Most people don’t use the US postal service for mail these days. Everything is done by email. Well, almost everything. We still get a lot of advertisements in the mail. I’ve been told by postal workers not to call it junk mail, but I forget the “proper name” for it. Something else we still get in the mail are invitations. We get invitations for weddings, birthday parties, anniversaries, retirement parties – all kinds of celebrations. Invitations are exciting because they call us to a celebration. The joy of the person who is honored is shared. Making sure the invitation is just right is so important that there is an invitation industry whose sole purpose is to make sure your invitation looks perfect and is worded in a way that people take notice of what their client is doing.
A song that I have grown to love is “Come to the Table.” In this song, we are invited to come to the table of the Lord – not because of how good we are, but because of how great our God is. I think this song contains the best definition of the Church when we are invited to “Come meet this motley band of misfits, these liars and these thieves, there’s no one unwelcome here.” It is, an amazing invitation, when you think about it. God invites us to join with Him at the wedding feast of the Lamb. Not all invitations are so pleasant, though. Paul invites Timothy to join him in a different way. “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. So do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner. Rather, join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” (2 Timothy 1:7-8)
This is the kind of invitation that calls us to look for the number to call to express our regrets for not being able to make it. Come “join me in suffering…” Uh, no thanks. That might be our first reaction, but Paul’s invitation is powerful. He’s writing while in prison for the second time, according to the tradition we have. This time, he knows that his fate will be death. As you see Paul’s words, though, these are not the words of a defeated, forlorn prisoner facing the executioner; these are the words of one who has triumphed over the world. At a time when the Roman Empire was in the beginning stages of an all-out persecution designed to make Christians hide in the woodwork, Paul reminds them of the power they have from God. This was not a time to be timid. This was a time to be bold. This was a time to share the love and grace of Jesus Christ to a world that was becoming increasingly hostile to this message. And Paul invites Timothy to speak out boldly by the power of God, instead of sitting back and hiding in fear. The persecution meant to silence Christians, became another way to proclaim the goodness of God.
As Christians in the United States, we still fly under the “Pax Americana” to travel about freely and to proclaim the gospel. We have occasional troubles the generate an outcry and, in most cases, the offending party retreats from their position. We may have trouble understanding a call to join Paul in suffering for the gospel. Yet, it seems like we’re becoming more timid about proclaiming and sharing the love of God for all people. We are retreating into our religious enclaves on Sunday mornings and emerging as though the secret message we’ve heard shouldn’t affect how we live each day. Paul would remind us not to be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord and to proclaim His love and grace to all each day. The invitation to join with God at the wedding feast of the Lamb is still open. There’s a place reserved at the table for any who accept God’s offer of grace and forgiveness, no matter what their past is. We have the privilege of inviting others on God’s behalf. Let’s do that and change the world.
Oh Lord, what an amazing invitation. Thank You for inviting me. Thank You for allowing me to invite others.