by Rev. Doug Gray
Doors are really interesting. What kinds of things have doors?
[Take responses from the congregation.]
Just as physical doors in our lives come in many shapes and sizes, the other doors in our lives can have lots of diversity too. This season of Lent, we are spending time with John Ortberg’s All the Places You’ll Go: How Will You Know? According to Ortberg, the story of the Bible is the story of the doors people have faced, and how they found God in the process. What are the “doors” in our lives? When God opens a door, what should we do? When we have more than one door, how do we know which one we should go through? All this Lent, we will be exploring these themes, and today we will start our journey with this surprising passage from Revelation.
Surprising? Yes, because it turns out, that’s what life with doors is like—surprising. Ortberg tells the story of a writing challenge posed by an online magazine: could you summarize your life in 6 words? So many people loved the challenge and sent in their 6-word memoirs that the magazine’s website nearly crashed, and the magazine published some of the very honest responses in a book, Not Quite What I Was Planning. One person wrote, “Seventy years, few tears, hairy ears.” Another wrote, “Business school? Bah! Pop music? Hurrah!” Or this, “Cursed with cancer. Blessed with friends.” (written by a nine-year old, cancer-survivor). “I still make coffee for two.” Ortberg tries his hand at some for Biblical characters:
Abraham: “Left Ur. Had baby. Still laughing.”
Jonah: “’No’ Storm. Overboard. Whale. Regurgitated. ‘Yes.’”
Adam: “Eyes opened, but can’t find home.”
Noah: “Hated the rain, loved the rainbow.”
Mary: “Manger. Pain. Joy. Cross. Pain. Joy.”
Like all of these, we can say, “Not quite what I was planning,” because that’s how it works for us: when we look forward, we can’t predict what our lives will be. Oftentimes, all we can see is the open door in front of us, and the doors in front of us can take us unexpected places.
Second, God likes open doors. In our passage for today, we find doors mentioned over and over again— “Look, I have set before you an open door, which no one is able to shut… A closed door can mean safety, protection and privacy, but it can also mean trapped and isolation. An open door is an invitation. Jesus says, “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.” Ortberg writes, “An open door is an opportunity provided by God, to act with God and for God.” When we think about the people of faith in the Bible, God doesn’t often interrupt their lives and say, “Just wanted you to stay comfortable today.” God seems to relish putting open doors in front of people.
Finally, how we face open doors not only tells us about who we are, but gives us a chance to grow and become with God’s help. When I was in seminary, getting ready to graduate and wondering if there was really going to be a job for me after, I went to lunch one day with no idea my life was going to change forever. I’m in the cafeteria lunch line, putting things on my tray and talking with my buddy to my right about how excited I was to do youth ministry, but was moving to Baltimore where my fiancée was going to grad school. The gentleman to my left turns and says, “That’s very interesting. I’m the pastor of a church in Baltimore, and my church is looking for someone just like you to be our youth minister.” Talk about an open door! We met again, and he showed me around a large, energetic church that had middle school and high school youth groups. If you had asked me to write a description of where I wanted to work and what I wanted to do, it was doing youth ministry at a church just like that. Was it always easy? No. Were there lessons I needed to learn? Absolutely. An open door means freedom to move, to get out and about, to go someplace you haven’t been, to see things we haven’t seen and to know what we haven’t known. Maybe that’s why God likes open doors so much: an open door is also an opportunity for God to shape and mold us, for us to learn how to trust God better. That’s really what God longs for—a relationship with each of us. Ortberg writes, “God’s primary will for your life is not the achievements you accrue; it’s the person you become. God’s primary will for your life is not what job you ought to take…It’s not mainly the city where you live or whether you get married or what house you ought to be in. God’s primary will for your life is that you become a magnificent person in his image, somebody with the character of Jesus.” Is that the ultimate door God puts before us, the one that cannot be shut?
What do we do with the doors God places before us? How do we recognize the one God is calling us through? And how do we learn how to partner with God in our lives? As it turns out, one of the great purposes of the Bible is to help us understand the doors others have found in their lives and what to do with them. For Jesus, Lent was a time of preparation for the next three years of His life. He spent it in the wilderness, tempted, hungry, thirsty, waiting...was He wondering about the open doors God was going to place in front of Him? As we spend time together this Lent, may we have a sense of God with us, preparing us for the next chapter in our unexpected lives. God is placing open doors ahead of us, and God can’t wait to see how we will choose with God’s help. May we have the faith to see the open door, and though we might think we have little power, may we step through to see the unexpected, amazing places God will take us.