June 2015 – You are invited…

As I’ve been thinking about invitations and inviting – a topic that surfaced in one of our recent church council meetings – I’ve been thinking especially about invitations that have changed my life…

Way back in my first year of high school there was an unexpected invitation to a party from a popular classmate at a time when I was socially quite awkward. The party invitation came about just because Chuck, the host, saw me carrying a stack of records and asked about them. We discovered we both loved jazz and blues, and became close friends. The party is a distant memory, but our friendship continued long after school was done, and got me started learning the difference an invitation can make.

I remember receiving various invitations to apply for jobs I was later invited to take, each of which changed my life. Most jobs I’ve held over the years have come because of someone’s personal invitation.

Then there was the time when I was looking to get back into attending church after having stayed away for some years…As I began looking for a church I learned that a friend I worked with was a Christian. I asked her about churches, and she invited me to her parent’s Methodist church in the nearby village of Adamant, saying, “If I weren’t committed to my (Episcopal) church, that’s where I’d be going.” I went the next week. The pastor was an excellent preacher and the church was warmly welcoming. I went back the next week and the week after…Within a year or so the pastor invited me to preach when she was away. Later I became a Lay Speaker. This small church, averaging only about two dozen in worship, is where I began to experience spiritual rebirth. It all began with a personal invitational word.

About six years after I joined that church as I was about to take leave of my job, a reporter asked me why I was leaving and what would I be doing next? I said it was just time to go, and I planned to be listening to hear what God might suggest for me to do next. A quote to that effect appeared in a short article the next day. The day after that several women approached me together after church and said, “We think God is saying you should be a pastor…” Their invitation to consider that possibility led me to seminary a few months later.

Most of all I remember my seminary friend, Ben Hartley, inviting me over coffee to come hear him preach at Bethany United Methodist Church in the Roslindale neighborhood of Boston. “This will be my last Sunday as an interim, before pastor Linda comes back from Sabbatical,” he said. Ben was a good friend, so I went. The worship and Ben’s sermon spoke to me, and the church was very welcoming… Several people invited me to stay for coffee hour. But what I remember most is Ben’s wife Laura, who was also my friend, introducing me at coffee hour to one of their friends, whose name happened to be Reah Santos Digan… Long story short – I went back the next week… And the week after… And nothing has ever been the same since.

I know there have also been many invitations over the years that weren’t particularly memorable. But these few that were very memorable have been more than enough to let me know… Even one well-timed invitation can profoundly change someone’s life…

This summer I plan to spend time praying and thinking about how we can better invite others to get to know Jesus better… I hope and pray that you will join me.

Of course we always hope that people will join us in finding deeper relationship with Jesus right here in our churches… But perhaps this is not the best starting place for prayer and reflection. As a friend reminded me in conversation recently, God is able to work through indirect means as well as direct. People who may not even know they are interested in God have been known to respond to invitations to visit a church with a friend, either out of curiosity, or for the sake of friendship. Then to their own surprise, they sometimes meet Jesus unexpectedly in the process… And as I reflect on these invitations that have most significantly changed my life, a common theme seems to be the element of surprise…

I hope you will join me in prayer and conversation about invitation and inviting…

Grace and peace on the journey,

Pastor Tim