In this time as we prepare for Easter, we’re getting ready for that annual increase in pew attendance. Soon it will be fuller than today. But what if there were so many people being drawn to worship God we had to expand? Long before Jesus spoke of drawing the whole world, Jeremiah’s vision was that so many people would come to worship God, the city of Jerusalem would have to be enlarged! It reminds me of stories of the legendary confirmation class of 100 here. I’m not sure I'm ready to teach a confirmation class of 100 but I’d be willing to give it a go. People were drawn here- as if by a magnetic force. As many of us long for a return to this, I’m reminded of a website called the “Magnetic Church.” It provides lots of ways to draw people to your congregation-so you can grow. At best it’s a helpful resource for realizing how often we fail the test of effective communication or meaningful hospitality. But the underlying question for me was when I think about this website or the myriad books written about how to draw people to your church is- “What are we drawing people TO?” Christ lifted up on the cross or our newly renovated social room? What draws US here or does not? When we hear “come and see” what do we expect? When others respond to “come and see” what do we do? Are we drawn by the power of the work of Christ, or something else?
Back in Jesus’ day, the whole world was coming to Jesus because of his signs and his magnetism. Yet, he responds by speaking about death and being lifted up on the cross. Predicting an event but also a new reality- that in the work of the cross, all might be drawn to God in Christ. This is God’s deep desire. ALL people drawn to God in and through the cross. And this is the goal of the Gospel of John- that all might believe and be drawn. Not just “encouraged to consider choosing” but drawn as if by a giant magnet. This word for “drawn” is the same word that describes the force it takes to haul in the "amazing fish catch" where all the fish were drawn after Jesus tells the disciples to throw the net out again. It’s the way the disciples felt when Jesus first called them. It’s the same experience some share with me at the door, who’ve come to worship after being away, or when they come for the first time- “I just felt drawn here- compelled to respond.” That’s powerful stuff. But the Gospel of John makes it clear-we can choose how we respond to the message of Christ lifted up on the cross.
This power to choose frustrates us when we look around and wonder where everyone else is. What’s wrong with us if they’re not here? But WE also sometimes choose to not be in worship. When some other event trumps worship, or we’re tired, or we need a ride but won’t ask, or it’s too rainy, or too nice out to be drawn here. And there’s another reason. It’s the one that over the last six months i've hears as I’ve listened to regular attenders, occasional worshippers, homebound, and former members tell me: it just isn’t the same at Holy Spirit-“the people we used to know are gone,””the neighborhood changed” “I only come for Sunday school””I try to make it once a year to keep my membership in good standing””I don’t know who those new faces are” “I haven’t come since Pastor So-and So left” or “I quit coming when Pastor So and So came.” “I don’t drive, but no… I don’t want a ride.” Choosing to not be drawn here, yet not going anywhere else to worship. God travels SO FAR to assure our redemption and salvation, but we choose to believe the distance is often too great for us unless we are in our selected world. When we respond in this way, we’re responding to being drawn by ourselves, and not the cross. And it does matter that we fail in communicating or showing hospitality- but it has nothing to do with us- it's all about drawing people to Christ of the cross. Jesus is still calling people- not to Holy Spirit Lutheran Church, but to the cross.
And this means we also have to confront our fears about just how broad the magnetic field of the cross really is. This is the challenge- it will mean some things have to die for the sake of the whole world in Christ. The Pharisees aren’t happy with that. It threatens the way they want it. The WHOLE world is coming- they want to make THAT stop.
But Jesus keeps drawing people who keep responding to “come and see.” But while they have mouthed the words “come and see,” even the disciples put on the brakes. When the Greeks wanting to see Jesus come- they get the disciples. And we don’t hear they ever get to see Jesus. They’re filtered out by disciples who have a pattern of trying to select who sees Jesus. Old patterns are hard to break. True for us too in ways we encounter others and we choose how to respond. When we see those we know who aren’t here, do we choose to reinforce that it really WAS better before, or invite them to “come and see” again? When someone shares why they can’t come, do we choose to simply say “that’s too bad” or help draw them here? Do we decide who are and are not “good enough members” to care? When we do these things , we’re missing the chance to draw them to see Jesus again. And we’re treating what happens here like an RSVP to our social event, not being drawn to the compelling witness of the cross. But we ALL need to see Jesus. We can’t see Jesus at the Table if we don’t come and have our eyes opened in the breaking of the bread, and hear the words of forgiveness offered for us. We can’t deepen insight into the meaning of the cross if we come to study but never LIVE as part of the community centered in this cross. When we don’t come together, we don’t really learn how powerful Jesus lifted up truly is.
Now let’s take it one more step. Jesus lifted on the cross and Jesus drawing ALL is something our world STILL tries to stop. There is more to ALL than just lapsed members. Around us is an amazing neighborhood that represents the true diversity of the cross- Who have we personally tried to draw here to worship God? We can choose for ourselves, but we cannot choose for God. God has chosen ALL. All we need to do is watch the news to know that in our world, if your skin is the wrong color, or you are poor, or you are the easy victim of prejudice there are those who will say you don’t matter. Hasn’t the hour come to proclaim a death to this thinking and to proclaim life in the cross? We’re called to proclaim to the world that hatred and prejudice no longer rule. The hour has come and God has decided to draw ALL. This is our mission as the church of Jesus Christ. And our power doesn’t come from the magnetism of the people or the strength of the pastor or the beautiful building but God’s sheer grace and endless love in the cross.
As we again approach the celebration of Christ lifted up on the cross and it’s life altering meaning for all, we’re reminded ALL need to hear and be here. Are you willing to be that kind of Magnetic Church? Pulling all here no matter what the world or our gut says? God’s decision is to draw all in the cross- good news for us and all the hurting world. Who will you invite to “come and see” and then greet them when they come and help them see Jesus? The hour has come to lift up the cross for all. In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu: “Jesus did not say, when I am “lifted up I will draw SOME.’ Jesus said, (when I am ) lifted up, I will draw all.
All, all, all. Black, white, yellow, (brown), rich, poor, clever, and not so clever, beautiful and not so beautiful, gay and straight. All. It’s one of the most radical things. All belong.
All are meant to be held in this incredible embrace that will not let us go. All.”
The good news is that we’re all in God’s ALL.
The question is- how will we dare to respond?