Extending God’s embrace
Posted on July 2, 2015 by Aaron Kauffman
Sometimes the Apostle Paul sounds absolutely crazy. For example, take these words from 1 Corinthians 1:10 (NRSV): “Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord
Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same purpose.”
Today the estimated number of Christian denominations exceeds 45,000. United in the same mind and purpose? Ludicrous! Since when have Christians ever agreed on everything?
Undaunted, Paul addresses the skepticism of the fractured Corinthian church, and our own. Perhaps we don’t need to agree on everything. But we must be united in the one thing, the only thing, that has brought us together in the first place: “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18).
If we think Paul a fool, perhaps we need to hear the gospel again. There’s no way around it. At the very center of the Christian message stands the shameful, ugly, offensive cross of Christ. A crucified God is the heart of the gospel. And it was and is a scandal.
“Jews demand signs,” Paul says. “Greeks desire wisdom.” How many of us see the cross as the height of power and the epitome of wisdom? Jesus, King of the universe, nailed to the most humiliating instrument of Roman dominance and control? Jesus, God’s Word made flesh, taking on the curse of sin by absorbing its effects in his own broken body? How can this be good news?
Article 8 of the Confession of Faith in a Mennonite Perspective puts it this way:
God so loved the world that, in the fullness of time, God sent his Son, whose faithfulness unto death on the cross has provided the way of salvation for all people. By his blood shed for us, Christ inaugurated the new covenant. He heals us, forgives our sins, and delivers us from the bondage of evil and from those who do evil against us. By his death and resurrection, he breaks the powers of sin and death, cancels our debt of sin, and opens the way to new life. We are saved by God’s grace, not by our own merits.
Put more plainly, on the cross, Jesus extends his arms in an embrace that’s big enough to reach our entire broken world.
Embrace is a compelling image for mission in a divided world. Like Jesus, we open our arms to others, inviting them to welcome us and the kingdom we represent. In an effort to make the offer understood, we learn their language and adopt their customs. Like Paul, we become “all things to all people” that we might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). But we force no one to accept the offer. We assume the profoundly vulnerable posture of holding our arms outstretched. Our audience is free to refuse us, ignore us, or even outright oppose us. Yet we gently persist in making the offer. Those who welcome us and the gospel become equal members in the family of God. Together, we extend God’s embrace even further.
In a divided church and society, Jesus’ offer of embrace still stands. How will we respond?