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Sun, Feb 04, 2018

Clamoring at the Door

Duration:16 mins 29 secs

Our Second Reading for this morning comes from the first chapter of the Gospel of Mark, verses 29-35. If you were able to join us last Sunday you may remember that after Jesus began his public ministry announcing that the Kingdom of God had drawn near. He then he called four fishermen as his first disciples and took them to the town of Capernaum where Jesus taught in the synagogue and healed a man possessed by an unclean spirit. As Jesus’ fame begins to spread, Jesus and the disciples continue in Capernaum with a visit to Simon’s house. Let us hear this Word of God.

29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John. 30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once. 31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.
32 That evening, at sunset, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. 33 And the whole city was gathered around the door. 34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.
35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

Those of you who know me fairly well, will I hope agree that I have a pretty small list of things which really irritate me. This week, after reading and reflecting on this morning’s text from the Gospel of Mark, I feel the need to confess to all of you one of those things that really gets on my nerves. I know in the grand scheme of life and things of importance to God and the world, this is a very minor concern and yet, it really bothers me when there are double doors on a building, restaurant, or office and during normal business hours only one door is unlocked.

Let me explain. I enter a building through double doors and I use the one on my right. Whether it is a push or a pull, it does not matter; of the two doors I use the one on the right in the same way that I drive my car in the right lane of a two lane road. When my business is concluded inside and it is time to leave, I exit through the double doors. This time I choose the other door because it is now the one on my right. However, frequently, this second door is locked. This happens all the time! And when the second door is locked, I either bang my head into the glass as I try to push or jerk my arm out of its socket as I pull.

Now I am sure that there are good reasons for keeping one of those doors locked; yes good reasons related to security or energy or efficiency or just getting a good laugh at everyone trying to leave. And again, I know that in the grand scheme of problems and issues in this world for the church to address, this is miniscule. And yet, it irritates me to no end every time.

Now you may be wondering why our scripture text about Jesus’ healing in Capernaum brought all that up for me. Jesus has just healed a man with an unclean spirit in the synagogue. When they get to Simon’s house they find his mother-in-law with a fever. Jesus takes her by the hand and heals her. The word begins to spread and they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons. And then this is the verse that got me: “The whole city was gathered around the door.” The whole city was gathered around the door. The whole city was there trying to get in, trying to come through the door, clamoring to see Jesus.

And so this week I began thinking about doors. About double doors where one is locked. About crowds trying to get in through the doors. Back in December, my son Sam and I had a chance to see Davidson College play the University of North Carolina in basketball at the arena in Charlotte. We drove up and got there about 30 minutes before the game time. We walked toward the arena and found a huge line. We waited and waited with all these other people, slowly moving a step at a time toward the doors and the security. Finally we made it in, the game had already started, and still there were thousands of people behind us still trying to get through the door.

Yes, doors are the avenue by which we enter a place. That is what the people were trying to do in Capernaum, right? Go through the door so they could see Jesus. Now, I have heard stories about the days when the church could just open the doors and expect people to come in. Maybe you too have heard or even said, “When I was growing up, we were at the church every time the doors were open.” Yes, the assumption for ministry a few generations ago was that if you offered a quality program, could perform excellent music, or had a dynamic pastor, all you had to do was open the doors and people would come.

That is called “attractional ministry.” The church’s goal is to “attract” people to come to the church, to enter the doors. There is a definite value in this. For there are things which the church needs to teach, there are calls to repentance which need to be heard, there is training for Christian life that must be done. We need to get people, both members and guests, to come in the doors.

However, in recent years we have discovered that fewer and fewer people seem to be looking for what the church offers inside its doors. There are no longer people clamoring to come inside. There are too many good and worthwhile options available in the world, so the church becomes one choice among many. No matter how excellent the program, how popular the preacher, or how cool the worship experience, fewer and fewer people are coming. A study by the Pew Research group has found that while in 1970, 3% of the American population claimed to have “no formal religion,” today 25%, a full ¼ of the American population claims “no formal religion.” And it is not just young people, that statistic shows across all ages. Yes, “nones” is the fastest growing group in the American religious landscape – those who are not necessarily hostile to religion, but who see no need to come in the door no matter how well the church tries to do what attracted crowds just a generation ago.

Now, they say there are two sides to every story and there are two sides to every door as well. Doors can be the way that others come in, but we also can lock one of those double doors to keep ourselves in. In his classic book, The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien tells the story of a hobbit named Frodo who has come into possession of a very powerful ring. Others seek the ring and its power for evil purposes, so Frodo is forced to leave his home and begin a journey. Early on his way, Frodo remembers the words his elder cousin and friend Bilbo Baggins often shared with him:

There [is] only one road; … it [is] like a great river: its springs [a]re at every doorstep, and every path [is] its tributary. “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out of your door,” he used to say. “You step into the Road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Yes, it is a dangerous business to go out of your door. We do not entirely know where our journey will take us each time we cross the threshold. What will happen to us today when we step out of the doorway of this church? Whom will we meet? What needs will we encounter? What challenges will we face and what joys will we know? Outside that door might be moments of pain. The world might also contain moments of blessing. Probably there will be some of each.

Sometimes we so fear the future, we so fear the present, we so fear change, we so fear others, that we close the door and lock it tight. Yes, we close it and lock it not to keep others out, but keep ourselves in. If we do not move, if we do not leave, then we can assume all remains exactly as it always was. Lock the door so that we cannot go out. Just sit still. No danger, but also no promise.

No promise. … For it might have seemed a bit odd to you that I read verse 35 from Mark this morning. The episode seems to end with Jesus healing many and ordering the demons not to speak about him. But I kept reading with this verse, “In the morning, while it was still very dark, Jesus got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.” Jesus does not stay in the house, he does not stay behind the doors. He goes out. He begins with prayer, but he then moves on to preach and teach and heal out in the world.

Yes, to know the promise, to be with Jesus, we cannot just sit still inside the doors. We have to go out. We have to cross the threshold. We have to step into that stream. For we are a people on a mission. We have good news to tell. If in Capernaum people were clamoring at the door to see Jesus, today we need to be clamoring at the door to get out to tell people about Jesus.

Because the people are still out there. So if they are not looking inside the church for Jesus, they are still looking for something to bring meaning and healing and hope and joy to their lives. My friends, I can tell you that we have what they are looking for because we are walking with Jesus. We can still show them Jesus, but we are going to have to unlock both of those double doors and go to them. In the words of the hymn with which we began our service this morning:

Arise your light is come! Fling wide the prison door; proclaim the captives’ liberty, good tidings to the poor.

Yes, where there is darkness, let us go with the light of Christ. Where there is imprisonment, let us work for freedom in Christ. Where there are captives, let us proclaim the liberty Christ brings. Where there are poor, let us seek to share the fullness of the table of our Lord. Because there is a whole world out there looking for the healing that only Jesus can provide.

Now, I am sure there are good reasons for keeping the doors locked, but my friends we need to fling them all open so that we can out into the world. For Jesus is not sitting still and he is calling us to help others find him.

Thanks be to God.

Let us pray:

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