I read a blog entry tonight that I really enjoyed. The author, a pastor at a Lutheran Church in the midwest, announced that his would no longer be a "Welcoming Church." Instead, he argued, they were going to become an "Inviting Church." What? Huh?
"Welcoming" means that you presume that people have already come in through your doors. And you have had the opportunity to shower them with lots of love, coffee, and breakfast sweets. They've heard how wonderful you are. But what do you really know about them and where they came from?
"Inviting" is the real work of the people (and the clergy, too!) of being the church outside the safety and security of the four walls of your worship space. It's about meeting people where they are, not where you think they ought to be. It's the outreach effort of letting others see you being a child of God, and inviting them to a meeting or a group affiliated with the church. This is not done with the intention of making the person a "member" or a "pledge unit" (please see my previous entry about the day of the Domestic Partnership Registry starting in Leon County). Being an "Inviting Church" isn't about parochial reports to the bishop; it's about removing the obstacles that block people from seeing the Kingdom "on earth as it is in Heaven."
Truthfully, this is what it means to live and love as Jesus did. I'm struck, again, by the words we'll be hearing from John's gospel, as Jesus is doing his lengthy last will and testament to his disciples. He tells them, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world does." And then he tells them not to be troubled or afraid. After all, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will come to them and make our home with them." Better yet, the Holy Spirit is coming to make all of what Jesus is imparting in this moment much clearer after he's gone. Huh? What?
Jesus has had this group of men... and women if we count Martha and Mary... hanging around, going from here to there, witnessing his healing power, and never making any of his ministry a glorification of himself and what superstar he is. He has been on a mission to be the most transparent representation of God for the masses that they've encountered since Moses' face lit up talking to a burning bush. All that he wants anybody to see is God, and how God's power working in him can do more than he could do if he were just doing this for his own selfish pride. So, what is the "peace" that he leaves? His love. What is the "peace" he gives? How to love. These are not the tangible and consumable gifts that the world traditionally gives to people. No Hershey's Kisses here, folks; his kiss is one that is meant to transform all of us to be more like him: transparent Sons and Daughters of Man whose bodies are a home for the Spirit of God to dwell, grow and shine within us. The brighter we become, the more people who are seeking some light in their lives will come to us and want to know, "What is this light?"
Paul got that in the Book of Acts when he, and Luke, we presume, go down to the gate and find the women there. As Paul is sharing his illumined self, another of the enlightened ones, Lydia, "listened eagerly" to what Paul was saying, and opened her home to him, and Barnabas and Luke. She was clearly a woman of means (dealing in purple cloth), and thus this was an important connection for the beginnings of Paul's building of churches. Important to note, this connection was NOT made in the Temple. It was made in the space by the gate. Just the way Jesus would have wanted it. Paul didn't wait for the women of Lydia's household to come to him so he could welcome them; he went to where they were, and, in turn, Lydia, a believer, invited him to her home. And the church is on its way to kindling more Love within people; love and "peace" that they could share with others.
Showing love, being love, living in love or showing peace, being peace, living in peace. This is the way, the truth, the life. And it is far more inviting than just a welcome.