IGNITING MINISTRY: OPEN DOORS
SCRIPTURE: Revelation 3:15-20, John 7:37-39
In the name of the God who creates us, redeems us, and gives us life. Amen!
A professor of history from an American university conducted a semester long course in Salzburg, Austria. His class was the foundation class for his students that spent the time in Austria. The course was a multi-discipline course that included European history, politics, religion and art. The professor was well versed in those disciplines. His father had been a diplomat in the Weimar Republic.
The students took their classes, lived, and ate in a small hotel of about thirty rooms. It had been rebuilt under the Marshall Plan after the war. The people who owned the hotel felt very kindly towards Americans, and dearly loved to have American students in their hotel for the school term. Most of the classes were in the dining room of the hotel. One wall of the dining room was nothing but French doors, looking out on a garden.
It was an Idyllic setting. But it was Salzburg, Austria, in the heart of winter. Every morning at 7:45 am, the professor would go into the dining room and open up all the French doors to allow fresh air to come in. Promptly at 8:00am, he would close them, and class would begin. When the class took a break, the professor would open up all the French doors so that more fresh air would come in. He was firmly convinced that if students were to receive anything, there had to be fresh air in the room.
When you open a door there is passage in two ways. There is passage in and there is passage out. The professor, who was also an Episcopal priest, prayed feverently that as the students would drink in fresh air, ancient wisdom, and disciplined thinking would follow. He also prayed that the students would live out fruitful, faithful living, that their lives would reflect the Gospel, and that their attitudes would be the attitude of Christ. It was a prayer he offered every single day, I am sure.
This is the third of three sermons on igniting ministry. I have said the past two weeks that I believe it is God’s Spirit that ignites us in ministry, and it is God’s Spirit that leads us in ministry. We evidence our willingness to be a part of God’s ministry through open minds, open hearts and open doors. God’s ministry is taking place all about us.
The question to us as individuals, and to us as a church, is are we going to be a part of it? Are we going to position ourselves in such a way that we are a part of God’s movement, or will we find ourselves just standing on the side watching it take place somewhere else?
Reformation Day is a day we celebrate those from church history who have opened the doors of the Church, and allowed God’s fresh air to come in down through the ages. We celebrate those whose lives were transformed by the Spirit of God, moving in them, and then challenged the Church to go out into the world and transform the world. The movement of the Spirit is always both in and out.
The reformers were almost all focused on individual lives and personal salvation. They wanted to make sure that every person had an experience with God in their own life, and the transformation was a personal transformation. But they were also focused on the body of Christ. As they focused on the body of Christ, they wanted us literally to open the doors and allow new people in. Those new people, along with those who were already present, would become a transforming movement in the greater society.
In the scripture reading from the Gospel of John, the feast that is mentioned is the feast of Tabernacles, a feast giving thanks to God for the harvest and for liberation, for freedom, the gift that came to he people of Israel through the Exodus. It is this feast that Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let them come to me and drink.” It is an invitation. Jesus opens the door to his own soul, and says, if anyone thirsts, let them come to me. That is the flow-in into Christ.
The flow-out is in the very next line. There Jesus says, “For those who believe, out of their heart shall flow rivers of living water.” Out of their hearts will flow grace that they have received in being in union with Christ. All are welcomed in. For those who believe, they will be so filled with grace that their presence in the world will be like a river flowing full of grace. The flow in and the flow out. Every time there is a door closed, there will be a door opened for us.
The beginning of Psalm 121, reads like this, “I will lift up my eyes to the hills, from whence does my help come?” That was clearly written by the psalmist, by a person looking up to the mountains, seeking God. When you get a chance, read the 121st Psalm. Perhaps you will hear God speaking to you these words, “I will lift up my eyes to this place church in Wheatland/Chugwater from where will my help come?”
God looks to us sitting on this corner of (Sixth and Clay/Ninth and Pine) lay with expectancy. God looks to us to open up the heart of Christ, and the soul of Christ, for the people of this community. God looks to us to move out of this place into his community with the grace of Christ, with the soul of Christ, as our gift to those around us.
In the passage from the Book of Revelation, it is the risen Christ who is speaking. He says, “Behold, I am standing at the door and knocking.” It is very much in the present tense. It’s not that Jesus knocked at some time, or it is not that Jesus will knock some day. Jesus stands at the door and knocks today. The risen Christ is in our lives seeking to come in today. Jesus finishes his saying by saying, “If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and be with them, and eat with them, and they with me.”
It’s a way of stating acceptance in the first century. The greatest thing you could do for someone as public acceptance was to be seen eating with them. It’s not like in the 21st century when we go out for business meetings or power lunches, and we are trying to sell the other person, or something to the other person.
In the first century the purpose of meeting was for mutual nourishment. It was for both sides to be fed in the experience. Jesus says, “I am standing at the door and knocking,” so that you might be fed, and so that you might feed others through the Spirit of Christ.
A leader of a contemporary music band told the story about a friend of his, who for fifty-two weeks invited him to church when he was a non-Christian. Every week the friend would call and say, “Will you go to church with me this week?” Fifty-two times she made the call. Friends, sometimes we have to prop the door open a little while. But look what a blessing can happen to be part of the door opening.
Do you remember the actress Betty Hutton (died in 2007)? She played in the Broadway production of Annie. On opening night at the Alvin Theater, when she finally came on stage, the audience rose to its feet and clapped for her joyously, enthusiastically, without limitation. For several minutes the whole production was delayed as they welcomed her back to the stage.
She had just had a spiritual awakening before that time, but for years before that, she had experienced failure, family breakdown, personal bankruptcy, and long bout with alcoholism. You probably know, in the theaters programs are called “Playbills. These are long biographical sketches on the performers. Some of them go on for paragraph after paragraph. That was case that night. Everybody in the play had a biographical sketch. For Betty Hutton’s it was five words long. The five words were, “I’m back, thanks to God.”
God opens the doors no matter what condition of our lives, and invites us back into the soul of God; back to be nourished by that which gives life to all the creation, the love of God. Then God calls us to go forth with that love, to go forth out into the world, and to say to those around us, “I’m back, thanks to God.”
The call to Christian discipleship today is for us to be drawn once again to the soul of God. Maybe this is the fifty-second time you have been drawn to God’s soul; maybe it’s the first time. It makes no difference. Once drawn to God’s soul, then God invites you to take God’s grace with you in your daily living. It’s a flow in and flow out, always.
When we go out, we must see our neighbor, and we must invite our neighbor into the soul of Christ.
MAY THESE THOUGHTS GIVE YOU STRENGTH