The Door Will Be Opened: Don’t Stand In The Way
Our mission is to serve Christ by mutually serving one another and embodying God’s love and grace for all.
I’m sure you recognize that statement as our church mission statement. At our board retreat last weekend, we talked about how we have been living into this statement. We actually spent time evaluating every one of our ministries in light of our mission statement. And it was wonderful to see how each and every activity we engaged in this past year tied into the mission that we discerned together over 2 years ago.
Our mission is guiding us to become the kind of church we describe in our vision statement:
A diverse church led by Christ to open its doors in love and service to all.
We talked about how we have become more diverse in terms of age demographics, and that we still have work to do in terms of other demographics in our community. And we conversed about one key piece of our mission and vision statement: being a church whose doors are open to all people. During that conversation, someone rightly raised a concern about being open to everyone. It’s a concern that we all share and maybe it is best summarized through this saying:
If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for everything.
So, we engaged in a conversation about the things we stand for. I encouraged folks to look at our mission and vision to determine what they say we stand for. First and foremost, our mission and vision say that we stand for Christ – serving Christ, being led by Christ. More specifically, they say we stand for acting like Christ by loving, supporting, embodying grace, and being open to all God’s children. I think those are the core things Jesus and scripture ask us to stand for. Let me explain.
But first a word from the Bible. The word is this: UNCLEAN.
I know, not the word you were expecting right?! But, I want you to think about that word. In the Bible, it referred to animals, behaviors, and people.
Early in the journey of the Jewish people, God had set out rules for clean and unclean. Certain behaviors made one unclean. Certain foods were unclean. Certain rituals were about purifying and making you clean. And there was a whole system of who was in and who was out based on clean and unclean.
Most of these unclean things are pretty normal for us today. We don’t consider them unclean at all. For example, eating, pigs, shrimp, or catfish, being near a dead body (at a visitation for example), and, yes, engaging in sex all made a person unclean.
In ancient Israel, the people had views about certain animals and behaviors that applied to their way of life at that time in their world. And they saw these clean and unclean designations as coming from God. This was the Jewish way even leading up to the time of Jesus.
And honestly, we do this today as well. Don’t you think? Consider….
- Who does society consider unclean, out of bounds, unwanted, immoral, or inappropriate today?
- Who does the church consider unclean, out of bounds, unwanted, immoral, or inappropriate today?
- Who do you think of unclean, out of bounds, unwanted, immoral, or inappropriate today?
I want to challenge you to think about this and write some answers down! (Just stop for a minute and jot down yoru thoughts…be honest, and think deeply. Sometimes our most truthful answers are not about what we think, but can be seen from how we act and behave!)
Well, scripture has something to say to us today about those people, places, practices and lifestyles that we believe are unclean. Read with me a story from the book of Act:
The apostles and the brothers and sisters throughout Judea heard that even the Gentiles had welcomed God’s word.
Even the gentiles had welcome God’s word! Those unclean, foul, immoral, sometimes detestable people – they had welcome God’s Word!!
Yes! Sometimes people who think and act and live and behave very differently from you receive God’s Word. You may not understand how they can live a certain way if they have accepted God. They might look different to you and their difference might seem wrong to you. But, God has received them! That is what is going on here in the early church in this 11th chapter of Act.
When Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him.
Circumcised believers were mostly Jewish because many Gentiles rejected circumcision. Adn rejecting circumcision was problematic for Jewish people. It would have been a stumbling block for them. They thinking might be summarized like this: There is no way Gentiles can live that way, reject circumcision, and still accept Jesus! So, several Jews approached Jesus and…
They accused him, “You went into the home of the uncircumcised and ate with them!”
You can see how problematic it was for Jews to associate with these unclean Gentiles. It was not okay to go in their houses. It was not okay to condone their behaviors. Gentiles live unclean lives and they should be treated so! Maybe I am putting some words in their mouths, but this seems to me to be the way they came across.
Step-by-step, Peter explained what had happened. “I was in the city of Joppa praying when I had a visionary experience. In my vision, I saw something like a large linen sheet being lowered from heaven by its four corners. It came all the way down to me. As I stared at it, wondering what it was, I saw four-legged animals—including wild beasts—as well as reptiles and wild birds. I heard a voice say, ‘Get up, Peter! Kill and eat!’ I responded, ‘Absolutely not, Lord! Nothing impure or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ The voice from heaven spoke a second time, ‘Never consider unclean what God has made pure.’
Now there is a word from God that you can take home with you: Never consider unclean what God has made pure.
This happened three times, then everything was pulled back into heaven.
When sometimes happens three times in the Bible remember that two things are being communicated:
- A sense of completeness
- A call to action.
So, here’s Peter describes the call to action:
At that moment three men who had been sent to me from Caesarea arrived at the house where we were staying. The Spirit told me to go with them and not to make a distinction between them and us. These six brothers also went with me, and we entered that man’s house. He reported to us how he had seen an angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and summon Simon, who is known as Peter. He will tell you how you and your entire household can be saved.’
Now, even if the rest of the story was missing, this is amazing. The word of God – a message of salvation – came to a Gentiles home through an angel! That right there should be enough to make Peter’s Jewish audience audibly gasp!
When I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them, just as the Spirit fell on us in the beginning. I remembered the Lord’s words: ‘John will baptize with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If God gave them the same gift he gave us who believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, then who am I? How Could I stand in God’s way?”
There is another word from God to take home with you today: If God gave it, then who am I to stand in God’s way!
Once the apostles and other believers heard this, they calmed down. They praised God and concluded, “So then God has given even to the Gentiles the repentance that leads to life.”
This story summarizes what we stand for: God opening the doors to other people – people we may think unclean, that is, unfit, unwelcome, out of bounds, unwanted, uncouth, immoral, inappropriate…even wrong.
God says: Don’t call unclean what I have made clean.
And peter understands: Who am I to stand in God’s way?
But I wonder: How we are standing in God’s way today? Who we are effectively calling unclean?
We began our time of worship this morning with a verse from Matthew:
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Matt 7:7)
Brothers and sisters, I am afraid that when the world hears those words and comes knocking on the doors of the faith – of Christianity, of the church -to find out just what Jesus has to offer, the church closes the doors that God has promised shall be opened. And in so doing, we are fighting against the will of God. We are disobeying. We are standing in God’s way. We are closing ourselves to God’s will, God’s call, and God’s love.
- No one has closed the door on you because you have not followed Jesus command to sell everything you own, give to the poor and follow Christ.
- No one has closed the door on you because you are struggling to forgive someone in spite of Jesus’ command to forgive seventy times seven – that is, forgive perfectly.
- No one has closed the door on you because you don’t live a lifestyle that follows the beatitudes – that is, you are not poor, meek, merciful, pure, or a peacemaker.
- No one has closed the door on you because in their eyes you for violated some law within scripture.
But I wonder how you and I (or the church or society) might be doing so today? How have we closed a door? How have we closed our hearts? How have we stood in God’s way as God seeks to open the doors of Christianity to all His children?
Here is what I’ve learned in my 40 years: I don’t agree with everyone. Somethings we all do agree on…big things, like violence, murder, rape, theft. Those are things we never see Jesus promote, but we hear him often speak against. Other things are biological or cultural or lifestyle things – what people eat, how people express themselves, customs that people share, what people eat or drink, what they sing, how they dance, how they pray, who they love…and so much more.
And I’ve learned that when you allow someone into your life as a friend, you will find commonalities and learn to accept and appreciate differences. You might even find that you become a better person, a better follower of Christ by opening yourself to someone who is different. You might even discover that that difference isn’t really so different because in reality it’s just another beautiful part of the body of Christ.
This is what I believe we stand for and what I want to stand for: open doors that embrace all God’s children inviting everyone into deeper relationship with Christ through serving them and supporting them, through loving them, through extending grace to them all.