Open Arms: A Vision for Our Congregation

The crucified one, the prodigal son’s return, the resurrected Jesus embracing all: One can’t help notice the very open arms of Jesus on the cross. It is a really the posture for his whole ministry. It is a posture that communicates, welcome, love, acceptance and vulnerability. It is also the posture those who follow Jesus must emulate.

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Perhaps no one has articulated this vision of Jesus and the Church as poignantly as St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582):

“Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours.”

On Pentecost Sunday, I preached a sermon about embracing this vision; about what challenges we face and actions we need to take to act on that vision, entitled “Driven by the Spirit: The Future of Our Congregation.” (You can listen with the play bar below)

The “gist” of what I shared is this:

  • Today folks see the church as a place that specializes in the folded arms of judgment. That posture has dismissed, disaffected and disgusted too many people. Whether it is positions on social issues of all kinds that are held up as “litmus tests” for faith or just old-fashioned finger-pointing, the church has alienated all kinds of people rather than preaching the gospel of grace and forgiveness.
  • Folded arms and furrowed brows characterize a kind of “Christianity” that has claimed center stage in our culture, defining all people who follow Jesus as intolerant and judgmental. That posture has closed off ministry to the needy while folks argue over far less important matters. That posture has painted Christ with a brush that covers up the love and grace at the core of the gospel.
  • We live in a community where as many as 35,000 people have no relationship to the church – and the community is growing.
  • The opportunity to reach out to that many unconnected people has led to the addition of lots of new congregations. These newer entries into the community have shinier new buildings, can avoid long-standing traditions and attract many. Congregations like ours that have been around awhile contend with more worn facilities and habits that have outlived usefulness.
  • People “shop” for congregations like they shop for cars and groceries. That means congregations either have to offer the latest thing OR be very clear and compelling about mission and our reason for being.

So, after four plus years of discerning the values that guide our actions, the beliefs that keep us grounded it is time to embrace a vision of who we are and what we must be as the people of God called “Holy Trinity.” What do you think that looks like? In the next segment, I’ll share what we have discerned together. Stay tuned and keep your arms open and your brow free of furrows. – Pastor Tim