Friday, October 4, 2013

Inviting the Uninvited

Later, Levi invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. (There were many people of this kind among Jesus’ followers.)

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, “Why does he eat with such scum?”

When Jesus heard this, he told them, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”
 ~Mark 2:15-17 (New Living Translation)

Yesterday we received an invitation in the mail. It is amazing how a few words on a piece of paper can change one's mood and focus. It was not wedding or baby shower invitation, but a blanket invitation on church stationery sent from a person we highly respect worded so very delicately to invite those who have departed...not from life but our former church. The "impromptu homecoming" is set on a Sunday this month, when a gospel couple will be singing at the morning service. (Too bad it did not mention a meal to follow as that always seemed to attract more people than anything else ever did.)

Initially, when my husband told me about the invitation, I though it would be nice to have a bit of a reunion with the people who were a part of our lives for four years...just a visit for the hi's, hugs, and no hard feelings kind of thing that I would like to see at all reunions.

My husband is one to bring me down from my wishful, head-in-the-clouds dreams to hard-earth reality. Has even one of these people called us in the ten months since we left? Only one but that was initiated by me some months ago and I was told that even she does not attend the church now. (The one couple with whom we are close I do not count; it was only a matter of time that they would leave and they have. We all go to the same church now and I think they love it even more than we do!)

My husband is not in the least interested in the get-together, although he did say if it were only for the person who sent the invitation, he would go, but later he thought about how uninvited we were into the lives of the church members. For the most part, we both are all or nothing types of people. We will give our all until we have nothing left, which is why we are choosey about making commitments trying to be sure it is God's will and timing. When it comes to individuals, we always look for something with which we can connect deeply, hooks that will stick into the flesh and keep us from pulling away from each other. Such hooks seem deflected by Sunday shields of shallow politeness and we have been in such churches for most of our lives, including this one. We have been invited, but heartily welcomed...?

When we were in that church, we called ourselves a family but the family lacked some crucial relationship-building elements, like being involved in each other lives, helping each other out, being invited to one's home to share a meal, or at least a "how ' ya doin'" phone call once in awhile—and to pray with a person just because...well, I guess that was supposed to be the pastor's job. We knew more about each other because over time we had shared information, but I stopped giving much personal information for months and no one made any inquiries. Other than the Sunday morning polite exchanges our relationship with them was no deeper than walking in the doors of another church to which we had never been previously—having had the experience for some months to compare, I promise you that I am not exaggerating. Even when we invited others for a meal, which was hard enough to coordinate with my husband's work schedule and his travels, there was always an excuse as if getting too close on a personal level was a secret code that we were breaking, except for one couple with whom we have developed a strong bond. Even when a visiting pastor came, one of two couples would ask his family to dinner after services, but even if they were eating out, it was like a secret where they were going. The churches we loved the most would tell everyone so whoever wanted to join the meal would feel welcomed to do so.

"We were hoping our dear friends who helped found and settle our church...." That could have been us in a prior time perhaps, but it would not be us since the 40-day fast two years ago. We did not help found that church: not the church as it began but more so not the church it has become. If anything, we felt very strongly God's leading to unsettle was this time last year, in fact.

The questions that still hang in the air:

  • What has changed in that church from a year ago?
  • Why are there no young people or children in the church? 
  • Better yet: Why has God not even sent anyone under 40 years of age to the church in the last three years?

While I enjoy and have sung gospel music, it does not escape me that the only ones who are going to be attracted to a church service of gospel music are the people mostly over 50 years old who were raised in churches that had gospel music (and often preached that all other music, except for hymns, are not holy enough). That is exactly the same tactic this church has used for years...while hoping for change. It is so sad to watch this same scenario being replayed over and over with enough window dressing that the members can convince themselves that it is a step towards change. How many steps towards change have we taken with them? Enough to know we walked in circles inside of the box they have created. Being outside of the box gives one a completely different perspective than being inside of it.

There are masses of unsaved, never-been-churched people who could not be more unreachable with "old time religion." It may be good enough for some, who wish to come out and be separate from the world, but the flip side is that it is not reaching all those lost people who live in the world. Religion has always alienated people, but Jesus did not: He was (and still is) the Kingdom at Hand. He is Incorruptible Love. He is the Church. He is most definitely out of the box reaching the unreachable, inviting the uninvited. I just do not think my Lord reached the unsaved singing gospel music and sitting in church waiting for God to change things for Him or bring people to Him, but by being willing to change things for God and do what the most religious men found to be unacceptable, and even unholy, as He met with the sinners outside of the synagogue! He was the representation of His Father and are we not to be representing Him?

There is a chorus of a surrender song by the band Unspoken called "Lift My Life Up" that rings in my head right now:

All my dreams, all my plans
Lord, I leave it in Your hands
I lift my life, lift my life up
Have Your way in me
Have Your way in me

If only that could be the focus of this church! If only we had more church-goers being Jesus instead of talking about Jesus and trying to look like model churchers as were the Pharisees, not Jesus! If only God could have His way with the church...He would call people to it, young and old. I have seen what churches look like when the people are sincerely asking God to have it His way with their church AND are willing to act on His wishes, those who are being Jesus to the unsaved, those who are willing to do what is impossible for them to do, because they have seen so many times how God will make it possible! They have something that is not contained in a box or a building.

My Lord has sent my family to churches where their services are a spiritual splash of refreshment and a joyful reunion with people we did not even know, yet the spiritual connection was evident. It would not be a homecoming for us to visit our former church, nor do I feel my Lord calling us to go back. There will be time for meaningful reunions of old acquaintances in heaven; today is time to embrace more lost souls with His arms.

~ My Lord, help us all to give up our religious views, those things that we place so much importance but bear no fruit, those things that so blinded the Pharisees. Bring us all in reunion with You and Your will.  ~


Thank you fellow travelers for walking and talking with me along this journey.