An Invitation to Abundant Life
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
Come to the waters;
And you that have no money,
Come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
And your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
And delight yourselves in rich food.
Incline your ear, and come to me;
Listen, so that you may live.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
My steadfast, sure love for David.
~ Isaiah 55:1-3 (NRSV)
The way that we invite people to things has changed quite a bit over the years. Whether we are inviting friends to a birthday party or a wedding or just to dinner at our house, invitations have become much more relaxed and informal.
Last year, as my daughter was getting ready to order the invitations for her wedding, she called me absolutely panicked. You see, she and her fiancée at the time had designed their wedding invitation online, and they were just about ready to order them when they got feedback from a family member that they had done it all wrong. So she called me to ask my opinion. We talked at length about the way that society has changed, and how proper etiquette has had to change too. Many of today’s wedding invitations are much less formal, and the RSVP process is many times done online instead of via a small card and self-addressed stamped envelope, but that doesn’t mean that the invitation isn’t just as important as it was before. The truth is, a lot of things have changed.
Today you may have noticed that several of our girls are wearing their Girl Scout uniforms. And you may wonder why some of the uniforms look more like Boy Scout uniforms. Well, that’s because the Boy Scouts are now open to girls too, another change that has been made as a result of changes in our society. This week we celebrate the birthday of Girl Scouting. March 12 commemorates the day in 1912 when Juliette Gordon Low officially registered the organization’s first eighteen girls into scouting in Savannah, Georgia. And since that day, girls all around the world have been inviting other girls to join them in a program that promotes character, outdoor activities, good citizenship, and service to others, all wonderful things for our girls to learn and share. The program has changed a little over the years, and I’m sure it will continue to change to include and accommodate as many girls as it can, but the message that Juliette Gordon Low extended with the first invitation in 1912 still holds true today. Because girls are encouraged to invite and make new friends while keeping the old. For as the girl scout song teaches, “one is silver and the other is gold.”
This idea of inviting is a part of most things that we do. Whether we are sending a formal invitation to an event or showing hospitality to a friend that we have newly met. Even here in the church, we are always inviting. We invite people to come to suppers and fairs. We invite people to coffee hour, and special services, and Household Huddle, and (hopefully!) we also invite family and friends to come to worship. And we are not the only ones that do the inviting. Every communion Sunday, Jesus invites us to the Table, and we are always invited to become a part of God’s mission and ministry in the world.
But today’s theme is about inviting God in. Many times, we begin worship with a prayer of Invocation, which is a prayer asking God to be with us in our time of worship. When we bless or consecrate the bread and the cup at communion, the prayer that we many times use“ says: “Come Holy Spirit Come, bless this bread and bless this fruit of the vine.” Our opening hymn today called out to God saying, “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” In worship, we are always asking God to be with us and to guide our steps, but what about in our personal lives?
This conversation may get a little “sticky” for some of you, depending on what kind of church you were raised in and how you understand your relationship with God, but for me, this is just like the changes we talked about with invitation etiquette and with scouting. Because when I was younger, I understood my faith much differently than I do today. I believed that once a person was baptized and became a Christian, they were officially in the family of God. And if they were baptized as an infant, they had a chance to make their own choice to become a Christian once they were old enough for Confirmation. Is everyone still on board? Everyone still okay with where I’m going?
To be honest, I never really thought a lot about it, because that is just what I had experienced growing up. It is what I was taught was the “right thing to do” and so I did it. As I got older, I heard many people talking about the importance of praying a special prayer to invite God into your heart. I remember feeling nervous about that. Was I good enough? Would I say the right words? Would God know what I wanted? Did I say it in front of the right people? I felt like there were so many rules! And I knew that I must be doing it wrong! It was like my daughter when she was worried about not sending out her wedding invitations the right way.
Years later when my grandfather was very sick, I remember my Aunt insisting that he say certain words so that God would invite him into heaven. I remember thinking that it was like he needed the password to get in. And she even reported at his funeral that he had said the right words before he died, that he had officially taken Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, so everything would be okay. I remember thinking at the time, “Are the words that we say that important? Does God really listen for us to say certain words in the right order? And if and when we do, then from that moment on, we’re in God’s good graces?” That made no sense to me. And I couldn’t imagine that the God that I knew, the God that loves me unconditionally even when I make mistakes and that teaches all of us that the most important thing to do is to love others, would make people feel guilty and worried and not good enough.
Today’s scripture reading is often titled, “An invitation to Abundant Life.” “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”
Friends, did you hear any judgment in those words? Did you hear any boundaries set or passwords needed? No! On the contrary, we are told that we don’t have to have anything or to be anything. We just need to listen and to delight, that God’s love is not hidden away and kept only for the chosen, but that it’s abundantly given and shared with all! Now friends, don’t get me wrong. There are rites and rituals and sacraments in the church that are very meaningful. And there are traditions and practices that feed people of faith. But they are supposed to be used to celebrate and encourage, not to separate and spread fear.
Many of us here today are baptized Christians, and that is wonderful. But in thinking that it’s a “one and done” kind of thing—that once we’re baptized, we’re in—we lose sight of who God is and how our faith works. Friends, God’s abundant invitation and amazing grace is always ours to receive. And it’s always there for the taking, for everyone! But it’s up to us to take it. When we keep our hearts and minds open, we continually invite God in. When we look through the eyes of faith, we see God in our midst. And when we experience the love of God in our own lives, we able to share the love of Christ with others.
In the movie “I Can Only Imagine,” when the main character Bart was first learning about God, he was encouraged by a Camp Counselor to start a journal. And in the journal, he wrote and drew about the things that he was thinking. He wrote down his questions and drew pictures of his feelings, and the journal helped him to process his thoughts his ideas and ultimately his faith. Following worship today, you are all invited to pick up a journal out in Maxcy Hall. Half of them have lined pages, and half of them have blank pages, depending on whether you like to write or draw. But what I want you to remember is that this book is for you. We are not going to collect it at the end of Lent or ask you about what you’ve written or drawn in it. It is simply a place for you to process your journey through Lent. And during our Daily Email Lenten Devotional, you’ll be given something to imagine each day about your life or your faith or the world around you. And your journal just might be the perfect place to record your thoughts and ideas.
As we talked about on Ash Wednesday, your journey through Lent is your journey through Lent. We all walk the same path to Easter, but we each do it in our own way. The journal is just a suggestion, a simple tool to help you on the way. Perhaps instead of using it for the devotional “Imagine” questions, you might want to record your joys, or maybe you can write down the times that you saw glimpses of God in your life. Maybe you might want to write a poem or song or a list of your favorite scriptures and hymns. There are no rules, my friends. It is simply my hope and my prayer that you will find your own way to connect with God, knowing that you are amazing, that you are always enough, and that you are loved unconditionally, just the way you are.
So, Brothers and Sisters in Christ as you go out into your busy week ahead and out into this season of Lent, may you keep your hearts and minds open that you might experience God in your everyday lives. Look for the good things, and take time to listen. And if you have been filled with guilt and fear in the past regarding your faith, remember the words of Isaiah: “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live.”
My friends, may it be so. Thanks be to God, Amen!