WORDS FROM W.W. July 9, 2010

Wednesday night about 5:45 there was a knock on our door. It was Patti, our next-door neighbor. She said to Carol, “I hope you haven’t eaten dinner yet, because I just won a free pizza party from 99.9 FM. Thirty pizzas are being delivered in fifteen minutes!”
A few minutes after 6:00 a Papa John’s delivery van, followed by a 99.9 FM vehicle parked on our block, set up a table for the pizzas and drinks, and our neighborhood had an instant block party. Patti even asked me to give a blessing prayer for the meal!
The music was pounding, the pizza was being consumed, and the event was crazy. A few minutes later it partially broke up because of lightning and rain, but it was good while it lasted.
The interesting thing is that I had just been reading The Externally-focused Quest by Rick Rusaw and Eric Swanson. They bring up the story that Jesus told his disciples in Luke 14 about a banquet. It’s a free banquet. Not one of those “Dinner on us, and then hear a presentation on how you can make sure your future is financially secure.” This banquet has no strings attached. It was just an opportunity to come and celebrate with the host. Think of it as a block party!
Then we read this.
“But they (the invited guests) began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ (Was the field going someplace?) Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’ (Now there’s a party animal!) Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’” (Okay! I admit that I don’t quite understand how Jesus connects marriage with property and oxen.)
At our free pizza block party there were a number of our neighbors who came, but there were even more who didn’t. Patti invited them all. There were “Thanks, but no thanks” and “Thanks” with the indication they’d come…but didn’t.
It was free! There was even garlic butter dipping sauce!
Rusaw and Swanson make the point that Patti could have said Emeril, Bobby Flay, and Paula Deen was arriving to cook up a free meal, and people still would choose not to come.
What they are getting at is that the church to often tries to be attractional instead of missional. Or as our region’s executive minister likes to say, attractional instead of “incarnational.” The tendency is to put our time, money, and energies into creating a “Disneyland” instead of “going to.” They make the point that in the early centuries of the church, the followers of Christ, through their compassion and kindness, served the people around them.
I’ll have to admit, I was looking forward to hamburgers that night. The patties were ready. But when someone invites you to a free pizza party, you feel obligated to accept.
Connecting truth! There are a number of people who come to our churches out of obligation. It would be rude to say no. Obligation, however, is a tune that can only be played for so long. At some time it loses its status toward the top of the spiritual iTunes list. As our culture becomes less inclined to go to church, but not any less spiritual, those who are in the sanctuary on Sunday morning or Saturday night in order “to be nice” will slide.
What’s the answer?
Wouldn’t that make it seem pretty simplistic, to have just one answer?
I’ll give one point towards the answer, though. The people of God must become less defined by our properties, structures, and Disneylands; and more associated with faith, love, and action. The church unleashed, instead of leashed.
Free pizza is great! Freed people is better!

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