When was the last time you sent out an invitation with the letters RSVP? 

Were you frustrated with the response? I bet you were.

Most people know that the letters stand for “Repondez, s’il vous plait,” meaning simply, “Respond please.” But for various reasons, some people never respond. They don’t want to commit. They prefer to keep their options open.

More than once in my Air Force career I worked with protocol officers who organized high-level events for senior decision makers. The percentage of people who “RSVP’d” was no better than for any other event.

But if you’re the type who gets an invitation and never responds, you shouldn’t be surprised if the invitations stop coming.

Jesus was in the temple in Jerusalem, creating a stir as he often did. He’d invited the crowd to follow him, but most people didn’t want to commit. They preferred to keep their options open. In John 7:33, Jesus said, “I am with you for only a short time, and then I am going to the one who sent me. You will look for me, but you will not find me; and where I am, you cannot come.”

It’s one of those things we wish Jesus never said.

The highest-level invitation in history comes with a “Respond by” date.

But we don’t know what the date is.

Father’s Day

Some years ago, I was asked to say the blessing before the meal at our high school reunion. A classmate later thanked me for not calling God, “Father.”

That was during the height of a movement to make the Bible more gender neutral. Some translations changed “brothers” to “brothers and sisters,” for example. “Son” became “child.” Male pronouns were changed to gender neutral ones. Some suggested that instead of “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit” we should say, “Mother, Daughter, and Womb.”

But Jesus called God “Father.”

He taught us to pray, “Our Father….”

And only God gets to name God.

In John 7, Jesus’ own brothers didn’t understand him. They knew he could do miracles, but they didn’t really understand why. So, they tried to get him to be a public figure like they expected, like the “world” expected.

There’s another push going on the in the “world” right now with respect to pronouns. The “world” says you get to pick your own. This may bring Jesus followers into more conflict with the “world.”

Now, it isn’t always productive for Jesus followers to do battle over the latest cultural trend. I often begin prayers by saying, “Gracious and Loving God….” We need to remember that patriarchal structures still hold people back. Historically, a biblical stance against divorce often trapped women in harmful relationships. Human fathers can fail us, and sadly, they often do.

But at their best, fathers provide for us, protect us, love, and care for us.

The best earthly fathers point to the way to the one, true Heavenly Father.

The Heavenly Father points to how earthly fathers should live.

When we fail to appreciate God as Father, we can miss out on the great blessing of the intimate, loving relationship God wants to have with us.

This Father’s Day we ought to remember that Jesus’ name for God was “Father.”

Right-sized church

Not long ago, Gallup reported that church membership in the US is at 47%, the lowest ever, down over 20 points since the turn of the century. The number was 73% when Gallup first conducted the survey in 1937 and had remained constant until the 1990s.

What’s the right size for a church?

John 6 began with the story of Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the 5000, but by the end of the chapter, the crowds had deserted. Only the disciples remained, and Jesus asked them, “Do you want to go away too?” Big crowds would again greet Jesus, but for the moment, it looked like total church membership was somewhere around 12.

But there was no record of Jesus begging anyone to stay.

In fact, the opposite is true. Jesus had just told the crowd that his followers had to “eat his flesh and drink his blood.”

It was if he was daring them to stay. And he said things like this all the time.

There was the issue of the cross, his, and the ones his followers would be challenged to “pick up daily.”

In the Sermon on the Mount, (Matthew 7:21-23) he warned, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

When he sent out the disciples (Matthew 10:22) he told them that, “All men will hate you because of me.”

Jesus surely hoped that the church would be filled, but with people who understood the cost of being a disciple.

It seems that Jesus had a different understanding of church size than we do.

More real

In CS Lewis’ classic book, The Great Divorce, people in hell are given a chance to take a bus ride to the outskirts of heaven. As the travelers get off the bus, they’re surprised to find that the blades of grass are like iron.

But it wasn’t that the grass was different in heaven, grass was still grass.

It was the people who were different. They discovered that, all along, they’d been wispy, ghost-like, shadows of their true selves. They were given a second chance to cast off whatever sin had held them back in life and continue their journey. In heaven, they would become their truest and best selves.

In the popular imagination, heaven is a place where people float on clouds, a place where people are less real.

But in Lewis’ imagination, heaven is where we become more real.

The pandemic exposed how wispy we are. We became more fearful, more prone to conspiracy theories.

Jesus Christ was born into the world a real person. You could see him, hold him, smell him. You could feel the scratch of his beard on your cheek when he kissed you.

He changed the name of his friend Simon to “Peter,” saying “On this rock I will build my church and the gates of Hell will not prevail against it.”

Jesus gave us the church to get real.

We only become people of substance through Jesus Christ.