I don’t understand it when perfectly good-hearted people say things like “Well we couldn’t invite this drunk homeless man in to our church on Sunday because we don’t know what he’s capable of.” Really?
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that there are valid safety concerns and it certainly wouldn’t be one of those things where you let the person wander around un-escorted. But why wouldn’t you invite the person in, let them get warm, offer them coffee or something warm to drink?
I guess for me it comes from having spent the last decade or so working in (and for some years, pastoring) a congregation that welcomed in people exactly like that to our Sunday morning services…still do. It’s disruptive, it wasn’t what we planned on doing. It hasn’t always been easy or comfortable. We’ve had to call the police sometimes, but we keep doing it. Because it’s Christ’s mission, it’s our mission. To reach out to those most desperately in need of hope and reconciliation to the community.
When our congregation started, we spent time in groups determining what our mission, focus and name would be. We thought we knew what we were doing and our name came from the neighborhood we lived in – Open Arms. But living out the mission contained within that name has proven to be anything but comfortable or easy.
Living Open Arms, being a representative of the body of Christ means welcoming in those you would just as soon leave outside your doors. It means welcoming the felon, the drunk, the homeless and more. It means welcoming those who have never been to church before, who disrupt the service (either knowingly or unknowingly). It means dealing with crisis, with people who have mental illness challenges. It means not getting to sit in a pew, listening to the service for sometimes months on end as you visit and mentor and just sit with people for whom Christ is known more as a curse-word than a friend. It means being around people who smell, who make you uncomfortable, that drive you nuts. It’s draining and it hurts…and it asks a lot of you.
But if we are true to our calling, Christ didn’t call us to follow him to make it easy. He didn’t say that come to church on Sunday, accept me and then you’re off the hook for doing anything else. He lived an example that says we HAVE to do more than this. We MUST do more than this.
Christ’s mission was to a world in need. A world hungering for positive news of hope, renewal, a re-connecting. That hasn’t changed. We are still called to reach out, with Open Arms, to those who most need our love and support. LGBT, bikers, homeless, addicts, abusers and abused, people in poverty, felons… people for whom whatever reason, society says are “less than,” these are our brothers and sisters. These too are God’s sheep.
Dare to reach out. Dare to invite in. Dare to be vulnerable to Divine Grace and then let the Spirit breathe.