Scripture: Acts 10:1-36
Over the last few weeks we have been looking at Inviting. Today, as we conclude this deep exploration of invitation, I want us to contemplate where our triune God is inviting Christians. Where the church is being invited.
In the story of Peter and Cornelius, we see a lot of inviting going on. Cornelius sends messengers to invite Peter, Peter invites the messengers to stay the night, Peter stays at Cornelius’ house for several days… it’s just one big invitation fest.
But I want to push beyond human hospitality to God’s invitation. If the angel hadn’t told Cornelius to invite Peter, Cornelius might never have dreamed of contacting a member of some new Jewish sect. If the Holy Spirit hadn’t sent Peter a vision challenging his Jewish upbringing, he would never have accepted Cornelius’ invitation. And finally, if the Holy Spirit hadn’t filled Cornelius’ house and those in it, neither Peter nor Cornelius would have dreamed of spending several days under the same roof… as if they were brothers… which they are now. They are now brothers in Christ.
Which is a real problem moving forward for both Jewish and Gentile Christians in the early church. If Jews and Gentiles were equally part of the faith, what did the difference between Jew and Gentile really mean anymore? And if God were going to invite Gentiles into the faith, who else might God invite? We’re still asking this question. If we include who God invites, who are we?
Peter, Cornelius, and the early church didn’t understand immediately what their new identity would look like. It was incredibly risky to violate religious law, social convention, and get crosswise with the Roman empire. But the Holy Spirit was very clear. And the implications were very clear. Over a few years, the early church began to understand they were a completely new creation on earth, in the world but not of it.
An entirely new culture, if you will, living alongside Jewish culture and Roman culture and every other culture. The early church began to realize God’s invitation to an ever expanding set of human beings within a new Christian culture based on economic sharing, where the least are uplifted, the servant is esteemed, and who’s wisdom seems foolish to the outside world.
We live in this culture now, two thousand years later. This Christian community we are in now is radically inclusive, lifts up the least of us, and is full of servants.
And it’s still risky, living this counter-cultural way. When we love as Christ would have us love – give and live and be vulnerable with ourselves as Christ would have us do, we risk social exclusion, ridicule, and sometimes physical violence. And it’s sometimes risky to be a Christian community who accepts that the Holy Spirit keeps inviting, that God keeps including.
Our anxiety increases when we try to live in two worlds at once: the Christian culture and the one outside. When we listen to the powerful, loud, mostly secular culture surrounding us, it sometimes sounds like the church is dying. Like our Christian communities are fading away because there’s not enough money, or children, or interest. We may try to “market” the Church so that we can get more people to “consume” our “brand” of Christianity by making ourselves hip and happening like the megachurches. Alternatively, we may wonder if we should call ourselves something else because the word “Christian” has been overtaken by the media and by loud nutjobs convincing the world that we’re judgemental, unloving, and irrational.
But don’t listen to those voices. None of that is true. Not a single word. Those are voices from the powerful, loud, mostly secular culture… among whom we live, certainly, but who’s membership we do not claim. We do not belong to that culture. We belong to the Kingdom culture. And that’s a different animal entirely.
The Communion of All Believers, the culture of God’s Kingdom, thrives amid those with nothing, those who suffer, and those who love sacrificially. The early Christian communities spread like wildfire while worshiping in caves, being fed to lions, being hunted, impoverished, and tortured. It was quite handy that the larger culture found a use for Christianity for several hundred years, but I don’t believe for a second that the larger culture has ever been a true Kingdom culture, where the least and the lowest were loved by those who sacrificed as did Christ.
And now the larger culture is indifferent to our faith, misunderstands our alternative culture, ridicules us, and consigns us to the dung heap along with the nutjobs who loudly insist on representing all Christians. Are we going to wring our hands? Are we going to give up and go home? Are we going to listen to that powerful, loud, mostly secular culture? I don’t think so. Or, in the words of my people back home in Texas, “hell no.”
Economic realities of the larger culture may mean we lose a beautiful building… or several. The realities of living alongside the larger culture may mean a lot of changes that we don’t especially like. But here’s the good news. No one – and I mean no one – can stop us from being the church. Many have tried, and all of them have failed.
So long as we follow Christ in love and in sacrifice; and so long as we can scrape together something remotely resembling bread and wine; we will always be the church. We will be the church amid indifference, persecutions, nutjobs, and even the sometimes uncomfortable places the Holy Spirit invites the church.
We’ve been listening to the wrong culture. We’ve been letting those loud voices tell us who we are. And that needs to stop. Kingdom culture is not fading away or irrelevant, like the larger culture says. Kingdom culture is all around, if we only have eyes to see God’s invitation like Peter and Cornelius did.
Let’s go back to Peter and Cornelius for a moment. What were they doing, how were they engaged, when they were visited by God? When they received God’s invitation? Think for a moment. Raise your hand when you remember.
That’s right. They were in prayer. Both of them. Their lives were full of devotion to the holy, and to good works among the least. They weren’t spending their lives hanging around the bar and watching the Roman version of the world cup, whatever that was.
What does it take to hear where Christ is calling us? What can we do to hear and respond to the Holy Spirit’s invitation? How can we hear God’s still, small voice?
Well, it’s going to look different for each of us. But will be a whole lot easier if we remove ourselves from the larger culture’s voice as much as we reasonably can.
For me, I don’t watch TV. Sometimes I stop reading the news. This leaves me time to be creative, to rest in a way that does not add to anxiety, to pray and study and serve and still have time to listen to God’s still, small voice. I get teased a bit about living under a rock, but my life in the Kingdom culture is complete.
You will make different choices in the ways you unplug from the larger culture. I’m not saying we should put our collective heads in the sand. Social justice work is important for Christians. And I’m not saying we should become Amish or do something silly like not baking cakes for some people when our business is cake baking. But trying to live equally successfully in both cultures is impossible.
God invited us to this Kingdom culture. Let’s accept that invitation not only with our lips but in our lives. Christ is inviting himself into the hearts of an ever widening circle until every man, woman and child finds a home in the Kingdom. Lets honor their invitation not only with our words but in our welcome.
Like Peter and Cornelius, let’s commit our lives to prayer, service, study, and real sabbath rest so we can hear the spirit’s invitation to an ever-broadening church. Like Peter, we don’t know what this church will look like, where God is leading us, but we do know it will continue to be radically inclusive, counter cultural, absolutely fearless, and above all, faithful.