By Mark Johannesen
The last time I wrote I wrote about welcoming visitors at our churches and at our youth groups. What I want to write on now relates to that topic.
Five years ago, as I was starting to get to know students and families at our church, I met a single mom of two girls and I found that this mom’s view of faith, God, and being a part of a church had a lot of room for growth. (I hope that doesn’t sound like I have it all figured out because that’s not my intent.)
And for a while it seemed like she was very reluctant (if willing at all) to do anything with our church and that her hope was to drop her girls off and leave. Well, this fall her oldest started confirmation and because of how we do sermon notes it meant that the mother needed to take sermon notes with her daughter.
I know a part of her coming was because she had to participate for her daughter to do confirmation. Well, a few months ago we learned that her father was dying of cancer and she asked for prayer. And then one day we were talking and she expressed how her ex-husband’s view of God as mere higher power is rubbing off on her youngest daughter. And then three weeks ago her dads health worsened and she wanted to see him before he passed, but she couldn’t afford it until the Girl Scouts bought her a plane ticket and we paid some bills from our deacon fund so she could take the time off from work. A day after she got to see him, he did pass away and this week I got to go visit her and her kids at the funeral.
What I’m seeing is that slowly she seems to be coming around. I think a part of that happening is because people in our church have been kind, generous and inviting to her.
My posture is to invite, invite and to keep inviting. Sometimes as we invite it seems like those invitations fall on deaf ears. Sometimes it seems like our invitations are only taken seriously when the one invited sees some sort of intrinsic value like a free meal.
But sometime those invitations work and sometimes what we see is a slow gradual acceptance of our invitations.
I pray that as I do that, those being invited would experience a glimpse of the persistent love of Christ and that they would know that there is a church out there that cares deeply for them.
Sometimes our invitations are discarded and sometimes, because we open the door so wide, we might even feel like doormats getting walked all over. As unfriendly as it feels to get walked over, I’m coming to sense that it’s worth it.
I’m preaching from Philippians on Sunday for the next five weeks and I couldn’t help but think about Epaphroditus. He is sent to come to Paul in prison. He was to be a gift to Paul. Paul likewise sent Timothy to them, as one who genuinely cared about those he was visiting.
“I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, that I also may be cheered when I receive news about you. I have no one else like him, who will show genuine concern for your welfare.” -Philippians 2:19-20
May we be like Epaphroditus and Timothy to those around us.
Rev. Mark Johannesen is pastor at Word of Life Lutheran Brethren Church in LeSueur, Minnesota.