The Second Sunday after Pentecost: Proper 6
June 18, 2017
The Rev. Austin K. Rios
St. Paul’s Within the Walls
Knock Knock Knock!
I heard the familiar sound of knuckles rapping on wood, and leapt from the comfort of my chair.
Out in the middle of nowhere Ireland, the nearest house kilometers away down a one lane strip of road cutting through rock strewn heath— for the life of me, I couldn’t figure out who in the world could be knocking on my door.
Once I convinced myself that burglars wouldn’t have knocked so loud, I gathered enough courage to approach the door and peer out the glass.
Two men were standing there in the gravel approach, getting lightly soaked by the rainy mists that had moved in overnight.
Wearing smiles that were genuine enough, without being overly superficial, the men looked to be safe enough, so I opened the door and inquired as to their business.
Top of the morning to you, the older gentlemen offered cheerily, and then followed up with, Do you live here then?
No, I’m on holiday, I responded.
Well do you mind if I leave this pamphlet with you?
I looked into his hand and saw the familiar publication of the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and having previously entertained some of his forebears in the faith years before when I lived in Asheville, I responded that I’d prefer not to receive it.
Not in an ugly way, mind you, because no matter what I think about the misguided theology that undergirds this particular religious strain, one has to admire the willpower, dedication, and devotion that got these two men out of bed that morning and sent them trudging down a deserted wilderness road all for the sake of making this simple invitation.
Blessings to you both on your day, I said to them, and they smiled and waved, heading off to whatever other houses they had put on their map for the day.
They weren’t upset in the slightest that I had declined their invitation, because while of course they would have loved it if I had invited them inside and asked them to explain more to me about their faith, the true measure of their success was simply in being out there on that cold and wet day knocking on the door and making the invitation.
That was their goal, and they had succeeded in it.
I found their witness to be inspiring, and as I went back to my morning coffee, I reflected on just how different the world would be if we Episcopalians and Anglicans were so ardent in actively inviting others into this faith strain that gives us life.
On my more dreary days of ecclesiastical reflection, I lament the fact that we are not so driven, and wonder what it would take to convince a church community like St. Paul’s to see our mission as one of such invitation.
How different might we experience our shared purpose if we went door to door, two by two, inviting people to take a pamphlet that spoke about our nuanced understanding of the gospel, while accepting their hospitality at times to speak to them more fully about our ministries and faith?
Of course, I know that part of what attracts people to our form of church is the fact that we don’t blare our messages on street corners— we don’t preach doom and gloom and destruction to the hordes of sinners who never darken our door—and we allow for a more gentle and contemplative development of one’s faith than some of our fellow Christian denominations or offshoots.
But surely there is some middle ground, is there not?
Maybe we aren’t called to invite others in the same way that Jehovah’s witnesses invite others to join them.
But how then are we to invite others into this living, and breathing faith which animates and binds us as one?
We might take our clues from our Gospel today, where we see Jesus sending out the first disciples.
He sends them with no special tools, no extra protections, just the message that he has been proclaiming…release of the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, the year of the Lord’s favor.
They indeed go forth, and the Jesus movement gathers momentum because of their willingness to invite others into it.
2000 years removed from their faithful actions, we here in St. Paul’s today must answer the question, how are we to participate in their example in our day and age…how might we become witnesses and “inviters” as they did?
Your vestry and I have been considering this question, and after the service today, we will be meeting to explore a transformational ministry called Invite, Welcome and Connect, which was featured in depth at a recent convocation wide conference in Munich.
We are going to be considering ways in which we, as an entire community, can better invite people to participate in what God is doing among us here at St. Paul’s, how we might better welcome them once they accept the invitation, and then how we can all better connect to our shared purpose and each other in the process.
Inviting others is not just about inviting them to join St. Paul’s, but in a larger sense, it is about inviting them to join the Jesus movement and to deepen their relationship with the Triune God.
Of course, there are logistical tools that can help us in this effort: clear and attractive printed materials, an improved social media and website presence, demographic studies and resources that help us learn how to better share our faith stories with others.
Over the 5 plus years I’ve been here, we’ve really worked hard to improve some of these logistical tools, including printing up business cards with information on worship times, and directions on how to reach us.
But none of these materials matter if you aren’t convinced that inviting is something that is fundamental to your faith.
The tools are only effective in the hands of a willing worker who will get over their fears of rejection, concerns about whether they are good enough, or smart enough, or whether (dog gonnit) people will like them or not, and actively invite others to be part of this journey.
Every Sunday that I get up in this pulpit, I pray that the words I offer will spur you to act, and to put the message I preach to work through the diversity of your daily lives, trusting in God to give us all the grace, strength, and passion for doing so faithfully.
It is my firm belief that if even a few of you do so, this movement will grow, and most importantly, will grow in depth and power, as well as numerically.
If a majority of you did so, then this church would not be able to seat all those who would respond to the invitation, and we’d be constantly looking for ways to add services, and expand our ministries.
And in the process, I am positive— absolutely positive— that your own lives would be enriched in the process.
You would seek out ways to learn more about your own faith, so that your invitation would become more authentic and honest.
You would seek out your fellow church members for strength and prayer for the journey, and find ways to deepen your connection with the God that calls us into community.
And, like with any skill or practice, you would get better at inviting others, so much so that it would become second nature, like a skilled musician who interprets the printed music with passion and ease, embodying the composer’s work with their own flavor and fingerprints.
Are you willing to engage in such a journey dear people of God?
Are you willing to invite others into this Jesus movement like the disciples before you?
If you say yes, then I can promise you that your vestry and I will do all in our power to equip you for this ministry, and to set a good example of invitation ourselves.
You don’t need anything except yourself, and a willingness to let go of whatever fears and barriers that may be standing in your way.
Making the invitation itself constitutes success.
Responding, in faith, to Jesus’ call to be sent forth as witnesses is what matters.