The Way Of The Cross - Week 5: "Invite"
This week I'll be concluding the sermon series "The Way of The Cross: Following Christ On the Lenten Path."
Each week we'll be exploring one of the core values of our church as a Lenten practice, a spiritual discipline that we can take up --both as individuals and as a community. Our core values are: Worship, Connect, Grow, Serve and Invite.
Today we'll be talking about what it means to Invite.
When I was in seventh grade I used to go out with my youth group doing "door-to-door witnessing." In case you are wondering what "door-to-door" witnessing is all about, think Jehovah's Witnesses, or Mormon missionaries... kind of like that.
I would be required to dress up for these occasions. I would wear a short sleeved dress shirt, a garish clip on tie and would fix my hair with Brylcreme. Brylcreme, for those of you have no idea what is was a kind of pomade that made your hair look slick and shiny.
Some might call that greasy. Tomayto... Tomahto...
I had an enormous Bible that I would carry as well. And when I say enormous, I mean that it was just a step down from those gigantic family bibles that people used to record all of their births, marriages and deaths, and such.
So, dressed as I described and armed with my Bible I would join with a partner with a similar look and we would go out knocking on doors in our neighborhood. When people would answer the door, we would do our best to get out our opening statement...
"HellomynameisLeonfromCornerstoneBaptistChurchandwe'rejustoutvisitingourneighborsandwewantedtoaskyouanimportantquestion--IF YOU DIED RIGHT NOW WOULD YOU GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL?"
We learned to say all of that stuff super fast because we discovered that was the only way to get it all out before people slammed the door in our face.
Except for once.
There was this lady who sat patiently through our opening spiel, and when we asked the question, "IF YOU DIED RIGHT NOW WOULD YOU GO TO HEAVEN OR HELL?" she said...
"I don't know. Tell me more about it, would you?"
At that point my companion and I were stopped cold in our tracks. You see, we'd never had anyone want us to tell us more. Ever.
Our entire process was set up to fail, you see. It wasn't really designed to answer anyone's questions, it was designed for us to have the door slammed in our faces, so we could go back to church and tell all the stories about the people who had rejected the truth of the Gospel.
Until that one day when we had to remember the actual Good News and share it.
Most of us Christians are stymied when it comes to sharing our faith effectively. We mostly end up going into one of two directions: We either are scared into silence or we struggle with superiority.
I would say that the majority of us probably are scared into silence when we have opportunities to share our faith. We worry that we'll say the wrong thing, or that we'll be misunderstood. We worry about being too pushy, too ignorant of the topic, too whatever else we can think of that keeps us from speaking up.
But there are also many Christians out there who struggle with superiority. They know what they believe and they believe what they know, and they aren't afraid to tell you if you're wrong. They love to argue, especially with someone of another faith or no faith. And so they often say too many things, or the wrong things.
Let's take a moment to do something kind of interesting. Turn to the person or persons next to you and quickly share one of the weirdest things someone has said to you when they were "witnessing" to you, or sharing their faith.
We've all had those experiences at least once in our life. So that's how it goes down--we either say nothing or too much.
And by invitation, I don't mean the thing that happens at the end of a lot of churches where you stand there forever singing 1000 verses of "Just As I Am."
You see, the thing about sharing your faith, witnessing, giving your testimony---however you want to describe it... is that it's most effective when you just invite someone to join you in as you stumble after Jesus.
And it's the stumbling after Jesus part that's the most important because when you get closer to Jesus, when you desire to follow Jesus with all your heart, when you are making Jesus the center of your life... that can change you, and it has a profound effect on everyone who comes in contact with you.
It's like when you go that new restaurant and you had the most amazing meal in the history of ever... you want to tell all your friends and go there with them. When you see a movie that lights you up, you want to take your friends...
In the same way, when you are fired up about what Jesus is doing in your life--you want other people to come with you.
What I want you to remember more than anything else today is simply this:
The closer we follow Jesus, the more we want to invite others to join us on our journey.
As I was thinking about the idea of inviting and what it means, I was drawn to some stories of Phillip, one of Jesus' disciples. Phillip's life was turned upside down by Jesus and he spent the rest of his days sharing that story, inviting people to walk with him.
Let's read from John's Gospel chapter 1 verses 43-46
43-44 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. When he got there, he ran across Philip and said, “Come, follow me.” (Philip’s hometown was Bethsaida, the same as Andrew and Peter.)
45-46 Philip went and found Nathanael and told him, “We’ve found the One Moses wrote of in the Law, the One preached by the prophets. It’s Jesus, Joseph’s son, the one from Nazareth!” Nathanael said, “Nazareth? You’ve got to be kidding.”
But Philip said, “Come, see for yourself.”
How awesome is this? Phillip received an invitation to follow Jesus. It rocked his world. He was chosen by the Rabbi---a fisherman, who had washed out of the good schools, and the fine religious crowds. And the things he heard and experienced can only have been amazing because he naturally wants someone to come and join him.
He goes to find his friend Nathanael, and tells him that he's found the Messiah, the Promised One, and he doesn't try to convince Nathanael, overcome Nathanael's objections, or try to persuade him with great theological arguments.
Instead, he just says "Come, see for yourself." He tells him, "Come and join me, walk with me, experience this with me..."
And it gets better. Philip was called to go and share the Good News with Samaritans in the land of the Samaritans--where good Jews weren't really all that welcomed. At all.
So he's there rocking the worlds of a bunch of people that he's not supposed to like, but who wants to come on his journey with him and then he receives a vision.
Let's read from the book of Acts chapter 8 verses 26-40:
26-28 Later God’s angel spoke to Philip: “At noon today I want you to walk over to that desolate road that goes from Jerusalem down to Gaza.” He got up and went. He met an Ethiopian eunuch coming down the road. The eunuch had been on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and was returning to Ethiopia, where he was minister in charge of all the finances of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was riding in a chariot and reading the prophet Isaiah.
29-30 The Spirit told Philip, “Climb into the chariot.” Running up alongside, Philip heard the eunuch reading Isaiah and asked, “Do you understand what you’re reading?”
31-33 He answered, “How can I without some help?” and invited Philip into the chariot with him. The passage he was reading was this:
As a sheep led to slaughter,
and quiet as a lamb being sheared,
He was silent, saying nothing.
He was mocked and put down, never got a fair trial.
But who now can count his kin
since he’s been taken from the earth?
34-35 The eunuch said, “Tell me, who is the prophet talking about: himself or some other?” Philip grabbed his chance. Using this passage as his text, he preached Jesus to him.
36-39 As they continued down the road, they came to a stream of water. The eunuch said, “Here’s water. Why can’t I be baptized?” He ordered the chariot to stop. They both went down to the water, and Philip baptized him on the spot. When they came up out of the water, the Spirit of God suddenly took Philip off, and that was the last the eunuch saw of him. But he didn’t mind. He had what he’d come for and went on down the road as happy as he could be.
40 Philip showed up in Azotus and continued north, preaching the Message in all the villages along that route until he arrived at Caesarea.
So, Philip answers God's call and finds himself not only ministering to people he's not supposed to like and who really don't like him, he discovers he's being called to witness to an Ethiopian eunuch.
And Phillip doesn't bat an eyelash. It doesn't matter that this eunuch was a Gentile. It doesn't matter that he was considered an abomination because of his sexual identity. Philip meets the guy where he is, runs beside his chariot and then invites him to join in the journey.
Philip constant found himself in situations where he was having to develop relationships, recognize need and respond to the Spirit.
And think about what Philip did.
He didn't beat anyone over the head with his Bible.
It would have been scrolls anyway, but still that wouldn't have been cool.
He didn't overwhelm them with his superior theological knowledge.
He just came alongside people right where they were. And invited them to encounter Jesus.
Because Phillip wanted people to join him on his journey....
I know this is hard for some Christians to understand, but there's hardly a Christian in the history of ever who starts the story of their faith by saying, "So, I lost an argument with someone about theology."
And they most certainly don't begin the story of their faith by saying, "What was really great is that I have done all of this Christian thing without ever having anyone invite me to come along side them..."
How do we do this?
It comes down to three words: Humility. Humility. Humility.
When we humble ourselves and surrender our lives to Jesus, when we make him the center of our everything---it changes the way we see other people. We see them not as objects to be overcome, but as potential traveling companions.
And sometimes we have NO IDEA how our simple invitations--those moments when we just welcome people on our journey--might impact more than just the person we're inviting.
Let me show you a video to illustrate what I mean.
You can do this. We need you to do this. Every moment where you are encountering other people is an opportunity to add to your traveling companions. At the grocery. At the barbershop, the gym, sitting in the stands watching your kids play soccer... You have moments to share, to invite.
And sometimes it can be as simple as sharing the link to a video that rocked your world. Or a book that spoke to you.
Here's the thing, though... Listen.
If you're not lit up about your relationship with Jesus...
If you're not feeling the joy of following Him...
If you have lost your steam, your desire, your excitement about your Christian faith...
Then everything I just told you is not going to help you at all. If you're not all in with this, if it's not turning your life upside down and filling you with a sense of urgency to share it... then maybe, just maybe your first step should be renewing that relationship with Jesus. Or taking the first step to truly follow him.
Because the closer we follow Jesus, the more we want to invite others to join us on our journey.
We are about to enter into Holy Week. This is the perfect opportunity to invite someone on your journey--and it can begin by inviting them to come to church on the day when everyone sort of goes to church--on Easter Sunday.