By Derek Maul

Preaching is a tough gig. Bringing God’s word is challenging at the best of times. When the occasion calls for a prophetic voice, the responsibility and the implications ratchet up a notch.

What is the Good News at a time like this? How should the church respond to the shootings at Sutherland Springs? What does God want us to say, and who is God calling us to be? It is only in being clear about who we are that we have any hope of understanding what it is that we are now expected to do.

Jesus came to offer God’s children a way home. Religion alone can’t 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. God, Paul tells the Corinthians, has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

The church is where we worship, find encouragement, and grow, and it’s from where we are sent out as ambassadors. Not where we huddle behind closed doors, but where light is generated and then launched into a dark world. We stand as a lighthouse, not a fortress.

The image of the cross is tragically appropriate. The Lord’s arms are outstretched in invitation. Jesus is an invitation, not a security guard. We don’t need bouncers, we need welcomers. Jesus is the gate, not the gatekeeper.

“Go out into the highways and the byways,” Jesus tells us. “I want people to come home, and I’m not checking I.D.s.”

Jesus rolled away the stone – he’s always removing barriers. But he doesn’t stand 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…? How much of an invitation are we?

Derek Maul has written for many news outlets, including the Tampa Tribune, The United Methodist News Service, All Pro Dad, FOCUS Magazine, Newsweek, USA Today, The Christian Science Monitor, Presbyterians Today, Guideposts, Chicken Soup for the Soul and many other publications. Read Derek Maul’s daily blog posts at www.derekmaul.wordpress.com.