To love, to invite, to serve.
A very simple mission - a mission deeply rooted in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Churches try to be counter-cultural in so many ways, but what happens when the very mission of a church (our church) is counter to everything that folks think of as church.
“Churches are not welcoming of strangers.” (From a visitor of a church that was asked to move because she was in what some woman thought of as “her” pew).
“Why would you want to be a pastor? All churches hate people like you.” (A comment directed towards me from someone I met. And I had to be honest with this person - yes - there are more haters than lovers in this case).
“You believe in the Bible and not climate change...churches are anti-science.” (It seems funny how people hear one thing on the news and figure it is “all of us” that believe in a certain way).
(taken from Facebook posts throughout the years).
Yet, I struggle to understand how a place can call itself church or Christian if it does not extend the unconditional love of Jesus Christ to all people. Full stop. Unconditional love does not demand a loyalty to the Gospel or belief in Jesus. Jesus loved without condition. Belief came many times after his love - but it was not a requirement for his love. I find us going against the grain here at St. Stephen’s because we state in our welcome statement exactly what Jesus modeled in his life. We live it out. We love...unconditionally.
Jesus also invited people to the table with him. He invited people into his ministry of love and reconciliation. He knew who these people were. Prostitutes. Beggars and poor folk. Deniers (and this is the guy that he said he will build his church on), and betrayers. Let us not forget tax collectors and sinners ate dinner with him - and he did not care one bit! He only cared that people that would otherwise be excluded, people that have never truly found a place, and people like you and me were invited into his ministry.
So why don’t we try this?
I’m not saying let’s go and invite a tax accountant or member of the IRS (though we might), but what about inviting a friend to Easter Sunday? What about bringing a family member to church - or a neighbor? If we are going to live into this mission statement of ours, then let us be bold about it. I wonder how many friends you have that you can simply call, email, or text and ask if they would like to come to Easter Sunday service? Think about how many people might be able to see and hear a message that goes against the common belief that a church is an unwelcoming, un-scientific, backward organization...simply if you extend an invitation.
Just yesterday I extended a few invitations on Facebook messenger. I got a few declines but had more people accept the invitation. If each of us did this...risk being laughed at or told no...risk the possibility that it might be a one time only visit...risk the possibility that it might stick...we might be surprised.
I wonder, I just wonder what every Sunday might look like if we extended our hands just as Jesus extended his?
Yours in Christ,