Invitations

Luke 14:1,7-14

Isn’t it lovely to receive an invitation? Even if you are unable to attend it is lovely to feel that you are considered worth inviting to a dinner, a party or a reception. A sign of how highly esteemed an invitation may be is that it may well be placed on the mantelpiece for all to see.

It is polite to reply to an invitation promptly, and to take note of any dress code. I was taught that for an invitation from the bishop a priest always went in clericals. When the new Bishop of Thetford  invited his clergy round to get to know them, I went in a deepest black suit and clerical collar. When I entered the room I found everyone in mufti, ‘Oh' I said, ‘I thought it was fancy dress.' They looked back at me with blank expressions. It was going to be a long night, I thought.

In Jesus’ time great importance was attached to whom you invited to dinner. It was a sign of acceptance. It was also a sign that you considered that person your equal. They were worthy of an invitation. In inviting Jesus to his home the Pharisee was accepting Jesus as a teacher, as a fellow religious leader. But there was also the suggestion of a trap, with people watching him to see if he would break any religious rules.

Jesus turned the tables, the observed becomes the observer. Jesus could not help but notice, probably with detached amusement, how the guests jockeyed for the best places at table.

Not long after arriving at Winterton I was invited to a Manor House for dinner.  I was greatly looking forward to the invitation. This is the life of a country parson, I thought, dining with the gentry. The host introduced me to the lady of a nearby hall and she was asked if she knew me as my family lived close by. ‘No’, she said, ‘but we know his brother.’ My brother had been married to their housekeeper, and was caught poaching on his landlord’s land, she had lost her job and the cottage that went with it. The new rector was the poacher’s brother! It was a timely reminder that as a country parson I was not there to enjoy the high life, not to expect too many seats at the high table.  

The Mass is a banquet to which all are invited, all are welcome. Even those who consider themselves the lowliest are invited up to the top table, to the altar, to receive Our Lord and be blessed by him. 

Effective evangelism of the church lies more and more in invitation rather than advertising. Advertising is important through posters, websites and that facebook thing, but it is the personal invitation which is most effective, not only inviting someone but saying 'come with me'; because otherwise people look but don’t see, they hear but don’t listen. A personal invitation will be remembered, and even if someone does not come, it is good to feel that they were considered worth inviting.

People will not assume that they will be welcome in church. I sat once in St Nicholas’ Church in Great Yarmouth with the curate for Evening Prayer. A young couple came in to enquire about getting married and they asked if they were allowed to be in the church. They did not know that the house of God, the parish church is open to all.

We will have various events in the coming months for which I am asking for your help in inviting people. For the harvest supper here in the aisles of the church, I amasking you to sell tickets,  and invite the people to the harvest festival mass. Then the concert of St Mary’s Singers, they are coming 70 miles to entertain us, they are good, their music will do people good. Invite them. Thirdly for All Saints’ Day when the Bishop of Norwich is coming to preach. There will be other events when it is especially good to welcome people. Keep thinking about special events we have to which you can invite people. We have to work extra hard to draw people into this church.

We extend invitations, and share hospitality, in living out our faith. We should be generous because God is generous to us. 

May the Lord make the door of this house wide enough to receive all who need human love and fellowship, and our heavenly Father’s care, and narrow enough to shut out all envy, pride and hate.