I See A New Church: Open Doors

This sermon was originally preached at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on September 15, 2019. To watch the full recording, visit Mission Hills’ Facebook Page.

Exodus 32:7-14

The Lord said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely; they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!’” The Lord said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are. Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

But Moses implored the Lord his God, and said, “O Lord, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.’” And the Lord changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

 

Psalm 51:1-10

Have mercy on me, O God,

   according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

   blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

    and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,

    and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence

    and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty,

    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;

   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,

    and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

    and put a new and right spirit within me.

 

Luke 15:1-10

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Today, we have been on a scriptural journey. I don’t know about you, but when I hear a scripture or scriptures read and know a sermon will follow it, I try and make predictions on how they will be tied together and connected. Today, I’d imagine that connection piece would be difficult to find.

Today, we’ve read three very different scriptures: one from Exodus, one Psalm, and one popular Gospel passage. Each one of them tells us a narrative from a different social location and moment, but together, we can see that each of them demonstrates to us God’s evolution, and how God’s evolution always includes mercy, a radical opening of doors.

The very first thing you heard this morning was a story from the book of Exodus.

In this passage, God is talking to Moses, and honestly, God’s probably shouting, judging by the content. God is angry here, angry because God’s people are being selfish, stubborn, and they are worshipping false idols. God’s anger turns to wrath, and God tells Moses that God will essentially wipe out the people doing these things.

Eventually, we read that Moses rationalizes with God, telling God that God doesn’t need to do that, God doesn’t need to destroy God’s people. The passage says “And the Lord changed God’s mind about the disaster that God planned to bring on God’s people.”Moses was reminding God of the ever-changing nature of the universe, and God’s role in opening doors for us, making all things new amidst the change. And God listened to Moses, because God cares about God’s people.

This Exodus passage stood out to me because it shows God’s willingness to listen to God’s people, and also God’s ability to adapt to the change and the chaos around us. God’s being goes beyond time, and God also recognizes God’s role within time. This push and pull allows for us to see God’s evolution happening at the same time as the evolution of God’s people.

So, go ahead and hold that as we recall our second scripture today, from Psalm 51. This beautiful story is actually stemming from an interesting interaction between Nathan and the psalmist, David. Nathan is coming to David, and David is asking for help, pleading to God, because he messed up. The Psalm itself is a response to that pleading, a prayer to God to work with David and allow him to live, to change, to evolve.

Let’s read it again together, and I want you to imagine this Psalm as another evolution of God’s people, another instance of God opening doors for us.

Psalm 51:1-10

Have mercy on me, O God,

   according to your steadfast love;

according to your abundant mercy

   blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

    and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,

    and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, you alone, have I sinned,

    and done what is evil in your sight,

so that you are justified in your sentence

    and blameless when you pass judgment.

Indeed, I was born guilty,

    a sinner when my mother conceived me.

You desire truth in the inward being;

   therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;

   wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Let me hear joy and gladness;

    let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

Hide your face from my sins,

    and blot out all my iniquities.

Create in me a clean heart, O God,

    and put a new and right spirit within me.

“Create in me a clean heart, O God”, the psalmist says. ”Put a new and right spirit in me.”

Like the Moses and God interaction in Exodus, there’s a movement happening here, a shift. God and God’s people are acknowledging a space that used to be something evolve into something else. God is showing up and surprising David, a man who had gone against God, and is expecting God to punish him, like God wanted to do in the Exodus passage. God doesn’t do that. God meets David with forgiveness, with an opportunity to come back to God.

We can think of this Psalm as an opening of yet another door, a door of David’s own making. God’s response here is one of forgiveness, of grace, of re-creation, restoration, and newness.

Finally, our last scripture, from the Gospel. This passage from Luke is a recollection of Jesus talking to all who were gathered. Already, before he even starts talking, Jesus is seen as a joke, someone who doesn’t understand, someone completely ignorant, with his countercultural views. They point out he eats with sinners, God literally forbid. Jesus tells two stories. First, he tells of the sheep. Jesus illustrates that we are to care about the lost sheep, even when the other 99 are comfortably sitting down, in their field, in the pews, whatever you’d like to imagine this sense of comfort as.

The second story is similar in theme. This woman has ten coins, but one gets lost. Sure, there are nine perfectly safe coins, but that tenth one, the one that is lost, that’s the one the woman goes out looking for.

Both of these parables are so full of movement. If we picture ourselves in these parables, we are the 99 sheep, and we are the 9 coins. We are seated comfortably, in the same spot, a spot where perhaps our parent or guide knows where we are. But God, we learn, is not concerned over and above for us, the ones doing what perhaps we are expected to do, compared to those who identify more with the lost sheep or the lost coin. God cares about us all the same, and makes sure that all ten coins are found, even if that means the lost coin is sought after more strongly for a while.

This story continues the theme of open doors. Jesus is teaching us about the value of the ones we cannot see, the ones who left, or are gone, the ones with a tough history with the church or the ones who were shoved out.

‘Why would they just hang out in this place, with all the trauma that resides in it?’, I challenge you to question. God is showing us, through the character of Jesus, that God’s progression needs to align with our own. That through Jesus’ illustration, he is shifting us yet again from past, to present, to future. This shifting, from God in the Exodus, to God leading God’s people to forgiveness in the Psalm, to now this instance of seeing holiness in humanity from Luke, we see God opening doors. These doors were placed here by us, and they have made their way into our systems, into our churches over and over, until they become comfortable there and stay there, closed.

What God is teaching us, is not a short or quick or easy lesson. Rather, it’s a lesson we learn when we interrogate God’s timeline. In Exodus, we see God changing God’s mind through a conversation with Moses. God shifts from an angry, wrathful God to a God who shows grace and forgiveness and compassion. And as time continues, God’s opening of doors is granted to the hearers of David’s psalm. And God’s opening of doors is granted to us, both us, the 99, and us, the times we may identify with the 1 lone sheep.

This active, alive, and progressing opening of doors aligns itself, if we do it right, to the future of the kindom, the future of Church. We need change. We need evolution. We need God to go on this journey with us, so we can learn the doors we’ve put up over our history.

I recommended this Queer Eye episode in the Flocknote this week, and if you haven’t seen what I’m about to describe to you, you should watch it later, because my re-telling is nowhere near as powerful. In the first ten or so minutes of season 2, episode 1 of Queer Eye, we learn that the assignment for the five gay men is to make over a church community center. As they are touring at the beginning of the episode, they move to go see the church sanctuary itself. As the men file in, we can see four of the five go in. One of them does not go in. One is left behind, left out. Sound familiar?

And so we see Bobby, a gay man, unable to walk into the doors of the church. If you are a part of the LGBTQIA+ community watching this episode, you’d need no further explanation for Bobby’s actions. Because Bobby was clearly experiencing spiritual trauma because of past experiences, so strong that he is not able to walk into the doors of the church they were working on. It didn’t matter how welcoming the church was, how kind the people were. Sometimes, our building itself can be enough to leave people outside the doors. Sometimes, the doors that past versions of church have put up have stayed up for so long, that the wood of the doors still stands, just as strongly as it did when the door was built in the first place.

For us to want to be a neighborhood church, a community church, a church for all people, means that fair or not, we need to take inventory of the ways even our physical building may be a deterrence from people being part of a faith community. We need to take inventory of the history, of our timeline and how God has worked through it to transform the ways we have always known things to be. It is our job now church, as we stand on the brink of a new chapter in God’s timeline, for us to see where we have come, and honestly look at the places where we still are finding ourselves in that same spot, where we have not let God’s evolution continue to move and change and evolve.

Even if our doors are open to all people, our job is to also own up to the history we have of causing spiritual trauma. Unless we do that, our churches remain the same and the doors stay closed.We are all a part of the evolution of God. You are an active participant in God’s story of grace.

Today, I want to challenge you to ask where our doors are not open.

  • Where are we missing the point?
  • Where are we keeping doors up as a blockade to newness and life and inclusion?
  • Where do we still need to tear down the doors of our own making?

Open doors is a process. God teaches us throughout God’s history that it’s an evolution, so even if our doors were decided to be open then, it’s a constant re-evaluation to make sure they are still open now.

We, beloved children of God, are called to radically invite and radically celebrate all of God’s children. Whether they worship like we do, or whether they, like Bobby, cannot even say the word church without being triggered. Whether they speak our language, whether they value the same type of music or same meaning of church or whether they see God in a gay bar or a coffee shop. If our doors are truly open, it means we are truly open, open to God and God’s progression God is leading us in.

Friends, as we leave this place, may we leave with the encouragement that we belong. May we be honest about the doors that are not open. And may we take our authority, as children of God, to create space where the doors are no more, where all are welcomed in.

Let us pray: God of the universe, you create in us a clean heart. You show us what it is like to evolve and grow, according to your will. Challenge us to evolve alongside the changing nature of our church, that we might bring your kindom on earth, as it is in heaven. In your precious name we pray, Amen.

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