When I visit other churches, leaders tell me: “There is little hope for our church to have any influence in our community much less the world. We are small and only getting smaller. We can hardly pay the pastor much less help anyone else. We have only few young people. People who attend church are attending less often. No money to pay staff salaries. Our volunteers are faithful but old and tired. What are we to do?”
What are we to do?
Jesus told a parable: “A man prepared a great feast and sent out many invitations. When all was ready, he sent his servant around to notify the guests that it was time for them to come. But they all began making excuses. One said he had just bought a field and wanted to inspect it. Another said he had just bought five pair of oxen and wanted to try them out. Another had just been married, so he said he couldn’t come.” (Luke 14:16-20)
A great feast is planned; so great, that nothing else matters. Gold embossed invitations first come to those who attend any great feast. The ‘good’ people, the ‘important’ people of the community: land owners, shopkeepers and those described as successful and influential: the same people who would proudly claim membership to a church. In other words, God is inviting the church first.
Yet, these ‘good’ people, church people are unable to attend the most important event of all time because they are too busy purchasing land, doing business or handling personal matters.
Excuses! Good excuses but excuses just the same. Wait! Don’t judge them too quickly. Remember the excuses given by our own church leaders? “We are so small. We have very few young people. We have no money. Our members are old and tired.” Sound familiar?
What is God’s response?
“The servant returned and told his master what they said. His master said, ‘Go quickly into the streets and alleys of the city and invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.’ After the servant had done this, he reported, ‘there is still room for more.’ So his master said, ‘Go out into the country lanes and behind the hedges and urge anyone you find to come, so that the house will be full. For none of those I invited first will get even the smallest taste of what I had prepared for them.'” (Luke 14:21-24)
We receive an invitation to God’s feast and we are expected to respond. If we don’t, the implication is that God will invite others and we will miss out.
But how are we to respond when we are so limited? What does God expect?
The ‘feast’ describes God’s invitation to the church to go out into the world and be the church in the community and around the world. Our response should be to say ‘yes’ with total faith knowing that serving God is more important than our occupation, our family or even our very lives. We say yes, knowing there are obstacles but trusting God for answers, resources and courage to enable us to do far more than we ever imagined possible.
One preacher put it this way: “What risk do you need to take? What sacrifice do you need to make? At some point you will feel the Holy Spirit prompting you to act decisively. Don’t ignore it. Obey it.”
Can it really be that simple?
Yes and No.
Years ago, I would have struggled to provide a satisfactory answer to that question. A church I served was growing and active in the community but we were not really a mission oriented church. Several of our members traveled to Jamaica to offer medical aid and construction help. Their stories and the transformation God brought into their lives impacted us all.
On December 26, 2004 a massive Tsunami swept the Indian Ocean. More than eleven countries were struck by the enormous waves with a loss of life estimated in the hundreds of thousands. Our church raised money but now what? How could we become more directly involved? As we searched for answers, God began to change me and our church.
Next week: Part 2 of our search for answers. Meanwhile, think about the invitation God has sent to you. Are you willing to expand your horizons, take a few risks go to God’s Feast?