If Jesus is the door, then the church is called to be the doorway to the door.
The Open Door
A Sermon on John 10:1-10, Acts 2:42-47, and Psalm 23
Thank goodness Jesus found him. In John 9, as soon as Jesus heard what had happened to the man he had healed, Jesus went to find him. Instead of rejoicing that he was healed, the religious authorities had kicked the man out of the fold. They slammed the door behind him. That’s like being kicked out of your home church. Where should he turn now? Jesus found him and answered that question. Jesus, the good shepherd, welcomed this sheep into his own fold.
Those who had appointed themselves to be God’s gatekeepers were more interested in keeping the wrong people out—namely the unworthy, the sinful, people who didn’t keep God’s law the way the Pharisees decreed they should be kept—these gatekeepers were more interested in keeping people out than they were in welcoming people into God’s fold.
The human heart longs for a sheepfold, a safe place. No wonder Psalm 23 is read at so many bedsides and gravesides. Images of rich green pastures and still water, images of a cup running over and a table piled high, promise safety and sustenance. The fearful long for safety. The hungry long for the table. Alone and isolated, people long for a community, a place to belong, where the people know your name, and they’re always glad you came. Thank goodness Jesus found the man wandering outside the synagogue, and welcomed him home.
Jesus says, “I am the door. I am the way. This way to life, and life abundant. This way into the sheepfold. This way to the table.”
But there is no shortage of other voices calling, “Come this way—this way to the good life. This way to fulfillment. This way out of loneliness.” Some of these voices insist that the way to abundant life is through an abundance of things, an abundance of status. These voices—you hear them in advertisements, for example—offer checklists of must-haves. The list of gotta- haves grows longer and longer: more things, fancier things, more technologically up-to-date, more convenient things. You need what the neighbors have. Once you have all these things, they have to be taken care of. The list of must-dos grows longer, too. Checklists of accomplishments and achievements. This is the door to the good life. People who follow this voice get respect. Sometimes they even become celebrities. It takes some doing to imagine that an abundance of things can actually stifle the abundance of life Jesus is talking about. There’s even a saying that says, “The best things in life aren’t things.” But things certainly are important to the American lifestyle.
Other voices more obviously lure people towards the wrong door. Sometimes people are so hungry for a place somewhere, that they heed voices that are literally drawing them towards diminishment and death. People who don’t like who they are and who want to be somebody different are among those that are vulnerable. They are vulnerable to religion like that of the authorities who kicked the healed man out. They are vulnerable to religion that narrows them down, restricts their souls, stifles their minds. Sometimes they are prey to downright evil shepherds like Jim Jones and David Koresh, who claim to speak for God, who offer absolute certainty, and who lead their followers literally to death.
Sometimes these hungry souls join gangs, or hang out with people who are bad for them, who use and abuse them, because they feel that’s where they belong, where they are somebody. I believe that’s part of what holds drinking and drugging buddies together. Getting stoned together is a weird kind of community, a weird way of being at home together. But in reality it destroys community. They want a different life, but they keep choosing the doors that lead to diminishment and death.
Jesus says, “Listen to my voice. I am the door to life. Those other voices are thieves, robbers, killers. I have come in order that you might have life—life in all its fullness.” Jesus is the doorway to life that really is life.
And we don’t have to guess what’s through that door. We don’t have to guess what’s back there. Do you remember that old TV show in the sixties called “Let’s Make a Deal?” The host, Monty Hall, would give a member of the studio audience a small item, then give them the chance to trade that item for another concealed in a box, or behind a curtain, or behind door number one, two, or three. A new car might be behind door number one, but there also might be a booby prize back there, like a donkey wearing athletic shoes, or something else equally silly. Contestants could only hope there was something good behind the door. They made their best guess.
No guessing with Jesus. We see what’s beyond the door in the lives of the people who have already gone through it, the people who are already in Jesus’ fold, already in Christ. They dwell in the house of the Lord in community like the one we see in Acts 2. Remember who these people were. Only weeks before, the members of that community had run for their lives. The religious and governing authorities had struck their shepherd, Jesus, and killed him. They were terribly frightened, and coping with the guilt of not standing by him in his hour of need. Then, they were bewildered when Easter dawned and they had to assimilate the news that God had raised Jesus from death. The risen Lord gathered his little flock back together and renewed their call. He gave them the power of the Holy Spirit.
What happened to that first little church? They moved out of despair, and into hope. Out of fear, and into courage. Out of meaningless and into mission. Out of isolation and into community.
Luke, the author of the book of Acts, reports that this community was so attractive, so winsome and so contagious that God added daily to their number. They were humble in a good way, humble learners eager to learn more. They shared fellowship and prayed constantly. Wonderful healings happened in their midst. They were filled with thankfulness for all they had, and they were eager to share. This little group wasn’t worrying about what they didn’t have. They gave thanks for what they did have. They made sure nobody was in need among them. They sat together at the table and shared meals together with glad and humble hearts. Yes, Luke says, people regarded the early church with good will, and every day the Lord added to their group those who were being saved. This is what abundant life looks like. It is a life abundant in love: love of God and love of neighbor. It is a life abundant in meaning and purpose. It is life in community with God and with one another.
You might say that this community kept the porch light on so that others could see Christ the door, the way to life. This is the church’s call: keep the way to the door clear, keep the light glowing, point the way, be a doorway to the door.
Yet the church doesn’t always heed that call. I read recentlyabout a family that took a camping vacation. When Sunday rolled around, they went to worship at a local church, just as they did back home. They came dressed in clean camp clothes. The ushers turned them away because they weren’t “properly dressed.” Yes, occasionally churches literally turn people away, or even kick them out.
Church signs may say, “all welcome,” but sometimes that’s not really so. What these congregations mean in their hearts is, “All welcome—if you believe the way we tell you to, if your doctrine’s right. All welcome—as long as you look like us and act pretty much like us. All welcome—unless you’re troubled and your life is a mess. All welcome—you’re invited, unless there’s something about you that makes us uncomfortable.” Sometimes parents of children with disabilities are literally un-invited, told to keep their children at home, lest someone be upset or offended. How will people know that Jesus is the open door if his church is closed? Everybody needs that door!
Jesus didn’t say, “I am the door, as long as you meet certain conditions.” He said, “I am the door. Whoever comes in by me will be saved; he will come in and go out and find pasture. I have come that you all may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus Christ wants everybody to come through the door and into the fold and to the table. How will people recognize the open door if his church is closed, closed in heart, and sometimes closed in building–in other words, inaccessible?
But what if you are trying to open the doors and keep them open? It hurts when people bypass those doors, when they refuse to accept our invitations, or even actively reject them. That is painful enough. What hurts even more is when people we love keep choosing the doors that lead to death. How we long for them to come to Jesus and get healed. How we long for them to know the community we know, the one in which we have found a place. How we long for abundant life for them.
Don’t give up. Keep the porch light on. Keep your hearts open as Christ’s heart is open. Keep the invitation open. This way, folks.
Jesus is the open door. He’s the door out of despair and into hope. He is the door out of sorrow, and into joy. He is the open door, out of isolation, and into a place where you belong, where a table is set before you, where you are called by name and cherished by your shepherd and his people. He is the door, to the place where goodness and mercy are given, to the place where we are safe, always, even though we travel the valley of the shadow of death.
This way, folks. Jesus is the door. Jesus is the way into the life that really is life. Jesus is the door into the house of the Lord forever. And the door is open.
Thanks be to God.