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Invitation


I held the hunting knife between my fingers.  It was around 2, 2:30 in the morning.  Never a good time to be up, sitting on the edge of your bed holding a sharpened hunting knife.   I had saved my money for weeks to mail-order it just because it was cool and I thought I could use it for camping.  I had other plans for it that night.

“I wonder how much it would hurt?” I had asked myself repeatedly that night.   I had done so also the night before.  I had done so the night before that.  I had been scare then, but I was less so that night.  I was less scared and more hopeless.  A bad combination.

I remember being so hopeless.

Twelve years old was way too young to be having such dark thoughts, but I had been having them for so long.  For years by that time.  I was getting desperate and the depression and the constant daily rejection was just getting worse and worse.

So I sat in the darkness, holding that knife, trying to screw up the courage to travel down a road I really didn’t want to travel, and asking one other question over and over and over again.

… and in the night I received one whispered answer.

Thank God I traveled down a different road than that.  It’s been a long time since that night, and although I’ve had many dark-nights-of-the-soul since then, I’ve never found myself on that knife’s edge again.  Something happened that night that changed everything for me.

Not all at once.

Not without much remaining residue.

But fully changed things.

I became accepted.

I was invited to a party.

John tells a story in the fourth chapter of his Gospel about a conversation Jesus had while sitting on the edge of a well.  There was many strange things about this conversation.   First of all, it took place in Samaria, and the conversation was with a Samaritan.  The Jewish people did not talk to the Samaritans.   They did not associated with them, hang out with them, party with them or even share the same air with them.  As often as possible, when traveling, a good Jewish person will choose to take the long road around Samaria rather then risk a conversation.

Plus, the conversation was with a woman.  A good Jewish man in that time and place wouldn’t have publicly “lowered” himself to have a conversation with a woman.  She made a starting point about this when Jesus asked if she would draw him a drink from the well, ““You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?”

There was one more interesting thing John pointed out.  The conversation took place at noon.  That doesn’t seem so odd except for one key point.  In that culture and time, the woman came together and drew water together in the morning.  She appeared to be alone at the well much later drawing water out alone.

You know, like someone rejected by the others.   Like someone who is not allowed to fit in.

Then Jesus did something amazing.  Something unprecedented.  Something utterly unexpected.  Jesus invited her to a party.

Not a party at one of the disciples houses.  Not a shindig at the local pub.  A greater party.  A party that all the law and the prophets agreed that she was most definitely NOT invited too.  A party in a new Kingdom, with a new King and in a place where she would never be thirsty again.

At that moment she became accepted.

She was invited to a party.

This is what Jesus did.  He didn’t go to those who felt they deserved an invitation.  He went to those who knew they didn’t.   He went to those who have been so use to being rejected and ridiculed that they just began to accept the fact that it “was what it was”.  And here’s the kicker… Jesus knew exactly what they felt like.

No, not because he was a sinner, but simply because he knew rejection.

Mark pointed out in his Gospel that this was prophesied about… “Have you not even read this Scripture: ‘THE STONE WHICH THE BUILDERS REJECTED, THIS BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone;” (Mark 12:10)

Luke pointed out in his Gospel that he prophesied it about himself… “But first He must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.” (Luke 17:25)

So he was rejected by the religious leaders.  He was rejected by his generation.   He came to the people he loved and sought to set free and they turned him over to be crucified and instead chose a known murder to be set free instead.  But none of this was the worst.  One rejection was to come that without argument would be the worst rejection in all of creation.

As he hung on that cross, tormented and spilling every bit of his life’s blood from his body… as he hung there bearing every one of the sins that I have committed, between the earth and the sky, between life and death, as he died he found the greatest rejection that he had to face.

On the ninth hour he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus knew about rejection.

And why?  Why would anyone who has the power of the very cosmos put himself willing through this all.  John tells us why…

“He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John 1:11-13)

He did it so you could became accepted.

He did it so you could was invited.

He wanted to invite you to the party!

So after I survived that night in my bedroom, things began to change significantly for me.  Not in any outward ways, but inwardly.  I didn’t start getting invitations from the cool kids to hang out.  I didn’t get teased or rejected less, but I did start noticing something… I wasn’t the only one.  So I started to make some changes.  Instead of sitting alone in the cafeteria during lunch, I started to invite over some of the other that sat alone.  As soon as word got out that there was a group they could sit with, the table grew bigger and bigger.  And let me tell you, it was a hodge-podge of the most eclectic, strangest, odd kids you’ve ever met… and I was one of them!   Someone started calling me the “prince of the weirdos”, and, you know what… I wore that badge with honor.  I WAS one of those weirdos and with me they were invited to my party!

What would it be like if everyone we met was treated like they were invited to the party?

As I internalized that title, it followed me through life.  In Bible College I soon noted that there was a not-so-suble popular group.  These were the guys and girls that were being openly groomed to be our next leaders.  You knew they would be the pastors, teachers and worship leaders that churches screamed for to take them all to the next level.  They were given the blessings of the staff, the greatest opportunities and the pride of choice.   Then there was the rest of us.  We would be lucky if we could return to our home churches and be allowed to volunteer in the Middle School ministry (a position I have come to realize is the most important position in the entire church!  But that’s another blog).  After the harshness of Middle School, I had found my place in High School, but now I was facing the same feelings of rejection I had faced back then.

I remember one one dark summer night after months of a loneliness that I swore had soaked into my bones, I ran out into the night, stood in a field alone and yelled out one single question…

… and in the night I received one whispered answer.

And that answer gave me my life purpose.  My life purpose was to find, love and invite even the most vulnerable people to the party.

Jesus made it very clear that this is YOUR job also.  Matthew tells us in his Gospel in chapter 25 that when we all gather before God with the nations, He won’t be asking us about how great we lead our churches.  He won’t reward us for having the most innovating worship ministry.   He wont give us a crown for our hours crafting the perfectly engaging curriculum or the number of people we brought to tears during our preaching.  Instead He will thank us… thank us for for bringing Him food when he was starving, for bringing him a drink when He was dying of thirst.  He will bless us for coming to His aid when He was a stranger, and cold and naked and sick and we welcomed, and clothed and cared.  He will thank us for spending time with us when He was in prison, and we will be like, “What???”  I did no such thing”, and He’ll be all like, “Yah you did… don’t you remember?….”

“You invited me to the party!  When you invited that kid, you were inviting me.”

And the party will be such a great banquet.  And all the cool kids were invited to this banquet too, but sadly many of them will not feel the need to attend and will laugh off the invitation.  They will be full of excuses saying, “Nah, but you have fun.  I don’t need you.”

So instead He will send out his servant to go out into the highways and byways and there He will instead invite a hodge-podge of the most eclectic, strangest, odd kids you’ve ever met.

And you will be that servant.

And the new guests will be, “the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.” (Luke 14:21b)

And you will invite them to the party.  And their entire world will change!

So let me be honest… I continue to pray that God will heal me completely from my feelings of rejection.   I have come so far from that night sitting on the edge of my bed holding that knife, but every once in a while that old soul-wound with ruin my day… or week … or month…    Like many of you, I have a lifetime of stories I could tell and tell and tell.

Like this one time years ago when I was with some guys in the church I was working in at the time.   Being a transplant I had no friends and was hoping that these would become new ones.  I’m not good at making friends.  They were volunteering their time to help me set up.  They were (and remain) godly men who gave of their time and energy and asked nothing in return.  Once we were finished I remember being grateful not only for their help but their company.  You see, I was far from home with no friends or family other than my immediate one, and I was going through a harsh loneliness and battling a weary war against a encroaching depression.   It was winning.

When we had finished, I was about to invited them out to lunch.  Instead they talked about getting together to play video games.  They agreed and quickly left the church, got into their vehicles and drove away, leaving me without invitation in the dark church alone.  I remember thinking, “I like video games too.”

And I sat down in the darkness.

And in that darkness I had wept like never before.

I sat on the floor and soaked my shirt in my tears and my snot.   I did so like I had never done so before.  After about ten minutes I realized it wasn’t really about the event that I just experienced.  That was really a minor misdemeanor.   I knew those guys.  They were kindhearted and genuinely good.  Ok, fair enough, they had been stupid in that moment, but it wasn’t their intent I’m convinced… but neither was this breakdown really about them at all.

It was about it all.

It was years and years, and rejection after rejection, and it all flowed out like the snot draining down my face.  (Thank God the church was truly dark and empty in that I don’t think I could have lived down had there been any witnesses!).   It all came out until I was literally dehydrated and lay broken on the floor.

I asked the same question I had asked when I sat at the edge of the bed so many years ago.  And I asked the same question I had screamed into the night sky during Bible College.   I blubbered out the same syllables….

“Doesn’t ANYBODY want me?”

And in the darkened hallway I received the same whispered answer.

“I do.”

“Want to come to a party?”

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