12 May 2013

If you decide to celebrate the Ascension on Thursday, then you’ll be looking at Easter 7 for Sunday. This is the last Sunday before Pentecost (which closes out the 50 days of Easter), 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, then, for the welcoming of all nations in the reversal of Babel which happened on the birthday of the Church.

May you hear God’s gracious invitation again as you worship and prepare this week.

READINGS:
Acts 16:16-34
: After casting a demon out of a fortune-telling slave girl, Paul & Silas are imprisoned. They continue to worship even while in jail, and the prison bursts open, giving Paul an opportunity to lead the jailer and his family to faith in Christ.

Psalm 97: God is great and mighty over all, above all gods and idols, causing the earth to tremble, and rescuing and protecting those who are God’s people

Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21: John’s conclusion to the Revelation proclaims Christ as the one who invites all to find life in Christ, and who is coming to¬† ‘set things to rights’ bringing rescue and the safety of the Holy City to those who respond to God’s invitation.

John 17:20-26: Jesus prays for his disciples and for all who will come to believe in him, that they may be one, and that through their love and their ‘belovedness’ the world may be brought to knowledge of Jesus.

REFLECTIONS ON THEME:
At first glance, the readings this week seem completely unconnected. But a closer look reveals the simple theme of invitation. In Acts, Paul and Silas are given a unique opportunity to invite a jailer into Christ’s life. In the Psalm, God’s glory and power are the context for an invitation to those who are ‘godly’ to find refuge in God. In Revelation the invitation to all who would ‘drink of the waters of life’ is proclaimed, along with the assurance of Christ’s return to love and welcome those who respond to the invitation. In John Jesus prays for unity and love among believers so that others may see this, know the truth about Jesus, and be drawn (invited) into the life of Christ, and of the loving, beloved community of faith. It is appropriate that this theme should follow closely behind last week’s focus on hospitality, and on the celebration of the Ascension – which proclaimed both God’s divine reign, and God’s gracious immanence. God seeks intimate relationship with humanity, and, as an integral part of this intimacy, we need to share God’s love with one another. Thus, even as we accept God’s invitation to beloved life, we are called to extend the invitation to others. The Gospel is, after all, at its heart an extravagant, divine invitation.

CONNECTING WITH LIFE:
GLOBAL APPLICATION: When it comes to the Gospel invitation, we inevitably find ourselves debating things like the uniqueness of Christ, and what happens to people of other religions. But, the invitation of the Gospel is not to grow a particular religion (even one that calls itself by Christ’s name). 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 to access as possible. Perhaps, 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. As I read on a poster the other day: “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?

LOCAL APPLICATION: 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.

RESOURCES FOR WORSHIP:
Prayers:
The Amazing Invitation
Extending The Invitation
Chains

Hymn Suggestions:
And Can It Be
To God Be The Glory
Come Let Us Sing Of A Wonderful Love
Come Sinners To The Gospel Feast
You Are
Wonderful Love
Join The Song (Link to YouTube video)
All Who Are Thirsty (Link to YouTube video)
Come Now Is The Time To Worship (Link to YouTube video)

Liturgy:
A Liturgy for Communion

Video Suggestions:
Invite
Invitation To The Thirsty

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