A Door That Swings Both Ways


Here are my thoughts for the 4th Sunday of Easter, 15 May 2010. The Scriptures for this Sunday are The Scriptures for this Sunday were Acts 2: 42 – 47, 1 Peter 2: 19 – 25, and John 10: 1- 10. Next Sunday, May 22nd, unless something really dramatic happens on the 21st, I will be preaching at Rowe United Methodist Church in Milan, NY (location of church) at 9:30 and then traveling down the road to its partner, Red Hook United Methodist Church (Location of church) to preach at 11:00.  You all are invited to either service (or both). The title for my message is “Did I Miss Something?”

The other day Andrew Conrad posted a question on his blog concerning the Gospel passage for today (John 10: 1 – 10) – from “Scripture Monday: John 10:9”

I was stumped with this question. If Jesus is the gate . . .

  • What does it mean to come in and go out?
  • Where is the pasture found?

I replied by saying

Can we assume that we are free to enter into a relationship with Christ and just as free to leave the relationship? The pasture would then be the world outside the sanctuary of God’s kingdom. The challenge, of course, is that we can stay within the sanctuary of God’s Kingdom but nothing would ever get done. When we venture outside the Kingdom’s walls, we risk the chance that we will be sidetracked by the voices of others. We can easily be lead astray by those voices.

Andrew’s response was

The freedom to enter and leave (the) relationship with God makes good sense. Perhaps it is related to the encouragement to be in the world but not of the world.

Now, as I thought about this, I thought about how one develops a relationship with God. Our own relationship is, by nature, a private one but we live it in a public way (or at least we should). How many people in this world today want Jesus to be a true gatekeeper, letting only certain ones into the safety of the sanctuary? These individuals want the gate closed and locked so that all those inside can be safe and secure.

There are many, perhaps more, who do not want to come it. Oh, they seek the safety that being inside brings but they also know that they those who are inside will not welcome them. They are not welcome because there is something about them that the people inside don’t like.

But it isn’t just who comes in and who stays. If the gate is closed so that no one comes in and no one goes out, how does the business of the church get done? How is a relationship with God developed if no one can come in or go out? Remember, if you lock the door so that no one can come in, you have prevented yourself from getting out.

Kary Oberbrunner, in his book The Journey Towards Relevance, speaks of three kinds of Christians today. There are the separatists, individuals who live a life separate from society. For these individuals, if it is not clothed in Christ, it is not part of their lives. They will be at Christian groceries, eat at Christian restaurants, shop only at Christian stores, and listen to Christian music. It is a life separate from others.

A religious separatist is one who separates their religious life from their secular life. They wear their faith as if it was pure and they will not allow anyone or anything to disturb that purity. But they turn off people to the true faith because they, the separatists, cannot relate their faith to the world around them. And when you ask them to integrate their faith into the culture around them, they panic.

There are conformists, individuals who adapt their thoughts to the world, making sure that no one knows that they might actually go to church on Sundays. And it is quite easy to see that many of their friends would be surprised to know that they are Christians because there is no evidence to suggest. Religious conformists use religion when it is convenient for them. Christianity is something done on Sundays; Mondays through Fridays, one must be a realist and you cannot be a realist if one is a Christian.

Fortunately there is a third type of individual, the transformist. Such individuals seek to make faith a part of the prevailing culture; they use their faith to change the culture, not for the purpose of a self-proclaimed religion but for society. John and Charles Wesley could easily be seen as transformists. Transformists understand that you cannot categorize faith, love for God, and love for people into separate and independent categories. Their faith is integrated with their live and their love for God is shown by their love for people. (Adapted from “the Journey Towards Relevance” by Kary Oberbrunner)

Now, when one reads the passage from Acts for today, one might get the opinion that the members of that early church were separatists. But separatists would have nothing to do with the world outside the church and it is very difficult to grow when you cut yourself off from the world. An examination of Christian communities in this country would tell us that if you are not constantly recruiting members, then your community will slowly die. And the history of the early church tells us that the way that they lived (why is the early church was called “The Way”?) brought people in and did not keep them away.

For the church of today to grow, it must go out into the world. But it must be careful that it doesn’t become a part of that world. Rather, it must find ways to transform the world, utilizing the teachings of Christ.

Yes, it will be difficult. Not only does the world not want to be transformed, too many Christians do not want to be the transformers. There are times with our feeding ministry that it is easy to get depressed. But then when you see lives transformed, when someone whom society has cast aside says to you, “Thank you for a wonderful breakfast”, then you know that a change has occurred.

You have to ask yourself where you are in this process. Is your church like the early church, filled with celebration and harmony? Is every meal a celebration of life and God’s presence in the world? Or is your church worried about the bills that have to be paid? Is every meal that the church offers seen as a means of getting extra income so that a particular bill can be paid?

Is the door to the church closed so that those inside are protected and safe? And while it may keep people safe and secure, when the door was closed, was Jesus left outside, unable to get in?

Or is the door to the church open so that people can come in to find God and people can go out to take God into the world? The door to the church, like the door to the soul can swing shut or it can swing open? Which is it to be? The door swings both ways and you have to make a decision about the direction you want it to go.

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