Come And Join Us

Someone is knocking. I walk down the hallway and open the door.

Who is this? I’ve never seen him before. He’s middle-aged, he’s wearing a blue pinstripe suit, and his hair is greying and thinning. He has a battered briefcase in his hand, and he’s fumbling in it for some papers as he introduces himself.

Good evening! I’m here as I said I would be. I hope you’ve had time to consider our invitation, and all of the very many advantages that you’ll enjoy if you accept it. We don’t invite everyone to join us, of course, it’s only men who have been proposed and seconded by our members, professional people who have a position in society, people whom we feel will benefit from association with us - and of course, we will benefit from our association with you!”

It’s a baffler. He can’t be a J.W., there’s no one else in sight. Double glazing? No, he hasn’t mentioned the condensation on the windows. Cowboy builder? No, not in that outfit. An insurance salesman? No, he thinks he knows me, and he thinks I know who he is. I give it up.

"I’m sorry, but I’ve no idea what you’re on about. How can I help you?”

"Didn’t you get our invitation? The Foresters?”

Ah! A light dawns.

"Yes, I got a card from - what was it? - “The Ancient Order Of Foresters”, saying that I was being invited to join them. But that’s all it said, it didn’t say anything about who they were, or why I would want to join them. Who are they?”

It turns out that I should have received much more than an invitation, but somehow, that’s all that was in the envelope. Nothing daunted, he begins to explain all about this organisation, which seems to be a sort of Friendly Society and Insurance Company and Sub-Masonic Social Club all rolled into one.

As he babbles on about the benefits of membership, and how it will enhance my social status and advance my career, proving that he knows nothing at all about me, I examine him a little more closely. His face has a hangdog look, and there’s a small cut on his cheek, and a fleck of dried shaving foam under his ear. He holds up one hand with literature in it, and I notice that his shirt sleeve is frayed. As he enlarges upon the financial advantages of being a Forester, I look beyond him to his car. It’s as old as mine is, with a great deal more rust over the wheel arches. It just doesn’t add up.

When he pauses for a moment, I explain that I’m not in the least interested, and anything that sounds at all Masonic is definitely not for me. He protests, but then he loses interest, puts away his papers, and away he goes.

That was decades ago, but for some reason, it’s been on my mind recently. And so has this: “Come and join us, come and join us...” It’s probably from a Salvation Army chorus, or from one of many old parodies of such, as in: “Will you come to the Mission, Will you come, will you come, For a penny cup of tea, And a bun, and a bun...”

Why would anyone want to join the church of today? Recently I’ve been talking to two young men, young Christians, keen to serve their Lord and to share their faith. In conversation, in order to illustrate a point or two, I’ve told them a few stories about people I’ve met in the past, in churches to which I’ve belonged. They have a hard time believing me. I have a hard time believing these things myself, but I was there when they happened. I don’t want to tell them too much, because I don’t want to discourage them; but, at the same time, it would be as well for them to know that things and people are not always as they seem. And, I suppose, it’s easier for me than telling them about my own abject failures.

Paul writes as follows.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. (2 Corinthians 5.17-20)

As an ambassador for the Foresters, the man at the door was a failure. The prosperity and the prestige on offer were things that he himself didn’t seem to have. I wonder what the world outside sees when they look at you and me? No, I’ll leave you out of it. When they look at me, do they see “a new creation”? Is it obvious from my life that “The old has passed away; behold, the new has come”? Am I really ambassador material?

I can’t stop myself from going back into the past, from time to time. Sometimes it’s fun, but at other times it’s a dismal and depressing exercise, as I remember how frequently I’ve failed.

But, strangely enough, the future seems brighter all the way, today. Why so?

The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.

(Psalm 103.9-13)