Seasons

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to tear and a time to mend, a time to be silent and a time to speak.
Ecclesiastes 3:1-2, 4, 7 (NIV)

The cool, crisp, mornings are upon us. It is a sure sign that fall is here. The seasons are changing. The hot, muggy, days of summer are gone. The cold, dark, winter is drawing near. The vibrant green and new life of spring is both a distant memory and a far-off future. It is the way of things, seasons change.

It really is not all that different in the church. There are seasons of growth, seasons of harvest, seasons of stillness, and seasons of new life. And, while the writer of Ecclesiastes is right, there is a time for everything, sometimes it is hard to know what season it is. And, it is certainly hard to push forward during those times of death, weeping, uprooting, mourning, tearing, and silence.

In writing to the church at Ephesus, Paul says “God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love—like Christ in everything.” (Eph. 4:15, The Message) So, let’s lovingly talk about the truth for a few moments. I am concerned about the season we find ourselves in as a community of faith. Let’s be honest, attendance is low, positions are being resigned, expenses are greater than our giving. It is not a rosy picture. All of these things may make us anxious, and rightly so.

But, no one ever said being a community of faith would be easy. No one ever said following after Jesus would be easy. As a matter of fact, Jesus himself said the exact opposite: “Don’t look for shortcuts to God. The market is flooded with surefire, easygoing formulas for a successful life that can be practiced in your spare time. Don’t fall for that stuff, even though crowds of people do. The way to life—to God!—is vigorous and requires total attention.” (Mt. 4:13-14, The Message)

The way of God is difficult and requires our complete focus. The journey will be hard, but we do not walk alone. The beauty of being part of a community of faith is that we walk alongside one another, we help carry each other’s burdens, and we celebrate each other’s joys along the road of life. I recently told a friend that I did not want to wander in the wilderness, to which they replied, “There is no other group of people I’d rather wander in the wilderness with.”

My friend is right. If we have to stay in the wilderness for a generation, I cannot think of anyone I’d rather do that with. And, while they were in the wilderness, Israel found that God provided; bread from heaven and water from the rock. Honestly, I have to say I’m a little excited to see how God provides for us, because I have faith God will provide.

In addition, I would be remiss if I did not point out some of the very good things that are happening in our journey. Because there are things to celebrate, there is evidence of God’s great love and presence in our midst. There are new relationships being formed. There is a renewed desire to study the Bible and to learn about God. There are new lives being committed to following Jesus. We celebrated a baptism last Sunday and plans are already being made for our next celebration! It reminds me of one of my favorite hymns:

In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree;
in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free!
In the cold and snow of winter there’s a spring that waits to be,
unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.

God is working in our midst. We just have to have eyes to see, ears to hear, and a heart to follow.

Radical Welcome

He  told the servant, “Quickly, get out into the city streets and alleys. Collect all who look like they need a square meal, all the misfits and homeless and wretched you can lay your hands on, and bring them here.” The servant reported back, “Master, I did what you commanded—and there’s still room.” The master said, “Then go to the country roads. Whoever you find, drag them in. I want my house full!”
Luke 14:21-23 (The Message)

As the pastor was preparing for worship on Sunday morning she heard a commotion outside the front doors of the church. When she went to investigate she saw a pair of men parading in front of the church building wearing placards and shouting. They were there to protest the fact that the pastor of the church was a woman. I will not repeat some of the offensive and vile things printed on the signs they carried, or that came from their mouths as they sought to educate everyone in earshot of the sins of the congregation for following a “woman pastor.”

I thought the battle for equality in ministry and in the pulpit had been fought years ago. Furthermore, I thought that those who were opposed to women in ministry usually did not decide to protest about that topic any more. I guess I was wrong. As I watched a brief video of the event, I found my blood pressure rising and my fight-or-flight response was in full-fledged fight mode.

Fortunately the pastor of the church was able to keep a cool head in the situation. But what was more amazing was the grace and welcome with which she responded to these two men who were calling her evil. She went out to meet them on the sidewalk, wearing her robe and stole, and offered them bottles of cold water. And, she invited them in to worship… I was impressed.

However, that wasn’t all. When one member of the congregation (also a woman) politely indicated that they should take their vile display on down the street, the pastor stopped her. The congregant was stepping out to protect her pastor (certainly a nice gesture on the first Sunday of the month of ministry.) But, the pastor recognized that the best way to respond to the violence being done against her was to respond in love. She prevented the situation from getting out of hand by extending welcome.

That is radical welcome. That is what happens in the parable of the great banquet as told by Jesus. The originally invited guests, the prominent men in the community, all have better things to do than attend the party to which they were invited. So the master of the house, the one throwing the party, has one of his servants invite anyone who will come to the feast. Their status in the community does not matter. Nothing matters, except that the banquet table is full.

That is our calling as a community of faith. We are to welcome others. Whether or not they think, believe, look, or act like us does not matter. Their status, or ability to contribute to the ministries of the church, or their age, or their job (or lack thereof), none of that matters. We are called to invite everyone to the table of God, just as we have been invited by God.

I admit my own difficulties inviting people to church. There can be a great deal of stigma that goes with evangelizing. However, we have seen the impact of what I call relational evangelism. Rather than knocking on doors and inviting strangers to church, which is uncomfortable for all parties involved, take the time to build a relationship, learn about their likes and their needs. Share a bit of your journey and your life. Then, invite them to church, and a meal afterward. Make sure you sit with them, guide them through the service, and make them feel at home. Or, invite them to a social event like the upcoming bonfire where the pressure is less and they can build relationships with the other people there (after you make introductions…) I, for one, think that our radical welcome and openness to dialog make us the perfect place to journey together with God and with one another. It is time for us to welcome, and to invite, everyone to God’s table.