O LORD. Who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill? Who among us is worthy enough to come into your presence, as though anyone could ever be worthy enough…
Our Psalm of the Day is a song of preparation for entering the Temple of the LORD. The song leader asks, “Who is allowed to come in?” And the chorus sings back, “Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right, who speak the truth from their heart and do not slander with their tongue, those who do no evil to their friends…” And the litany continues —those who are truthful and those who do justice.
Now on the surface, this sounds kinda prohibitive. Since when do you have to meet standards of conduct in order to be allowed to worship God? I believe, whoever you are and wherever you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here. And while I’ve got nothing against truth and justice, making these prerequisites for church is a problem.
However, if we go deeper into the spirit of the Psalm, it could be what we’ll find is actually a rich, motherly-humming instruction to prepare our hearts for worship. It could be this Psalm is not really about who’s allowed to come into the church. Instead, it’s like the persistent reminder to wash your hands before cooking, and put on your seatbelt before starting the car, and what do we do before meeting up with God? What could we do… 1 see this commentary by J. Clinton McCann http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2929
Thinking about this preparation reminds me that many churches begin worship with a Prayer of Confession which gets answered by Words of Assurance. Before we come into the House of God, we need to confess, to make things right.
Similarly, the Passing of the Peace is a practice employed to help us reconcile with each other before being reconciled with God. Leave your gift at the altar, go work things out, then come back with a clean heart (see Matthew 4:24).
Now there are critics out there who say confession gets us tangled up in blame. They say confession authorizes the impulse to beat up on ourselves, and certainly nobody needs that! But maybe there is more to it. If confession is simply listing the bad things we have done and the good things we have left undone, and please forgive us O God, well that’s fine I guess. But something is missing.
What if confession could go deeper than merely naming what we have done wrong? What if confession could help us hear our own need…
Not my brother, not my sister, but it’s me O LORD standing in the need of prayer.
Not the villain, not the hero, but this time, it’s me O LORD.
What if I’m the one—what if you are the one— in need, and what if our need does not make us bad? Our need is what makes us human.
The poet Mary Oliver puts it like this:
You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees. For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on…2https://onbeing.org/blog/mary-oliver-reads-wild-geese/
Today we’re continuing our Lenten series on homelessness. Alongside this question of how we manage to come into the house of the LORD, we also hear the question of how the Lord gets in the door.
During the worship meeting, someone looked at this painting called “Christ at Heart’s Door” and wisely offered this for our consideration. (I have to tell you, I love that this painting was mentioned in our conversation on homelessness! It brings a dose of Matthew Twenty-Five into the conversation, as though Jesus, himself, might need a place to sleep tonight. )
As we discussed during Children’s Time, we have several versions of this painting around the church including its precursor called the Light of the World, including that stained glass window. You’ll notice that all the doors are missing a handle or knob; the idea is that door of our hearts can only be opened from within. 3https://www.anderson.edu/warner-sallman/collection/hearts-door
These works of art are inspired by a Bible verse which is also a favorite verse of evangelical, revival-style preachers. It is Revelation three, twenty: “Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you, and eat with you, and you with me.” You can hear the warmth and urgency in this verse and why it makes for a great sermon. Come, all you sinners! Jesus is trying to save you. All you have to do is let him in!
Now as it turns out, I am a Christian who doesn’t buy that our salvation depends on such a proscribed personal decision. This means I don’t have this classic sermon to bring you. I cannot stand here and tell you “the only way into heaven is if you will let Jesus into your heart” any more than I can tell you, “we must come through the door confessing if we mean to worship God.” Do you hear all these entrance requirements we impose on each other!
It really might be the case that Jesus is trying to get off the street and in the house. It really might be the case that we need him. I can tell you for sure, I need him.
And so this Bible verse about Jesus knocking on the door comes from a holy vision announced to the church at Laodicea. The whole book of Revelation is a psychedelic mystical expression of the apocalypse —what the angel of the LORD is revealing to John of Patmos. In this passage, the angel is calling out the church of Laodicea for being lukewarm. “Because you are neither cold nor hot, I am about to spit you out my mouth” (Revelation 3:16).
The angel goes on to explain, the problem with this church is that it thinks it’s rich, when really, it is destitute. It thinks everything is fine thank you, when everything’s not fine. The church is not being honest about its deep need.
Now Jesus is standing at the door of the church, knocking, and it is not a test to see whether the people will open the door. It’s a question of whether the people can even hear him, or are they so oblivious to their own hurt…
This church in Laodicea reminds me of people who say things like, “Homelessness is not a problem in the Quad Cities! Maybe in Chicago, but not here…” Their statement is not true. There are homeless kids in Rock Island schools. There are women who call Winnie’s Place looking for a place to sleep and they get turned away.
As Emily pointed out, for all the people here who qualify for Section Eight housing, there’s just a small fraction of Section Eight units available. Somebody’s got to see this. Somebody’s got to hear the people asking for help and amplify their voices.
The church in Laodicea reminds me of people who talk about America as a global super power, as the greatest nation on earth, who tout our guns as a sign of freedom and strength. Really, what we are is addicted to gun violence. We are not free. We have a problem and our lives have become unmanageable.
When it is normal for schools to have a police presence, and lockdown drills, and a team of trauma counselors on standby, when children practice hiding in the closet because someday someone could be trying to shoot them, these are signs that our lives have become unmanageable.
When surviving a mass shooting is becoming a normal thing people go through like getting a flat tire on the highway or getting called in for jury duty, this is a sign that we have a problem. As a nation, we can change this —the teenagers are proving we can change this —but only when we begin to admit that we are not okay.
As it is written, “For you say, ‘I am rich. I have prospered, I need nothing.’ You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked… Be earnest, therefore, and repent. Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking…” (Revelation 3:17,19-20).
The truth is, there is power in being honest about our own need. It may seem counterintuitive, but there is power in confessing our brokenness. Doing this equips us to hear the deep hurt in one another, which means this honesty is not just essential for our own recovery; it makes it possible for others to name their hurt too. Father Gregory Boyle says it like this: “If you’re a stranger to your own wound, then you’re going to be tempted to despise the wounded.”4https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=66DxSg9JMII
“If you’re a stranger to your own wound, you’re going to be tempted to despise the wounded.” But when we come into this place confessing our own deep need, then we’ve already begun the work of compassion.
Right now, you might be sitting near somebody who is carrying unhealed, unlistened-to hurt. I’m fairly certain, if you are sitting near any human being right now, then you’re sitting by someone who’s carrying unhealed, unlistened-to hurt. We all do this.
But what if we could be the ones who are willing to hear it? This is what the church could offer our nation. We know how to confess, how to repent, how to listen for the grace humming inside the hurt. This hearing is what we could offer each other.
It’s my brother and my sister, and it’s me O LORD, standing in the need of prayer. It’s the homeless and the wealthy, and it’s me O LORD. It’s the fighters and the mourners and it’s me O LORD, standing in the need.
What would it take for us to name our own need and hear the grace of God singing through it… It’s Jesus standing at the door, knocking. And what would it take for us to hear him…