New Member Celebration Sunday
For the people first hearing the Gospel of Matthew, there was a crisis of timing.
See they had been promised that the old age would pass away, the day of judgement would come, then the new age would whoosh heaven into the earth and oh my! Things would never be the same.
The old matters of this world —the power of the empire, the oppression of those who are vulnerable— all that would be wiped away along with the tears of those who are weeping and waiting. The Messiah is come, get ready for the kingdom! Any day now, the Son of Man will come in all his glory. The cosmic judgement will be pronounced. The new age will begin.
Only problem was this day never came. Now there are some Christians who would want me to say, this day has not yet come, but it will. There are others of us who would say, the turning from the old age into the new might be more messy and overlappy than we thought.
Wherever you come down on this, you can imagine how the early Christians were feeling. Here the timpani is rumbling their drumroll, the spotlight is blazing, but nothing’s happening onstage! We’ve been waiting forever, how long will this take? We could die waiting! You can imagine the intensifying of anxiety.
So Jesus spoke up.
The kingdom of heaven will be like this: Ten bridesmaids went out to meet the bridegroom, but the groom was late. All they could do was wait! They fell asleep waiting!
Around midnight, the groom finally arrived, but five of the bridesmaids did not have enough oil to keep their lamps lit. The other five refused to share. They said, “Go to the vendor and buy your own oil!” Now even though it is midnight, even though their lamps are failing, that’s exactly what the five managed to do.
They came back with plenty of oil, but this time, they were the ones who were too late. The bridegroom had already gone into the wedding banquet with the other five. And the door was shut. Well, these bridesmaids knock and shout through the door, but the groom shouts back: “Go away. I don’t even know you!”
Consider the power of the door in this story.
It is the barrier between the wedding guests and the ones left out in the dark. When the door gets shut, it is shut. For good. This door is enforcing the deadline for admittance. This door is the boundary between heaven and earth. There are some serious demands on this door!
In our own lives, I’m sure we all have experienced doors that have been closed that cannot be re-opened. Now I don’t know what my future holds. At this point, I feel confident that I will never be recruited for the Bolshoi Ballet Company. We have relationships that end that cannot be revived; we have paths that close before us, never to re-open. That’s okay.
Parker Palmer wrote a book on discernment called Let Your Life Speak. He argues that these experiences of rejection or crushed opportunities —what he calls “way closing”— actually play a critical role in illuminating a path forward (kind of like when a closed street forces you down a detour). In life, we really will encounter some doors that are closed. For good. It’s just, when it comes to doors, I’m thinking this might be the exception more than the norm.
Consider your relationship with doors.
All of us can name the doors that we go through all the time; probably all of us have a story or two of getting locked out. Maybe you once slid a term paper under a professor’s office door, only to realize, it was the wrong paper. Now here you are lying on a hallway floor in the middle of the night trying to fish out the paper with an uncoiled coat hanger. That’s happened to all of us, right?
And so it is that sometimes we’re the ones on the inside, opening the door to the arriving guests. Sometimes we’re on the outside, like those bridesmaids, knocking and texting hoping someone inside will hurry up. Our relationship with doors is situational and frequently changing.
What matters is that a door is not a permanently sealed wall. Often, it is precisely the opposite. To echo a popular observation: “When God closes a door… go and open it. That’s how doors work.”
When we hear the parable of the bridesmaids, it’s easy to imagine that Christ is the groom in the story, that Jesus is the one for whom we are waiting, that whenever Jesus comes, we had better make sure we’re on the inside with him. Only problem is that throughout the Gospel, we are told exactly where to find Jesus. And if you’re thinking it’s with those who are left out and locked out, you’re right.
Something I love about our church is it is filled with paintings of Jesus standing at the door knocking. We have several versions of the classic image —including that window. See Jesus has come with the lamp, now he’s trying to get someone inside to open the door. He knows what it is to be left out and locked out. And what if the people inside tell him “Go away, we don’t even know you.”?
What if we say to Christ, Go away. We don’t even know you…
I invite you to consider the doors of our church. Consider the demands on our doors.
On weekday mornings, the Twelfth Avenue door gets held open by mamas helping their friends maneuver strollers. Babies come through that door tied on their mama’s backs. Unsteady toddlers come through that door, working on their walking.
The office door on Twelfth Street gets held open on Saturday mornings when people stream through it to the Food Pantry. That door sees people come in with empty carts; then it sees people leave with bags overflowing. Nobody gets out of here empty-handed.
The doors over here gets propped open when a church member leaves this place in a casket carried by the people she loves. Those same doors open the world to couples who have been married no more than three minutes. Think of all the funerals, all the weddings, those doors have been in!
So please do not be so sure that a closed door is closed for good. Really, closed doors are the only kinds that open. Please do not be so sure that we know which side of the door Christ is on.
May the doors of our church remind us that our welcoming in is only as good as our sending out. Our sending out, is only as good as our welcoming in. See the kingdom of heaven is like this.
May God pour out blessing on all who touch these doors.
“May the LORD keep our going out and our coming in from this time on and forevermore” (Psalm 121:8). Amen.