assurance of Christ’s return to love and welcome those who respond to the invitation. The  Ascension which precedes the last Sunday of Easter proclaimed both God’s divine reign, and God’s gracious presence. God seeks intimate relationship with humanity, and, as an integral part of this intimacy, we need to share God’s love with one another. As we accept God’s invitation to beloved life, we are called to extend the invitation to others. At its heart, the Gospel is  an extravagant, divine invitation.

When it comes to the Gospel invitation, we often find ourselves debating things like the uniqueness of Christ, and what happens to people of other religions. But, the Gospel invitation is not to grow a particular religion-  even a Christian one. Rather, it is to invite people into the grace and love of God which is embodied and offered in the person of Jesus. The invitation is not intended to create a bunch of philosophical and religious hoops for people to jump through before they can be accepted as ‘in’, but rather to remove obstacles, and, through practical, lived and shared love, make God’s grace as easy as possible to access . Maybe, if we were less concerned about religious dominance (or the dominance of other religions that are not ours), and more concerned with the practical expression of love for those within (and without) our own faith community globally, we would have to worry less about evangelism, and more about how we welcome the people streaming to join us. A poster reads: “A suggestion for global peace – all Christians should promise not to kill each other”. What if we also promised to feed, clothe, house and educate each other?

A lot of the conversation around “Church” these days (be it emerging church, seeker church, worship evangelism, denominational structures or whatever) boils down to “church growth” or, worse, “church survival”. We are constantly bombarded with statistics about people leaving the church and stories of those who have been hurt/disillusioned/marginalised by the church. Both the stats and the stories are good and need to be heard, but our responses are often to seek new “solutions” or “programs” or “techniques” or even “theologies” to stop the bleed and get back on top – or at least back to being alive to some degree. Jesus, though, doesn’t seem particularly concerned about “the Church” and whether it grows or not. What he is concerned about is that people should know about God’s grace and life which is available through Christ and which is demonstrated by a community of love. God’s invitation, in the end, is not a message or an institution. It is a relationship with God and with those who love God and know they are beloved of God. Perhaps the best way we can be a people of invitation is to stop speaking, “reaching out” or trying to be attractive, and to start simply loving God and each other – and anyone else who happens to enter our circle of awareness.

Prayer by John Van de Laar

Lord Jesus,
it’s a shameful thing when you’ve set invitations to all who will come
and we stand at the door and turn people away
it’s shameful how we find ways to justify, in Your Name,
the lines we draw between us, the exclusions and suspicions,
the greed and power-plays, that harm the least, and protect our special interests.
And so we pray:
Lift us above our pettiness and self-protection,
and use us as Your agents of justice and mercy;
May Your grace open our doors, stretch out our arms
and turn our attention to the excluded, rejected and neglected ones.
May Your wisdom teach our minds,
open our hearts and challenge our apathy
to find solutions to the conflicts and self-created threats in our world.
May Your love release our energies,
ignite our abilities and inspire our action
to heal those who carry the scars of abuse, war and disease,
to comfort those who grieve the loss of loved ones or opportunities,
to restore the ones who have failed or fallen,
to nurture the life that breaks out in every person and every part of our planet.
And make us heralds of Your kingdom
who extend Your invitation to all who will listen. Amen.