While driving home from church recently, I heard a radio conversation that powerfully impacted my thinking, which I hope will change me this coming year.
I am praying that I will extend “Intentional Invitations.” Let me tell you what I mean. The thing is, a lot of the casual welcoming I do (Covid aside), just happens. Good friends just get together for all the usual reasons. Traditions with family and friends assume that birthdays and graduations will be celebrated together. We have people over because, well, they’re our neighbors, we like them, or they had us over.
But as I listened to the conversation, things started to change in my mind. The discussion was about the transformative, life-affirming power of an invitation. Pastor Bill Golderer the founder of the Broad Street Ministry in Philadelphia described a very unusual, ongoing series of events the ministry has developed over the years, called “Philadelphia’s most Dangerous Dinner Party” Unlike many soup kitchens, where people line up and wait for food, (humbling in itself) special invitations were given to the homeless and the lonely to come to a sit down, table-clothed and thoughtfully served dinner.
Invitations also went out to banks, government buildings and parks. Everyone arrived with a handwritten invitation. The volunteers served the guests with dignity and respect. Guests felt more than served, they felt honored. The radio conversation went on about people meeting at the dinner party, and even the story of a wedding. Pastor Golderer shared how a couple came to him one evening at the “Dinner Party” and asked if he would perform their wedding. He said he was getting his phone out to check his schedule and they said, “Oh that won’t be necessary. We want to be married right here during a dinner. We met here, fell in love here and served here. This is our family.” The Pastor went on to share that an older gentleman who attended that wedding came to him with tears in his eyes and said, “This is the first wedding I have ever attended in my life.” He told how he was such a drunk and derelict that his only daughter, for reasons he understood, forbade him to come to her wedding because he would ruin it. He had made such a mess of his life. He went on to say to the bride and groom, “You can’t know how much it meant to me to be included and invited.”
Don’t we all long to be included and invited. The conversation challenged me to think how I might develop an invitational lifestyle. I’m not sure what that will look like, exactly, but I’m thinking. Matthew 22 and Luke 14 give us a glimpse into what Jesus thought about the power of invitation. It is an active, compelling exercise that impacts the person doing the inviting as well as those who are sought out.
My African friends often told me that it was when I finally sat in their homes and drank their tea that they knew I was truly their friend. What a joy it was for me to feel included.
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