The Invitation to Everyone
August 9, 2015 – St. Timothy’s United Methodist Church
Rev. Mark M. Norman Vickers
“But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed; it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.”
Robbie Parsons, a Baptist preacher, tells the story of going to the amusement park with his 4-year-old daughter. During the walk around the Midway, she begged him to win a Spongebob Squarepants toy at one of the side games where you knock over bottles with bean bags. As a good father would do, and probably an “inflated ego preacher” like most of us, he laid down his money and attempted the best throws a young man could make. He missed the bottles completely on all four throws! With some frustration and a smug look on his daughter’s face, and a little pride in the way, he laid down more money, only to miss by even a greater margin on the second round of throws. He says in his story that no matter how hard he tried, he missed the mark. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In Greek, literally the word for “sin” means “to miss the mark.” No matter how hard we may try, no matter how sincere we are, no matter how impressive we seem to those around us and the outside world, we are still going to miss the mark.
We spend a great deal of time in American Protestant Christianity trying to “hit the mark.” We want to be right in what we do as a church in order that we will not defame our work for Jesus. We spend a great deal of time trying to pose in the right stature in order that we look like the “church at work.” The problem is that the “church at work” is much like the secular world at work, attempting to gain advantage and profit by being something we are not. Often times we fall into the old category (not only financially but evangelically) of Smith-Barney, “We make money (and disciples as the church goes) the old-fashioned way,” fueling our economy and our mindset in the old way of showing profit.
The church universal expends a great deal of energy trying to look like the church, rather than being the church.
In Paul’s letter to the Roman’s in this Third Chapter, Paul is adamant that what has preceded the New Testament Church was not adequate. Not that it was not necessary, but it was not the fulfillment of what the church was to be in it’s entirety. Paul was clear in v. 21 when he says, “But now, apart from the law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” Paul was working diligently to help those in Rome understand that no matter how much they followed the law and the prophets, nothing was going to matter until they understood, “they are now justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (v.24).
It matters not what we attempt to do as The Church if we fail to understand that Jesus died for us as a gift of God’s grace. Once again, one of the major dilemmas I think we have in the Church today and in American Protestantism is the fact we have trouble receiving gifts—gifts of material kinds and gifts of the sacrificial nature, especially when they are going to help benefit our lives! This seems to be a universal problem, one not just associated with the church, but one that is associated with the human condition. It has been that way since the beginning of our recorded time.
Robbie Parsons talks about “missing the mark,” the Apostle Paul is absolutely sure that the Christians in Rome have “missed the mark” because they are attempting to legalize and work their way into a Kingdom living situation. I find it extremely interesting in the church when often times find ourselves mesmerized by the amount of work we think we need to do to achieve salvation. Part of this is cultural and motivated by what I said earlier, we live in a culture that believes we need to “work” in order to obtain our freedom known as salvation. When in fact, the simple message of the Gospel is that by God’s grace, Jesus died to pay the ultimate price for our salvation.
What happens to us when we fail at something at work? When we miss the mark? We feel bad, we feel unworthy, how then do we attempt to redeem ourselves? Most of the time by working harder and smarter.
My friends, in our Christian life we don’t have to work harder or smarter for God to be in love with us! Sure, we need to be the most excellent Kingdom workers by being faithful disciples, but the ultimate work is done by God’s free gift of grace and invitation into the Kingdom.
One of the most important parts of offering the “invitation” to enter into God’s grace and glory is we must be able to provide for those whom we invite. William Sloane Coffin, Jr., says “The central problem of the Christian church in America today is that most of us fear the cure more than than the illness.” The cure my friends is to open ourselves up to invite everyone we see to come and be a part of the great grace we all have received! To come to the Table of Our Lord, to participate in the fellowship, and to be instructed in The Word. Coffin goes on to remind us in the church why that is so important, he says, “If it’s hell to be guilty, its certainly scarier to be responsible (response-able), able to respond to God’s visionary and creative love.” Part of that being responsible is to break free from the walls of “comfort” and to reach out and invite the “un-inviteable!”
The New Testament Church is not unlike the church of today. We are constantly being pounded by the outside world, the politics of achievement, the moral and financial successes and failures of the world, but despite the frailty of our outside world, we must, without hesitation or reservation, invite boldly those who have not encountered the loving grace of God in Jesus Christ.
It is our job to be the ones who are “response-able” and move in the direction of inviting and encouraging those who are still struggling with the release of the law and the prophets in today’s world as the only way.
Being an invitational body of believers is a challenging task! But it is a task that we cannot do on our own, it is only by God’s grace that we are able to walk out of here and offer to those around us the grand invitation of a relationship with Jesus Christ.
The work of God’s people (known as the Church) is incredibly hard work. It is a work that requires we bridge gaps, walk out on ledges, and go to places we are not comfortable going. The same can be said for the invitation into the Kingdom. We often want to feel comfortable and safe within our Kingdom bounds and rely upon what and who we already know. Have you ever had to extend an invitation to someone you didn’t want to invite? Rather uncomfortable isn’t it? But you know, that is the exact opposite of what God through Jesus does! I’m sure Jesus, in fact I know Jesus invites people who are on the fringe to enter the Kingdom through His grace. We as the gathered community of believers must do the very same thing! We must invite those who make us feel uncomfortable.
A friend of mine once said, “Most church boats don’t like to be rocked; they prefer to lie at anchor rather than go places in stormy seas. But that’s because we Christians view the Church as the object of our love instead of the subject and instrument of God’s love. Faith cannot be passive; it has to go forth (as with the invitation) to assault the conscience, excite the imagination. Faith fans the flame of creativity altogether as much as it banks the fires of sin.”
My friends, the power of the invitation to all people under the influence and grace of God is a “flame worthy of creativity;” it is the power to excite and bring new things, new people, and a new pulse to the community of faith. The Apostle Paul in our text this morning is bound and determined to set that flame afire in Rome. He was all about the idea of getting things started and inviting the ones who were left out into the family of faith.
We too, should be that excited and alive with the passion to invite and remind people that the reason we gather for worship here at St. Timothy’s every Sunday, the reason we provide food for the hungry, supplies to the needy, and a kind word to the stranger is because God freely gave His Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us! Nothing that we have done, nothing that we have earned, nothing that we have achieved by working, qualifies us for the salvation of Jesus Christ, just the simple grace of God through Christ.
Therefore my friends, go out, invite someone who makes you feel uncomfortable to join you, to join us, in this Kingdom journey.
AMEN AND AMEN!!!