But we have this treasure in clay pots so that the awesome power belongs to God and doesn’t come from us. We are experiencing all kinds of trouble, but we aren’t crushed. We are confused, but we aren’t depressed. We are harassed, but we aren’t abandoned. We are knocked down, but we aren’t knocked out. – 2 Corinthians 4:7-9
Preaching is a tough gig. Bringing God’s word to a congregation is challenging at the best of times. Then, when the occasion calls for a prophetic voice, the responsibility and the implications ratchet up an extra notch – or three – or more.
This is what I believe most preachers – at least the thoughtful ones – are facing this weekend in the aftermath of not just another mass shooting, but a targetted act of evil that reached all the way inside the doors of the church and put its ugly smear where we cannot look away.
What on earth (and in heaven) does the Good News of Jesus have to say at a time like this? How should the church respond to the horror of Sutherland Springs, Texas? What does God want us to say, and who is God calling us to be?
For me (and, to be clear, I do not try to influence the words of the preacher who lives in my house) the key question has to be, “What exactly is this Good News we proclaim, and how does the Gospel prompt us to be/think/act?”
In other words, where do we even begin? Because it is only in being clear about our fundamental purpose that we have any hope of understanding what it is that we are now expected to do.
Jesus offers God’s children a way home:
First, Jesus came to offer God’s children a way home. Nothing else worked. No “religion” per se can fix that broken relationship. “I am the gate,” Jesus said (John 10), “Follow me home and I’ll make the introductions.”
Because of Jesus, and through Jesus, God is making reconciliation our experience, our identity, and our mission. I really like the way the CEB phrases Paul’s appeal:
“All of these new things are from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and who gave us the ministry of reconciliation. In other words, God was reconciling the world to himself through Christ, by not counting people’s sins against them. He has trusted us with this message of reconciliation.” – 2 Corinthians 5:18-19
The church – and in my case that happens to be Wake Forest Presbyterian – is where we gather together to worship God, where we find inspiration and encouragement, where we work together to grow as more intentional disciples, and from where we are sent out as Christ’s ambassadors.
The church is not a place where we huddle behind closed doors in common defense, but – rather – where light is generated and then sent out into a dark world. We stand as a lighthouse, not a fortress.
I think the image of Jesus on the cross is tragically appropriate when we think about our posture as believers. We stand with arms outstretched, as a wide-open invitation. Jesus is an invitation, not a security guard. We don’t need bouncers, we need welcomers. Jesus said, “I am the gate,” not the gatekeeper.
“Go out into the highways and the byways,” Jesus said. “I want people to come home, and I’m not checking I.D.s.”
Jesus rolled away the stone; fact is, he’s always rolling away barriers. But the Lord doesn’t just stand there passively with his arms stretched out wide, he goes out into the streets, the marketplace, the parties, the fields – all the places where life happens. “Come home with me,” the master says, “I’ll make the introductions.”
So who are we? Are we an invitation… or a barrier… or a lighthouse… or a gatekeeper… or a discouragement… or an ambassador…?
God has already entrusted us with this message of reconciliation. The question remains, how much of an invitation are we?
Peace, and grace, and the kind of strong love this world needs to experience – DEREK