Most people love receiving invitations. To a party. A meal. A wedding. A celebration. A special event. It’s nice to be included  – to feel part of something. It’s good to know that you belong.

But many don’t feel like they belong. They feel lonely. In fact we live in a lonely society. That’s why Mother Theresa is right when she famously said: ‘The greatest disease today is not starvation but loneliness.’ Loneliness is one of the greatest ills of 21st Century Britain, and we’re not immune to it here in York, or the North of England. Recent published research by the Mental Health Foundation shows that over 1 in 10 UK residents often feel lonely; just 1 in 5 people say they never feel lonely and half think that people in the UK are, in general, getting more lonely.

People want to be included. They want to be invited. That’s because we’re made by God to live in community – in families, in homes, with a network of friends. That’s a massive part of what church is about. And that’s why all the evidence shows that most people today belong before they believe. They want to see what kind of community we are, before they commit to the head of the community, Jesus Christ.

But how are they going to find out, unless the come? And how are they going to come unless someone invites them? You see, invitation is crucial. That’s the power of invitation.

This coming weekend marks the start of a big week of mission here in York, under the ‘More than Gold’ banner. We will put on all sorts of events – some centrally organised but mainly lots of local things run by small groups of people. It’s should be great – as long as people come. But they will only come if they are invited. If they’re not invited they won’t experience the warmth of the Christian community or the wonder of the gospel of Jesus. They need to be invited. That’s the power of invitation.

In John chapter 1, Philip meets Jesus and decides to follow him. He then wants his friend, Nathaniel to meet Jesus too – maybe like you want your friend, or your family member, or your work colleague, to meet Jesus. So what does Philip do? He tells his friend that he’s found someone amazing – Jesus Christ. But Nathaniel isn’t sure and so Philip replies: ‘Come and see.’ He invites him. Simple as that. And Nathaniel agrees and meets Jesus and his life is transformed. But it wouldn’t have happened unless Philip had invited him. Take out the invitation and Nathaniel would not have met Jesus. That’s the power of invitation.

In Isaiah 55, the prophet offers an invitation for people to come to God and be nourished: ‘Come, all you who are thirsty, come to then waters, and you who have no money, come, buy and eat!’ This is the invitation of God to come and have your soul satisfied. It reminds us that God himself issues invitations to people. He’s the great inviter! He knows the power of invitation.

But how does God normally invite people? On occasions he just intervenes and sovereignly does it himself. But normally he does it through his hands and his feet – his body. The church. That’s how he operates. Through you and me.

I was speaking with a man at the weekend who’d become a believer in the last two weeks. He was very excited as he told me about his journey to faith! One crucial part included a friend inviting him on a Christian skiing holiday which opened up all sorts of conversations and opportunities for him to discover who Jesus is. Take out the invitation and this man would not have met Jesus. That’s the power of invitation.

So, who are you inviting? Have you got your invitations? Are you giving them away? Are you praying for invitation opportunities this week? Because this is the time to be inviting. This is the time to be maximising the power of invitation.