Open Doors

On arriving at Faith UMC in Grand Rapids I was delighted to see that the tag-line for the Congregation, proclaimed on 2 beautiful banners outside the front doors, is:
Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors.
Certainly a sentiment I want to endorse.
But it reminded me of a recent experience when I was asked to do a presentation for an congregation in north Belfast about Church, Community and Change, a Bible-based community engagement programme developed by Tearfund UK and administered by CCWA (NI). It must be said that the congregation I had been invited to, are already doing a good job of reaching out to their local community in a very difficult area. They have already established an independent Community Charity, but I was struck by its name: Open Doors Limited. In the United Kingdom any organisation which has that wee word “Limited” in its title is an incorporated body with specific rules governing its activities and the liabilities of its board of directors, protecting them from the implications of reasonable risks.
But it struck me that the title “Open Doors Limited” could be a good description of the church as a whole… We have open doors... but at times only to a limited extent…
People are welcome in… But they’ve got to play by our rules… dress like us, speak like us, act like us, think like us… So long as new-comers believe the right things and behave in the right way, then, after a breaking in period of about 40 years, we will treat them as if they truly belong… Its as if we think that once we believe in Jesus all the other things we are supposed to believe as Christians will fall into place, that will automatically change how we behave and only then will we be allowed to belong…
Increasingly we are finding that those three things can happen in all sorts of different orders… But certainly, in today’s world, if people are going to listen seriously to what we believe… they first need to feel like they belong…
And that is a risky business... There is no limited liability for a church that takes seriously the aim of having "open doors."
I'm sure we've all heard the story about the man sitting or a kerbside outside a church where he had been turned away because he wasn’t properly dressed and had alcohol on his breath… when to his surprise he sees Jesus coming along the street and sitting down beside him… “Don’t worry” says Jesus… “I haven’t been welcome there for years!”
Of course we wouldn’t turn anyone away for what they wear… We’re not that callous. But what about how they live? I in my own congregation I had one person who said they weren’t coming back here because on Christmas day they sat in front of someone else who spent the whole service criticizing their relationship with another person. I suppose it was appropriate that on Christmas Day, when we remember that Jesus was born into an unwelcoming world, under a cloud of possible illegitimacy that he should once more be made to feel unwelcome in the form of this person… Who, let it be said, has kept his word and has never been back!
But it’s a chicken and an egg thing… We will never welcome others as we would welcome Christ, until we truly welcome Christ… Until his will rules our will, we will continue to be our normal judgmental, self-seeking, opinionated selves…
You are probably overly-familiar with the words:
Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.
Revelation 3: 20 (RSV)
You’re familiar with the words… I'm sure you're equally familiar with the picture the “Light of the World” with Jesus on the outside of a door with no handle on the outside… We’ve all heard sermons preaching that the handle is on the inside and we have to open the door of our hearts to Christ… But how often do we miss the fact that the letter this verse was written in was not to an individual but to a church… A church which was well-off, prosperous, seemingly needing nothing… But which Christ described as “lukewarm…” “Bland...” “Wishy-washy...” “Neither one thing nor the other.”
The only solution was to welcome Christ in…
To welcome Christ into the church…
But perhaps our doors are only open Christ to a limited extent.


Pam Crenshaw said…
I sent you an email and then read your blog to see you had arrived. So happy you are enjoying Grand Rapids. We went to Wesley Park Methodist in Grand Rapids when I lived there. Take Care!!
Pam Crenshaw

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