June 16, 2013: You Never Invited Me

Terry Pierce on Luke 7:36 - 8:3:
I entered your house and you gave me no water for my feet.

For the past several weeks, our readings have been talking about what love looks like.  Jesus talks to us about loving God, loving our neighbor, loving the stranger.

When I enter your house, I expect your servant to wash my feet.  Common courtesy.

I entered your house and you gave me no water for my feet.

But this woman, this sinful person - everyone knows what she is - she washed Jesus' feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. 

 Henri Nouwen was a priest, a gifted scholar, who chose to live his life caring for severely disabled people.  He wrote: "Often we speak about love as if it is a feeling.  But if we wait for a feeling of love before loving, we may never learn to love well.  The feeling of love is beautiful and life-giving, but our loving cannot be based in that feeling.  To love is to think, speak, and act according to the spiritual knowledge that we are infinitely loved by God and called to make that love visible in this world."

When I enter your house, I expect your servant to wash my feet.  Common courtesy.  At least give me water that I may bathe my feet.  Jesus tells us that love will wash our feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. 

This love we are called to practice, with Jesus and with each other, is intimate.  She takes his dirty feet in her hands and weeps on them before drying them with her hair.  A woman reaches out to Jesus for healing in a crowd and Jesus feels his spirit leave him as she is healed.  Jesus uses spit and mud to heal a man's vision.  We touch Jesus' body and he touches our bodies.  We are up close and personal...We are called to be the Samaritan who bathes the wounded man and puts oil on his wounds; he picks up the wounded man and carries him to the Inn on his own donkey. 

There was a story on Maundy Thursday in the past few years about a church whose people went into the streets and bathed and cared for the feet of homeless people.  Can you imagine how bad someone's feet smell when they don't have access to water and soap and clean socks and changing their shoes; when day after day they live in the sweat that soaks their feet with no respite?  Up close and personal.  Touching someone's dirty feet without gagging or bolting. 

Two weeks ago I talked about Michael Harvey and inviting people to church.  I talked about a program we are going to participate in of inviting people to join us here in our pews.  I said then -

Michael is an Englishman and an Anglican.  He's a very funny man and a very serious man.  He initiated a program in England called Back to Church Sunday.  Back to Church Sunday is a simple idea - we invite people to come to church on September 15.  Easy, right?  Except that we could be inviting people to come to church every Sunday...

Michael talks about the things that keep us from doing that.  And some of them are -

 - I suffer and I don't want my friends to suffer  (that's supposed to make you laugh)

 - They won't want to come

 - I don't want to be rejected

 - My friends don't go to church or my friends already go to church

 - What if it damages my friendship - they won't want to associate with me anymore if they know I'm Christian

 - It's the pastor's job  (that's my favorite)

 - My friend said no two years ago

 - It will be boring

 - Our church is sort of strange; they won't know what to do

 - They might ask me about what we believe and I don't know what I'd say

 What do all of these responses have in common?  I think they all reflect the fear we feel, I know that I have felt, at being asked to do something unconventional.  And for Episcopalians, inviting is unconventional...we are not evangelical people. 

For Episcopalians, inviting is like washing someone's feet...it exposes us, it is risky.

I had another sermon in my mind for today.  But something happened here yesterday.

We had a rummage sale.  We've been having rummage sales for at least eight years.  I know that because I found a flyer on our website for the eighth annual rummage sale.  This year we did something just a little different.  We had cards made - there are a few in the back of the church.  They say "you're invited" on the front and on the back they say "Please join me in church" and have information about our services.

And we opened the church and later in the morning we had organists  playing in the church.

I met people as they were leaving the parish hall and invited them for a tour of the church.

Many people accepted, some said they had always wanted to see our church.  

After we had walked through the church and talked about what Episcopalians are and do, a woman said to me.  "I've been coming to this rummage sale for years but this is the first time I've been invited to your church."

We are not an evangelical people. 

We think people know they're invited to our church.

We don't want to intrude and suggest that they don't have their own church but maybe they don't.

We don't want to be rude and intimate that they might like our church better but maybe they would.

We think people know they're invited to our church.

But they don't know until we say the words.

They don't know until we "do" love.

Two weeks ago I asked you to pray for me as I set out to invite a particular family to church...a family I don't know...a family I've been thinking about inviting for quite awhile.

Yesterday I invited many people to come to our church.  I had a wonderful time.  The people I invited were people who came here to the garage sale.  Everyone who came through received a card that said "You're invited" and many received an invitation when they purchased something and some of them received a personal invitation when we walked through the church.

But I didn't walk down the street and invite the family I've been thinking about inviting.  I was tired and busy and it was hard.  So I haven't yet done it.

So I'd like to ask you to keep praying for me...for the courage to step across the threshold and walk out into the world past the church and introduce myself to a family I haven't met and invite them to come to church here.

And I'd like to ask you if there's someone you've been thinking about inviting - when we pray together, if you would pray for that person and for each of the people around you who are carrying an unspoken invitation that it might be spoken.

Together, let us make love visible in the world.


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