I remember my first crisis of faith.
I was a teenager, listening to a sermon about invitation. The scripture was the “Great Commission,” Matthew 28:19-20, and the preacher was saying basically that invitation was what disciples of Jesus are supposed to be doing, since Jesus commanded it of them. We are to extend the invitation to others, so that they would become disciples themselves. Then, in turn, these new disciples would invite others into discipleship, and so forth.
And there it was: my crisis. I was all of a sudden unsure of what exactly it was we were supposed to be inviting them to. All we were able to invite others to come to was an opportunity to invite others to come, also. It was a meaningless exercise, a for/next loop, a religious mobius strip. Gertrude Stein said of her hometown, “The trouble with Oakland is that when you get there, there isn't any there there,” and that’s kind of how I felt about church. I wanted to stand up and shout, “Okay, I get the part about inviting others, but shouldn’t we spend more time thinking about what we are inviting them to?”
My faith was all form and no content.
Since then, I have deepened my faith of course, and I understand now that the “Great Commission” isn’t all there is to Christian discipleship. And I’ll tell you what, scriptures like this week’s lectionary text in Hebrews are an enormous part of what helped me grow in my understanding of what it means to be a disciple of Christ Jesus. The text reads,“You have not come to something that can be touched … You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” (Hebrews 12:18, 22-24).
How’s that for content?
When we come to a relationship with God through Jesus Christ in the midst of a Spirit-filled congregation, we come to a life-changing moment. We come to live on Mount Zion, a powerful metaphor for the fulfillment of God’s reign on earth. The reign of God is characterized by love, justice, and forgiveness. It is grounded in peace, health, and joy. And living on Mount Zion is a deeply communal life, meant to be lived together with sisters and brothers in Christ. The mission of Jesus was to embody that life, and the church is called to continue Christ’s mission. It is both what the church is and also what it does.
And THAT is why we ought to invite people to come to church, to offer them the chance to live like that, up on Mount Zion, because it is a pretty wonderful place to be when it clicks into place, even if just for a moment or two. Of course, the reign of God is not yet fully realized, but that’s the goal. That’s what we’re here for, isn’t it? And since the realized reign of God on earth will include all people, inviting people to church is an act of faithful Christian discipleship. And yes, we need to invite ALL people – young and old, gay and straight, U.S. citizen and illegal immigrant, unchurched and long-time churched, whatever – into the church. Unless you think for some odd reason that the reign of God is not going to include all of God’s creation.
It’s not about just inviting more inviters. People stuck in that mindset are likely the same ones who simply count heads to determine a church’s fruitfulness. The ministry of invitation is deeper than that; it is reign of God work, and disciples of Christ do it not just because Jesus told us to, but in order to live a Mount Zion life.