Raise a hand if you have lead or participated in at least one Back to Church Sunday…
Over the past couple of years I have been on the outer fringes of some great work happening in the Diocese of Toronto around inviting people to church. A small transition has been happening to move Back to Church Sunday’s focus away from one day towards creating a culture of invitation. The result has been a resource called invited: Exploring Genuine Christian Invitation by Spirit of Invitation.
Last week I attended Vital Church Maritimes and saw the resource for the first time in it’s completed state. We spent time with examples of invitation from the Scriptures and this week’s first reading was one of them.
Many of us are getting ready to wind things down, planning Sunday School closings and looking forward to final meetings before summer (two more if you stop in June). Only 2 more Sundays before that long weekend when cottages start opening up and the congregational numbers start to dwindle.
What if we make Easter season another season of invitation? We have Pentecost to look forward to, we are filled with the joy of the Resurrection. Sunday mornings are getting less hectic so it is less intimidating for a newcomer to encounter.
One of the Bible studies invited provides is for the story of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch. The theme explores how we extend the invitation to others to join us for Church.
If we want a story about how to invite the stranger, could the writer of Acts have come up with a better illustration? Not only from another country, a different race, but a different sexuality as well, a eunuch. This man can be categorized as “the other” in so many circumstances.
One of the first things that encourages us from this reading is that people do want to hear the good news we have to share about Jesus Christ. The eunuch was a Jew studying the prophet Isaiah and saw the connection between the Jewish Scriptures and the Son of God. When Philip went to the eunuch, he was already curious.
We are all afraid of rejection. We assume no one wants to hear about our faith, so we don’t share it. If we don’t share, then no one can reject us. But the truth is we are in a time and place where conversations about spirituality and faith are all around us. Even those who would outright reject Christianity want to talk about it and ask questions.
The second place of entry into this story is imagining ourselves in the eunuch’s place. More often we identify with Philip (except for the whole apparition thing) but the best way to extend an invitation is from compassion and empathy. The eunuch was reading these words from Isaiah 53.
“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation? For his life is taken away from the earth.”
What do these words sound like to a man who has been physically mutilated, either by oppression or by choice–a man who was sheared and a man who was slaughtered, neither ever fathering children, both dedicating their lives to a kingdom? We don’t know what happens between the eunuch and Philip. We often assume Philip offers an exegetical and theological explanation about the fulfilment of Isaiah’s prophecy. What if it is a more pastoral conversation? One that identifies with the eunuch’s deepest pain?
When did we give up on the idea that Christianity has something to offer to the society we live in? We each receive our own benefits from a life of faith, but do we believe the good news has anything to offer to the overstressed, the unjustly oppressed, the fragile marriage, the scared student? If we truly believed it, wouldn’t we share it?
Is God calling each of us to minister to someone nearby? An interesting exercise would be to offer your folks a few minutes to turn to their neighbour and offer “a reason for the hope that is within them”. Could they find the courage to ask God for the opportunity and, when it arises, share it with someone they work with, live with or are friends with?
Here is the video for Session 5 of invited, which includes the Bible study on this passage. If you have the equipment you may want to show it during your sermon time, or maybe at the beginning of the service as a teaser.