Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your name. Amen.
A Prayer for Mission from the Book of Common Prayer, page 101
Over the past few months, my girls have become fans of a Netflix show called “Is it Cake?” The premise of the show is fairly straightforward, though its execution ends up being a little convoluted: bakers with a talent for making cakes that look like everyday objects attempt to fool a panel of three judges into believing that what they have baked is something other than cake. The judges examine the cake, alongside several decoy objects, from a distance, and are given 20 seconds to decide which of the items before them is, in fact, cake. The most dramatic moment of the show takes place when the host confronts the judges’ selection with a knife, which either slices through a thick layer of fondant or bumps up against a genuine version of the object the cake is imitating. Depending on the result, the bakers, who until now have been stoic and poker-faced, either groan with disappointment or cheer triumphantly.
What is interesting about this process is that it seems designed to overwhelm and confuse the judges. The timing, the lighting, and the presence of the other two judges all conspire to make the act of deciding difficult. As a result, the judges often pick an object at random or are so paralyzed by choice that they fail to make a selection at all. In this sense, there is an extent to which the process undermines the premise of the show: instead of marveling at the abilities of these extremely talented bakers, the judges are overwhelmed by the pressure to make a decision. It is only when the judges are invited forward to taste the cake and examine it more closely that they can appreciate what the bakers have done: the detail that has gone into their decoration, and the care that has been taken with the recipe. The invitation, in other words, becomes how the judges can experience what is possible.
After encountering Jesus in the first chapter of John’s gospel, the apostle Philip approaches Nathanael and reports, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Philip’s enthusiasm is palpable: he is excited to share his experience with someone whom he loves and respects. Indeed, we can probably assume that Nathanael ranks ahead of Philip in some way, so Philip is eager to make a good impression. Imagine his disappointment when Nathanael replies derisively, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” It would have been easy for Philip to slink away dejectedly, embarrassed to think that he could have been so foolish to assume he had something meaningful to share. Instead, without missing a beat, Philip invites Nathanael to “Come and see!” Philip recognizes that invitation is the only way to experience what is possible.
During the course of a single week a few months ago, I had a series of conversations with non-parishioners about the same basic topic. These people all expressed both a deep affection for Heavenly Rest and a restlessness about where they currently are in their spiritual lives. In previous years, I might have ignored these sentiments or said something noncommittal. Instead, my invitation to all these people was some version of, “We’d love to see you at Heavenly Rest sometime soon!” For the most part, the responses I got were a combination of everything from, “Well, maybe” to “I don’t know if I’m ready yet.” While I confess to being mildly disappointed by these tepid replies, I would have been more disappointed if I had passed up the opportunity to invite these people into the life of this community. As Philip and the judges from “Is it Cake?” remind us, it is only when we offer an invitation that we can begin to experience what is possible.
I mention this because I can’t imagine that I am the only person from Heavenly Rest who has had conversations like these. In these moments, I suspect that our inclination is to avoid coming on too strongly: what if the people we are talking to aren’t interested in having such a conversation? We need to remember, however, that if someone starts talking to us about church or where they are spiritually, they have made the first move. They have invited us into a deeper conversation about faith and life. What would it look like if we took these opportunities seriously? What would it look like if we remembered the power of invitation? What if, when we hear people express curiosity about Heavenly Rest, we respond by saying something like, “I have found a spiritual home at Heavenly Rest, and I would love for you to come to church with me some Sunday.” The worst that can happen is that the answer is “no,” and we can be confident that we have offered something meaningful to someone we care about. At the same time, the answer might be “yes,” and we can rejoice that we are going to share this place with someone we love. I feel like I should clarify that I am not talking about knocking on doors and inviting strangers to church. Rather, I am talking about those conversations that we have all had at one point or another: conversations with friends who are searching, who are restless, who might be looking for an invitation to “come and see.”
You will read about several opportunities to “come and see” at Heavenly Rest over the coming months, including lectures, cultural festivals, concerts, and times for fellowship and formation. As you mark your calendar with these events, I challenge you to invite a friend to join you, remembering that it is only when we offer an invitation that we begin to experience what is possible.