First Baptist Church Laurens
June 9, 2019
I remember vividly a January day back about fifteen years ago when I was traveling with a group from our church on a weekend mission trip. It was either late on a Friday or a Saturday when a member of our group received a very unusual invitation. On the spur of the moment and completely unexpected, he was invited to attend the Presidential Inauguration in Washington as an official state representative the following Tuesday. It was a long, convoluted story. But, the essence was that someone had dropped out at the last moment, a ticket had come available and it was being offered to him. We were not due back in town until late on Monday from the mission trip and he didn’t know what to do.
I remember how he agonized for several hours. The logistical issues seemed to be impossible to overcome but who could pass up the chance to go to a Presidential Inauguration as an official representative? It was an opportunity that he never imagined having in a million years and that he felt confident would never come again. For quite some time, he thought through every conceivable scenario before with great sadness calling the person back who had invited him with huge disappointment declining the offer.
Have you ever found yourself in that sort of situation? Have you ever received an unexpected invitation that you would have never envisioned coming your way? Perhaps you were invited to an exclusive party, offered tickets to a sporting event you had always wanted to see in person or been given the chance out of the blue to go on a trip that you would have never believed you would have had the chance to take.
It is one thing to be offered the chance to go places or to do things that we expect to be asked to participate in. It is altogether something else to get an unexpected invitation that makes us feel good about ourselves, that helps us to feel special and that opens up for our possibilities, opportunities, and realities that we would have never imagined could be ours.
This morning, I want to remind us that Biblically speaking, God says that it is our great good fortune to have the chance in life to both receive such an invitation and to give such an invitation – an invitation that originates with God.
In many ways, the book of Joel speaks to this idea beautiful in this famous passage of scripture that serves as our two verse text for today. It is a statement that Joel offers at a very low time for Israel. Apparently, the people of God had been hit by a double whammy if you will. On the one hand, they had experienced a horrific natural disaster through a locust plague that had wiped out their crops and left their land desolate. On the other hand, they had been overwhelmed by an invading army that had also laid waste to the countryside.
In a day of licking their wounds, dealing with their hurts, reflecting on bad decisions and confessing their sins that had apparently played a role in all that had happened, Joel also does what virtually all of the Old Testament prophets do. He balances concern with hopefulness. He speaks of future good days alongside painful recent days. He calls the Israelite people to honestly confront their past while also encouraging them to have a positive outlook about the future.
Here is where the unexpected invitation comes into play. Joel says, “I have this vision from God. In this vision of the future, God will pour out God’s spirit in a remarkable way. Further, this Spirit will be poured out on everyone – male and female, slave and free, young and old. When this day comes every one will be welcome to receive God’s presence, salvation, friendship, guidance and presence in their lives.
Of course, you and I know that this vision of Joel found its fruition in the life and work of Jesus who both invited anyone and everyone to know God personally and who then left the Holy Spirit with those who accepted this invitation when his time on earth came to an end.
Some of you may have been to or at least be familiar with Greenfield Village. The village was created through the vision and resources of Henry Ford who in the 1920s and 1930s moved over a hundred historic structures to a single piece of property in Dearborn, Michigan. In one afternoon strolling on a single parcel of land you can visit the authentic shop of the Wright Brothers, the homes of Robert Frost the poet and Noah Webster who gave us the dictionary as well as one of the courthouses where Abraham Lincoln practiced law. Again there are over 100 structures on the property but not just that of famous people. No, Greenfield also includes a sharecropper home from rural Georgia, slave residences from numerous places and historic shops of tin makers, leather workers, printmakers and glass blowers. Yes, it is a place to visit the homes of the famous, but, the homes of ordinary and everyday folks sit right alongside them.
That is the point that Joel makes and it is the point of this day – Pentecost. God’s Spirit, in equal measure is for all people – young and old, rich and poor, female and male, black and white, educated and uneducated. We live in a world of drawn lines, of making distinctions, of naming the haves and the have nots. But God does not and the Holy Spirt does not. We can try to convince ourselves and many of us do that we are not worthy of the favoring of God upon our lives. But it is not true. God loves us the same. God wants to give us the Holy Spirit in equal measures. God wants to use us in equal ways. There is no such thing as the welcome and unwelcome; the invited and uninvited. God’s invitation is for all of us.
Yet, this is not an invitation for us to simply bask in and receive. No, the idea behind the coming of the Holy Spirit into our lives is that we would constantly be sharers of this vision and invitation with others that they too would know that they are and can be included too. We receive God’s invitation to us that we in turn might also invite others. This I think is also in keeping with the spirit of the text from Joel and certainly in keeping with where the New Testament Church would move after Pentecost as they learned that this Spirit they had received wasn’t only for Jewish believers but for everyone.
When we were living near Atlanta, I was once given two tickets to the Final Four of Men’s College Basketball which was being played at the Georgia Dome that year. To say the tickets were a surprise is an understatement. The person who gave them to me called on a Friday evening and the games were that Saturday and upcoming Monday. As much as I enjoyed the experience, honestly, the most enjoyable part was choosing two different friends to also call out of the blue to join me for the Saturday and Monday games. It was a joy to be invited but it was an equal joy to invite.
God is inviting you to know us, to be in relationship with Him through his Spirit and to be used by Him in equal measure just as is everyone else who carries the name Christian. Do you believe that? As blessed recipients of God’s invitation it is also our great gift and privilege to invite others to this same amazing relationship. Are we living in light of our invitation and are we inviting others? Amen.