Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday in Lent, 3 April 2011. The Scriptures for this Sunday were 1 Samuel 16: 1 – 13, Ephesians 5: 8 – 14, and John 9: 1 – 41.
There were times when I was growing up when all the members of my family (my parents, brothers, sister, and the dog) would be watching television together in the family room. Invariably, one of my siblings or me would get up and walk or stand in front of the television. One of my parents would the invariably say “you make a better door than a window” and we would, sometimes immediately, get out of the way.
Windows are meant to let the sunlight into a house and let the people see what’s outside. Those who built sod houses on the prairies of this country would write about the excitement of obtaining real glass windows that would open up the interior of their homes. The artistry of the magnificent stain-glass windows was only secondary to the need to find ways of illuminating the great cathedrals built in the early days of Christianity. Doors were meant to give access to the outside (my parents were also fond of reminding us when we held the front or back door of the house open too long that we weren’t heating or cooling the outside; and for the record, my parents were saying this to us, even when we were grown-ups, not just as children in the fifties.)
We are meant to use windows and doors in our lives. Windows let us see what is outside the walls of our lives; doors let us explore that world. The problem is that not only can we see what’s outside and use doors to go outside but what is ever “out there” has the opportunity to enter into our carefully crafted lives. And because things outside can come in, we have chosen to close and lock our doors and cloud our windows and shutter them so that nothing can enter our lives. But when we do that, we find ourselves locked in prisons of our own making.
We feel safe inside this sanctuary that we have made, safe and secure that nothing outside the walls can harm us. But because the windows have been clouded and the shutters drawn, we have no clue what is actually out there. The world is changing and we have no way of knowing what is happening.
There was a time when safe and well-built sanctuaries saved mankind. The monasteries of the early Middle Ages were repositories of the accumulated knowledge of mankind and their thick walls prevented the destruction of much of that knowledge that became known, very appropriately, as the Dark Ages. I see in society today a very similar situation except that no knowledge is being protected as the darkness of ignorance and apathy slowly covers the land and the minds of the people. And sad to say, some of that ignorance and apathy comes from within the church. Was the fabled library of Alexandria not destroyed by religious authorities who were convinced that their Holy Scripture contained all the information that was needed and other books were superfluous?
Why is it that even today religious and political authorities seek to stifle scientific and free inquiry with claims of theological superiority? Is the foundation of faith so weak that it can only be supported by book burnings and attempts to control the minds of the people? Are its foundations so weak that democracy will crumble if free thought grows unfettered across the landscape?
We may marvel at the reading of stories such as the one in the Gospel today for we have a slightly better understanding of what causes sickness and death. We cannot even imagine that sin would have been the cause of one’s blindness, sickness or death. But we still believe that a person with AIDS can somehow inflict us with that disease by just looking at us. Even worse, there are those who believe that allowing a homeless person into our church will cause each of us to lose our homes and be cast out on the street. And while we may not wish to admit it, we still believe that the wealthy became rich because God has smiled on them and the poor are poor because they have led sinful and evil lives. We are blind to oppression and exploitation that has taken place over the past few years because we have clouded our windows and closed the shutters.
Let’s admit it. We fear the outside. Once we ventured forth from our shores, first from Europe to America, and then from the coast of America into the vast expanse of its interior. Each time, there were tails of monsters and unbelievable creatures ready to destroy us. We watched as ships sailed over the horizon and were convinced that they had fallen off the edge of the world. And from the days that we became conscious creatures on this planet, we have looked to the stars. Once we desired to go to the stars. So we began to make small steps, by sending people into orbit around the earth and then to the moon. But as the cost of these small steps rose and competed with the money needed to fight wars on this planet, we cut back. And now we have at least one and possibly two generations of children who have never seen a person walk on the moon.
We have shuttered our windows and we have closed the doors. We seek bold and brave leaders to make sure that the shutters are sound and the locks in the doors are strong. We welcome the rhetoric of the brave warrior, be they male or female, but we fail to see the lies and deceit in their heart. We hear their words encouraging each of us to be like them and to support them but because we cannot see and because we do not want to go outside, we do not see that their words and their actions are designed to make their homes safe and secure while destroying ours.
When Samuel went looking for the new king, the one who would replace Saul, he met David’s brothers. Each of the brothers was strong and handsome and brave but their outside belied what was inside of them. And God was more interested in what was in the heart and soul of the person than he was what was on the outside. Are we not like that today, seeking leaders because of what is on the outside and caring very little for what is on the inside?
When John Kennedy proposed that we go to the moon forty some years ago, he said that we did it even though we knew that it would be hard. I don’t hear that today. I hear that we can’t do things because they are hard and that we shouldn’t even try unless we can do it easy and quick and cheap. We would much rather go to war than seek peace; we would rather let people go hungry or homeless or sick because it is easier to do so than spend the money to insure that all people get feed or that homes can be built and people can have jobs that will allow them to afford housing today. Our answer is the 21st century equivalent to why people got sick in Jesus’ time – they are sinners. People got sick back then because they were sinners; people are poor today because they are sinners.
We have closed the door of opportunity and we have no desire to see what is outside the window in our sanctuary.
But it need not be that way. Paul reminds us that there is a different world out there if we allow Christ into our lives. It is a well-lit world in which evil dies because it cannot live in such a world. But it is not an easy world to live in. For in the light of Christ, we see the world and all that is there. We see what we must change. It is not always a pretty world and when we open the door to cautiously step outside, we run the risk of letting the world into our lives.
Many years ago, I received a book (Faith in a Secular Age) that spoke of the problem of the church in today’s world. It spoke of the church that sought to protect itself from the outside world by building walls and shutting its doors and shuttering its windows. It was a safe church but a church without any effect on the world. A former pastor of mine has pointed out that the church of the 21st century will be a church outside the walls of the sanctuary.
Last week, I wrote of the feeding ministry that we have started at our home church (see “How Long?”). It has been an interesting ministry. There are some who say you take the trash out of the church, not bring it in. And yet, they will come to the kitchen table and eat the food that we serve. There are some who will not eat this food because somehow food cooked for the poor is of a different quality than food cooked for Christians.
This past weekend we saw what happens when you open the doors and venture into the community. A young woman, abandoned by her family and perhaps society, came to the kitchen for breakfast and to see if we might offer her some work that would count towards community service and allow her to possibly enter into a drug-rehabilitation program. We found a way to give her some work which she did very well. But, perhaps more importantly, we connected her with other people in the church who understood what she was going through and were willing to walk with her this week as she sought to improve her life.
I cannot tell you today what the outcome of this will be. I hope that this young lady will return to the church as part of the covenant that was made this weekend. I will know this weekend when my schedule brings me back to the church. But I know this. If we were to have closed our minds, we would not have seen the opportunities that lie before us. If we were to have closed the doors and said that “her kind” were not welcome, we might have lost her.
It isn’t a matter of being a door or a window. It is a matter of opening the windows to let the sun shine in and the Son shine out and to have the doors open, not only so that people can come in but that so that doors are open for the opportunities that come your way.