Readings: 1 Samuel 3: 1-10 ~ Corinthians 6: 12-20 ~ John 1: 43-51
Last Sunday, fresh from a clergy day on Congregational Development, I shared the idea that the primary task of any congregation is to gather people for transformation of our hearts, minds, and actions, so that we can live out our baptismal identity and purpose.
We are not here to be entertained. We are here to worship God and be transformed into agents of God’s transforming presence in Almonte.
Last week, I left you with 3 questions to ponder; Where is God in your here and now? How are you listening to God? How are you being changed? I trust that you are still working on your answers.
This morning, our focus is gathering and our question is: How do we, as a community, go about gathering people for transformation? Sounds a bit like a marketing question. In some ways, it is. But we have a different starting point, for we believe it all begins with God.
One of our congregational development resources says, ‘We believe that God is the source of all invitations to life in a faith community, whether these invitations come in the form of gentle nudges, tender entreaties, or rude awakenings. But God also welcomes a little help
And we see this played out in today’s readings.
Samuel is one of my favourite characters from the Hebrew Scriptures. His story begins when a barren woman named Hannah goes to the shrine in Shiloh and prays – begs -God for a child. At first, Eli, the priest thinks she’s drunk but then they have a conversation and Eli tells her that God will answer her prayer. Samuel is the answer to her prayer. As soon as Samuel is weaned, Hannah takes Samuel to Shiloh and loans him to God for ministry in the shrine. But it is God who actually calls Samuel into the role of prophet / priest. Samuel is the new way forward of his generation – and that’s hard for old Eli to hear. According to the traditions of the day, it should have been one of Eli’s sons, but Eli accepts God’s choice gracefully.
In our gospels, it is Jesus who calls the first disciples. This morning we hear Jesus call Philip to follow him. Then Philip tells his friend Nathaniel about Jesus and invites him to come and see Jesus for himself. That’s a lovely, gentle form of evangelism.
So, our question remains: How can we be like those first disciples and assist God in inviting people to come and meet Jesus and his church?
Anglicans are not particularly good at inviting people to come to church. I was amused when Mark Whittall spoke about having his parishioners stand up and actually practice inviting someone to church on each other. I thought about doing that here but … well … St Albans has a much younger congregation….one that tweets and twitters and everything else in between. But it never ceases to amaze me how many people are nervous to cross our threshold; unsure if they would be welcome; afraid of making a mistake. So, being invited or coming with someone they know makes it a whole lot less scary.
‘Inviting’ is a significant step that happens before people enter our doors.
And Inviting includes all sorts of different elements: like a church building that attracts people to come and take a closer look, and has signs to tell people when and how to make contact. We actually get a fair few visitors who come to explore St. Paul’s and ask questions.
And we have a pretty good relationship with this community. Among other things, we are known as a place where you can get food, as a church that welcomes refugees and works ecumenically, that has a VBS and that candle light service (Be Still My Soul), is prone to rather unorthodox Christian Eve pageants, and hosts interesting programs like Education for Ministry and the Center for Creative Living. Unlike Jesus, we have the benefit of a really good website. And just like Jesus, we also hope that our members will invite others to Come and See – keeping in mind that not everyone will say yes. All this by way of saying that there is much that happens before someone crosses the threshold of the church.
This, of course, is what folks like Deane Zeeman and the rest of the Shine Our Light group have been telling us for some time.
It’s also important to keep in mind that there are many people today who are quite hesitant to try an institutional church, no matter what denomination. Some have been hurt by a church community. Some have been turned off by their experience of hard core evangelism, condemnation, judgement, discrimination or other unhelpful behaviours. Did you notice Nathaniel’s first response to Philip’s invitation to come and meet Jesus? Could anything good come from Nazareth? Some folks might ask, Could anything good be found in a church?
There are people who come to programs here who would hesitate to come to a regular service. But when Nathaniel encounters Jesus, he knows it’s real and he joins the following.
As long as we are grounded in and keep our focus on the love of God revealed to us in Jesus and his way of life, we have much to offer that is of benefit to the community. God grant that we become active agents of God’s transforming love in this place.