Riot police, protestors bravely fighting for human rights, and a humble few singing the Lord’s song are minute to minute happenings in the middle of a town square today in the Ukraine. Much like those occurring in Syria and other countries, the powers that be are thinking more of themselves instead of listening to the people. In Kiev, Ukraine, ministers and pastors, deacons, and other believers have established a prayer tent. This tent is at the epicenter of a revolution, the people protesting their leader taking their country back to Russian socialism instead of aligning the country the democratic European Union. They report that the tent is definitely not a place of calm, meditative conversation with God. The riot police and protestors shout and the sound of barricades and weapons are heard. The language is far from pious and visitors to the prayer tent are not dressed in their Sunday best. Women make sandwiches by the hundreds, heedless of their own personal comfort. Hot tea is the beverage of choice since the temperature is a minus 15 degrees, cold for even the most seasoned Ukrainian. Sermons and homilies are lived, not preached. The ministers and deacons and pastors do not wait for the people to come to them but take their faith on the streets, often carrying the injured to help. Sometimes the best they can do is teach a dying protestor how to think prayers and supplications to God before the mind can do so no longer and life has ceased. They realize that people on the outskirts, cut off from supplies and fuel for warmth cannot come to them and so they go to those in need. Both on the streets and in the prayer tent there is a convergence of many faiths and creeds and while deep discussions take place over life-changing matters and life and death happening before their eyes at an elbow’s length, there is little territorial dispute. Emphasis is on faith, not on differing doctrines. There are, in essence, sharing the love of their beliefs – singing their Lord’s song and inviting others to do the same. And they do this amid the hail of gunfire, chaos, and cold.
The Episcopal Church is entering Year Three of a three-year-long campaign of invitation. A year ago I asked a parish rector how he was interpreting this for himself, his parish, the diocese in which we both lived. Our diocese had done a very good job of reminding people we were to “Invite!” Calling the Episcopal Church the “best kept secret”, our bishop frequently addressed this in his monthly letters to the diocese which was published online. This rector thought a minute and then replied: “I would ask those whom I know and who are just like me.”
I think this rector is extremely honest and gave me a most honest answer and that, if truth be told, most people would feel the same way. Do we do the Lord’s work that way, though? Do we really want to invite people to our churches? What if they, like those coming to the prayer tent in Kiev, talk less than pious? Of course most of us don’t speak only great things with piety and humility but we already know each other so maybe that makes it all right. What if people come to our churches and we don’t like their attire? What welcome would John the Baptist get? How many Biblical characters would meet our “requirements for invitation”?
How can we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land? (Psalm 137:4) We must sing the Lord’s song in situations foreign to us, to people foreign to us. We cannot sit in our comfortable buildings, fearful to trust God to make the unknown doable. We have to go to the people and offer them what God offers. Thankfully, we don’t have to do it in the middle of a revolution, just amid internal hesitations. We sing the songs of Zion when we live the invitation.