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April 17, 2005 (Easter IV)

Pastor David Barber

Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-47; John 10:1-10

Sisters and brothers, grace be unto you and peace from God our loving Creator and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
 

In a sermon by William Willimon he quoted an architect who said, "The most important part of a church is the front door." It wasn't the sanctuary, the baptistery, the seating arrangement, or the fellowship hall, but rather the front door.

He also referred to a banker who had mentioned that when banks changed their front doors, it was a fundamental shift in the business of banking. For instance, in the early days of the last century, banks were built to look like impregnable fortresses.

Their front doors tended to be thick, invulnerable, solid, and secure--all the things that folks wanted to believe about a bank. "You put your money in this bank and we'll make sure that nobody can get to it except you. That's a promise."

Then in the mid-20th century, banks became more "user-friendly"--at least in terms of their doors. They attempted to attract customers by putting on a warm and friendly face. As a result gone were the thick and heavy doors, and glass doors were installed.

Now, you could look into the bank and see activity taking place. You felt more welcome and the bank became more accessible.

I found this discussion quite fascinating especially in regard to the front doors of our church. What is the function of these doors? Is it a means for entering or a means for exit?

Are doors built mainly for the benefit of those on the outside, or are they designed primarily to the specifications of those on the inside? Is the purpose of the door to keep people out, or to welcome people in?

If you're a first time worshipper to our congregation not only do you have to solve the question, "Where are the front doors?" If you arrive late and the doors are shut, it takes a lot of courage and resolve to open those doors to find out what's taking place on the other side. Such an exercise is not for the faint-hearted!

It's almost as if we're trying to hide something behind these doors--like the back room where illegal gambling or drug purchases are taking place. Or there's a secret ceremony in progress only to be witnessed by those who have access to the secret password or the secret handshake in order to enter.

The front door maybe the first thing that many newcomers encounter about a church. So what do these doors say about us to the first-time worshipper? Once they get in they might feel very welcome, but the getting-in could be a problem.

For that very reason there's been some discussion and even some concrete suggestions about ways to improve our front doors. How can we make them more welcoming and accessible to what happens on the inside of these doors and still keep the outside noise and distraction to a minimum? This is an important and valuable discussion to have especially when our Mission Statement says, "Welcoming to all."

Our gospel for today is somewhat confusing simply because of the variety of images that are used. Among other things, Jesus says, "I am the gate for the sheep," or in light of the previous conversation, "I am the door for the sheep. Whoever enters through me will come in and go out and find pasture. In me there is life and there is life abundant."

What does it mean for Jesus to say, "I am the door?" Although the door is important, it's not the focal point or where the action takes place in a home or even in a church.

A door is not the house. It's not the dwelling place--or the eating place. It's only the means or the passageway by which you get to your destination. Is Jesus then the door that leads to God?

Is Jesus the door that leads to God and the gifts of God? Or perhaps we can also say that this door opens both ways. And if that's true, Jesus is the door through which God can get to us with grace and mercy and the abundance of life itself.

I want to push this imagery a tad more this morning and ask, "If Jesus is the door, what does that make us--a door knob or as door stopper? I would propose that as a member of the body of Christ, we're not just some accessory to the door, but like Jesus our lives, too, function like a door for others.

Again we can ask what's the purpose of a door? Is it to keep people out or to welcome folks in? Is it to serve as a gate where only the pure and the faithful might enter, or is it to serve as a passageway where all folks might come in and go out and find pasture?

Are we not as well the vehicle or the means by which others might have life and have it more abundantly? And especially in regard to the needy of the world, do the doors appear shut, or have they been flung wide open?

I'm wondering how this passage is heard not only by us in our abundance and our affluence, but also how this passage might be heard by Christians and others living in poverty? What does it mean for all of us that Jesus gives us life and gives us life abundantly?

Susan Andrews, the moderator for the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., spoke about a conference of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, which was to be held in Acra, Kenya. The theme for this conference was "Life In All Its Fullness."

She said that last November she had the privilege of traveling with the General Secretary of the Alliance, Setri Nyomi. She mentioned to the General Secretary that she was disappointed that the translation of John 10:10, which the Alliance chose for its theme used the word "fullness" instead of the word "abundance."

Jesus says, "I have come that you might have life in all its fullness"--rather than the more familiar, "I have come that you might have life, and have it more abundantly."

"Well," the general secretary said, "that was an intentional decision. You see, here in Africa, the temptation is to buy into the western love of materialism--to live according to a theology of prosperity--to focus on human satisfaction and greed rather than humble gratitude for the utterly free, overflowing grace of God.

In Africa, abundance is immediately understood as an abundance of things--not the abundance of spirit and grace that Jesus describes. And so that's why we chose the translation, "life in all its fullness."

Even though I understand his reasoning, the word "fullness" just doesn't cut it for me. Abundance is much more vibrant and dynamic and pulses with life.

It's a cornucopia of good things--not just more stuff--but the "overflowing fullness, the gracious plenty which flows out of the heart of our gracious and benevolent Creator...[It is] an abundance that pulses in the one...who bathes us and illumines us with the extravagant, abundant promises of God."

Does not this abundance take root within us and among us as we become open gates and doors through which the poor and the hungry throughout the world might have abundant life?

I sometimes become discouraged when I see the mountain of need out there and our unwillingness as a country to act morally and faithfully in the face of such need. I sometimes become disheartened when I know that poverty and hunger can be greatly reduced if not eliminated. And yet, we lack the corporate will to make this become a reality.

From time to time I've wondered, what leader will step forward to lead us in this direction? Where are the Martin Luther King's, who can solidify us and bring us together to reduce and even eradicate this blight upon our world?

However, Jim Wallis reminds us in his recent book, God's Politics, "We're the ones we've been waiting for." If we're going to wait around for some outstanding leader, it probably won't happen. Rather, it will happen through you and through me and through a lot of ordinary people like us--people who have heard the call to leadership and responsibility and possess a deep affirmation of hope.

Wallis concludes his book with these words, "Because of our faith and hope, [we] believe that the world can be changed. And it's this very belief that changes the world. And if not us, who will believe? After all, we are the ones we have been waiting for."

I believe that this kind of faith and hope is present in this congregation, and this gives me encouragement. We opened the doors a little bit wider through our successful support of the Ark Project and last Sunday, our letter-writing campaign to encourage and continue programs of nutrition for low-income families.

This past week many of us received the newsletter from IHS. The title of the lead article was "Opening Doors," and it spoke about the Supportive Housing Program--a transitional program for homeless people.

As a landlord we also have an opportunity to be involved in such a ministry. When the next Luther Place apartment becomes available, why not dedicate this unit for such a program and open the door for a homeless person?

In the future I'm also hopeful that we'll be able to develop some of our property--perhaps the Poki Lot--for affordable housing. We're not ready to do this yet. It needs much more discussion and study, but this, too, is a possible resource that can serve not only our needs--such as parking--but also fulfill a significant need in our community.

Just last Sunday Peggy Anderson gave me a sermon written by one of her relatives. In it was a poem by Ben Okri entitled "The Awakening Age."

"O ye who travel the meridian line,
May the vision of a new world within you shine.
May eyes that have lived with poverty's rage,
See through to the glory of the awakening age.
For we are all richly linked in hope,
Woven in history, like a mountain rope.
Together we can ascend to a new height,
Guided by our heart's clearest light.
When perceptions are changed there's much to gain,
A flowering of truth instead of pain.
Along the line may our lives rhyme,
To make a loving harvest of space and time."

In the waters of baptism, each one of us passed through Jesus, the door, into God's abundant life. And at this table of grace and mercy, we are continually fed with God's abundant life and love to overflowing, which will more than nourish us for the journey to come.

As the door to God's kingdom have been flung wide open for us, may our lives and our church be an open door as well so that the lives of others will be filled more completely with God's abundance.

Amen.


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