Our series began on Trinity Sunday, where we celebrated the communal God who calls us to become a community and then to go out into the wider community to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And we do that first by “seeing all the people.” So, in the second week of the series, we asked the sending God to open our eyes that we may see. And then last week, we asked that sending God to open our ears that we may hear.
So, what is the word for our final week of the series? If we follow the hymn, it should be “open our mouths, and let us bear gladly the warm truth everywhere.” Now we’re on more comfortable ground. It’s our turn to talk! We get to be the one talking, the one taking the stage, the one to make everyone listen to us for a change. Right?
Love all the people. That’s where we’re going next with this series. Week One: Go Therefore! Week Two: Open Our Eyes, See All the People. Week Three: Open Our Ears, Hear All the People. Week Four: Open Our Hearts, Love All the People. It is an essential prerequisite to going out into the world around us. Let’s face it: there are lots of reasons to engage with the community around us. We can start with growing the church or keeping the doors open. We need to share the leadership, to pay our bills, so we are driven to go get new church members. Or, we might be doing it out of a sense of duty. This is something we’re “supposed” to do, so we might as well get it out of the way, so that we can go back to the things we’d rather do. Or maybe to convict sinners, tell people how wrong they are or how bad they are. We want to tell them to get right or get left behind. We want to scare them into the safety and security of the church, whatever it takes.
It’s true that people have been motivated by all sorts of things to attempt to make disciples, some good, some not so good. But the deeper truth is that nothing will work if it is not done out of love. Before Jesus told us to go out and make disciples, He told us to love. Love one another. Love your neighbor as yourself. So, this final week of our series is all about hospitality. How do we welcome out of love?
Our worship needs to be full of stories of welcome, testimonies of hospitality. Are there new members who are there because of the welcome they received? If we’re back in place, then find out if there is someone who was sure no one loved them until they encountered someone from the congregation who showed them love? In the midst of a pandemic and social distancing, what are the stories of how neighbors tried to reach out to one another and provide the help that was needed? Tell the stories of feeding the first responders and the front line medical personnel. Don’t let those stories be forgotten when the crisis is over. (We are hoping and praying that by now it is over, but it may not be. We may still be separated, we may still be online. But we are worshiping together!)
Make space in worship for words of welcome, virtually or in person. Extend the greeting time. Say something like “today we are all about welcome. So, don’t just turn to the person beside you and mumble the peace of Christ. Figure out a way to make contact with neighbors and church friends. Thank someone who did something good for you. Spend some time in this gathering moment so that later we can truly worship God as community of love.” Let there be music that is played that gets people moving. Then come back and sing a song of welcome, like “The Summons” from Faith We Sing (#2130), or “Draw the Circle Wide” by Mark Miller (Worship & Song #3154), or even “Open My Eyes, That I May See” (UMH #454).
Keeping in mind all the rules established for cleanliness and for caring for people, but leave the doors open this week, if you can. If you are in person. And if you’re not, if you’re still online, tell folks to look outside, to remember the world out there. Yes, it might be distracting, yes it might be loud. But open those doors as a sign that we are indeed a church of open doors. Or even windows, that’s a way of letting the outside in, as you prepare going from inside out. Let, in other words, the barrier be permeable, a smaller distinction between us and the world.
Yes, we have something to say to the world, but it is only heard or only responded to if we say it out of love. Verse three of “Open My Eyes” ends with the refrain, “Silently now I wait for thee, ready my God, thy will to see. Open my heart, illumine me, Spirit divine!” May it be so this week and every week as we worship.
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.