The Right Invitation

an unfinished reflection... When we lived in Chicago, our absolute favorite place to eat was Mama Desta's Red Sea Ethiopian Restaurant. It was clear on the north side of town and we lived on the Southside, so we didn't eat there often; however, as often as we could, we would find an excuse to do so. When friends or family came into town, or when there was a special occasion, we'd arrange an evening on the northside and swing by Mama Desta's.

We were Mama Desta evangelists. Not only did we love the food, but the whole process of eating Ethiopian food was so exotic and fascinating that it was worth taking others to experience. We had been there enough to even know how to order, to tell our waiter, "There's four of us, one is a vegetarian, one is allergic to fish, so just bring us a variety."

And when dinner would arrive, there it would be, on the platter, various dishes arranged on top of the spongy injera bread. Then the initiation would begin, as we would show our guests how to take a piece of the injera bread and use it to scoop the food. No utensils, plenty of napkins.

I thought about that wonderful little restaurant this week as I read our passage from John. Why is it so easy for us to introduce someone to a new restaurant, our favorite movie or CD, but to invite them to church or to share our faith with them is, somehow, a frightening prospect? We can be zealous about these other things, extolling the virtue of our favorite college team, going on about the new Iron and Wine album, but to talk about our faith? Well, that's just something else altogether...

Perhaps it's our wandering society, where so many of us move so frequently that we never have the time to plant ourselves in one place long enough to get past those surface issues. Or maybe we're the one who stays put so long that we, honestly, don't know anyone with whom we haven't talked about faith.

Or maybe it's that we have to so redefine what it is that we're talking about, that we're not "those kind" of Christians, who look down our nose or try to impose our morality on others, that the thought of doing so is overwhelming; so why even start?

And maybe it's something altogether more personal. If this faith thing is as central to us as it should be, if it is as potent and important to us, then to open ourselves up to someone and to share that piece of ourselves and have them say, "No, thank you," is more than just a rejection of our musical taste or sports fandom. It can feel like a rejection of us.

I suggest we look at today's text in John 1:43-51, where Philip, Nathanael, and Jesus all interact. Philip invites Nathanael along to meet Jesus. And his invitation has four simple phases. First, it's straightforward: "We've found the one of whom the prophets spoke." Second, when Nathanael replies with prejudice about Nazareth, Philip doesn't react much at all; he doesn't avoid it, but he doesn't try to outargue Nathanael. Third, he's not pushy. He doesn't try to persuade Nathanael with descriptions from Scripture. Fourth, his approach is very personal. It's open, "come and see," and he walks with Nathanael, who gets to meet Jesus. It's not anonymous.

Can we take some of these principles to the way we invite folks to church? Maybe invite someone to worship following breakfast, or grabbing brunch afterward. Trust that there will be opportunities, not to look for them manipulatively, but to bring them into the conversation with all of the integrity that demands.