Doors of Fear, Doors of Adventure: Second Sunday of Easter
By Charles Rush
April 22, 2001
John 20: 19-31
r story begins with the ominous words of metaphor “and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear”. This lines stands in touching apposition to the wonderful image of the Christ from Revelation, “behold, I stand at the door and knock.”
the movie As Good as it Gets, Jack Nicholson plays an eccentric writer
named Melvin. Melvin is uptight as they come, focusing first on what is going
wrong, and bristling with distance towards his neighbors. In the opening scenes
of the movie, we see him entering his apartment in Manhattan. He has to unlock
half a dozen locks, each with a different key. Once inside, he methodically
locks them all again, with what we can tell is a practiced ritual. Then he
enters his bathroom, runs the water until it is scalding hot, opens a new bar
of soap, washes his hands, throws the fresh bar of soap away, opens another bar
and washes his hands again.
neighbor is a gay man that he detests. The neighbor comes to Melvin’s apartment
to inquire about his lost dog. Melvin speaks to him through a cracked door with
the chain lock still secure. Little does the neighbor know that the dog is
missing because Melvin has dumped it down the trash chute in the apartment.
is locked in his apartment, the whole of the outside world being a place of
fear and danger. He sits in his apartment writing novels, spinning imaginary
tales that he can control. The reality of the actual world is threatening to
him beyond the imagining of it.
are often like that. In almost every teenage horror movie, there is one scene
where a beautiful young girl reaches slowly, ominously for the door, while the
whole audience screams. As the knob turns and the door cracks open, the monster
descends in a whoosh, blood covering the door.
grandparents had a third floor in their spacious house in the deep South. There
was a door with a stairway that led up to God knows what. My brother and I were
sure that some character like Boo Radley (from To Kill a Mockingbird)
was secretly housed on that floor. As small children, we would sneak to that
door, dare each other to open it, slowly peer to the top of the stairs, and
then run like the wind for Grandmother’s lap in the kitchen.
one of the fundamental lessons of the gospel is that we need not fear. Jesus
wants to come amongst us and grant us his peace. We are not alone. The Holy
Spirit is with us. And the doors that are in front of us don’t have to be
locked for fear. They have been consecrated in a way. The Christ has turned
them into portals to spiritual adventure. We have a hard time believing that in
a way that affects our behavior. We, like the disciples, need not only to be
empowered with the Spirit of God, but shooed out of the house to get going on
of us are pretty much like Bilbo Baggins at the beginning of the Hobbit,
by J.R.R. Tolkien. Bilbo was rather contented in his home with his little
rituals of breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and the evening by the fire. He was
quite happy until someone came to visit him and appeal to him for his help. Aid
in this case would require a rather long journey. At one point, Bilbo thinks to
himself that it would have been better had he not opened the door to this
stranger. If he didn’t know, then he wouldn’t have to act, and he could stay in
his home in contentment. But he does know and he can’t stay. With a sigh, he
shuts the door to his house, and starts off down a path that will lead him on a
life changing adventure.
you think about it, he is not all that different from Abraham and Sarah. We
have no indication from the text in Genesis that they felt any lack in their
lives. There is no necessity that they needed to fill a spiritual void or that
there was some moral burden that they wished to redeem. They are simply in Ur
when God comes to them with a rather risky spiritual adventure, the contours
they couldn’t possibly imagine in the beginning when they set off. They will be
tested to the depths of their character and they will also know moments of awe
filled joy. They will feel as abandoned as a fatherless child and they will
sense themselves to be blessed by God and a blessing to others. None of this
can they know at the beginning. But they start out through the door. Opening
the door is a root gesture of the meaning and reality of faith.
We have no indication but
that Moses was entirely content out in the desert in Midian. But one day, he
senses the presence of God while watching a bush burning in the wilderness and
he senses that God has heard the cries of his people enslaved down in Egypt.
Perhaps Moses was still hearing them too. He had been raised, though he was
Jewish, in the Pharoah’s home, with the best education and the finest life of
leisure, surrounded by the cries of his people who labored in bondage around
him. “I have heard their cries”, says God. “And I will deliver them.” Then
comes his part. God says, “I want you to go to Pharoah and tell him to let my
When you think of the life
of Moses, everything in his life had been preparing him for this moment. Who
better to speak to Pharoah than someone raised in Pharoah’s house? Who better
to speak on behalf of his people in a language that the Pharoah would
understand? But Moses couldn’t see this for the life of him at the moment. All
he could see were the things to be fearful about. He could be killed. He
couldn’t speak articulately. He didn’t have any military or religious retinue
to accompany him like other people of rank and power.
But think of the rest of his
life. The amazing trip that he made with his people; the way that they
stretched and grew in maturity; the profound conflicts with themselves,
confronting their moral weakness; making a covenant together around the Ten
Great Commandments; being privileged at the end of his life to take his people
to the edge of the Promised Land and though he was old and not able to make all
the way in to the Promised Land, being privileged to stand and gaze out upon it
at least once. I’ve been to a place that legend holds was where Moses viewed
the Promised Land. It indeed provides a majestic vista over Israel from the
South and is deeply moving. At any rate, to have that privilege is the last
wish of Old Men who, when they know they are going to die shortly, want to make
sure that they conclude their lives and not just quit them. And to be able to
look out on the Promise of the future and know that you have led people up to
this point is to know emotionally and spiritually that your life was worth
living, the adventure was worth the trials, and that you had lived for a
purpose that outlived you in a productive and fulfilling way. That is part of
being complete, (the same word we get for being saved in Greek).
Or the wonderful short story
in the Bible of the woman Ruth. She is not even Jewish but she was married to a
Jewish man and after he died, it became apparent that her mother-in-law would
not be able to live on her own and had no one else to take care of her. Ruth
just offered to do the right thing and take care of her mother-in-law. The
mother-in-law did not want to let her make such a huge sacrifice. She told
Ruth, you are a young woman and beautiful. Go back to your people, you have
fulfilled your obligation to me and been a fine daughter-in-law. Ruth comes
back to her, with a wonderful compassion and tenderness, says, “Where you go, I
will go. Your people will be my people.” How few of us ever have in-laws that
speak in such a way? What a blessing. What love.
And they start off together
on a journey that leads into completely alien land for Ruth. They have no
resources. They are just women, without any men to protect or sustain them. But
they get by. They take care of each other. And in the midst of all that
difficulty, Ruth meets a man named Boaz and a love story unfolds that the
Bible, in all its modesty, only hints at. But between the lines, it appears
that there was plenty of snap, crackle, and pop. Way leads to way and Ruth and
Boaz marry and things all come together in a startling way. When Ruth was old,
she must have said, what I often say, “If you had told me, when I was a child
in Mississippi, that one day I would stand on the walls of Troy with someone
reading from the Iliad with me, I would never believe it…” [Or that one day I
would be a minister… let alone a minister in a church in Jersey… or any church
where gay men and women could share a simple prayer request for their family…
it is those simple moments that catch me up every once in a while]. But once
you start out on the adventure, all kinds of amazing things happen.
Despite that, most of us are
rather like the disciples. We are locked behind our doors. We need Jesus to
come breath his blessing on us and cajole us out of the door, on our way to the
service that God would have us be about, and the life of abandoned investment
that brings us through faith to our fulfillment.
remember Melvin? He has to be cajoled out of his comfort zone as well. Like us,
he has to be hassled and cajoled before he ventures forth. His gay neighbor
gets badly beaten by a couple of thugs that come and burglarize his home.
Melvin goes next door to express his sympathy. The unthinkable happens. In the
rush of the moment, as his neighbor is being taken out to the hospital, the
neighbors ask Melvin to watch their dog. Melvin is ashen with anxiety and
dread, but he takes the dog nevertheless. The recuperation takes a couple of
weeks. During this time, Melvin develops a relationship with the dog and soon
the dog is the center of his life.
When his gay neighbor is
released from the hospital, Melvin has to face the prospect of giving the dog
back and he just can’t do it. He really, really likes the little dog. So he
does something even more radical, Melvin invites him to move into his
apartment. A small miracle is taking place as Melvin is opening up to others.
He is still an ass, to be sure, but there are substantive signs of change. He
gets more and more involved in helping with his neighbor’s recuperation. One day
a strange thing happens. He gets all the way to the elevator to run an errand
before he realizes that he forgot to lock his apartment door. He gets
this puzzled expression on his face as though he is looking into a mirror and
does not recognize his own visage. There is a long pause… It is like he has
been stymied by a light-shaft of grace and compassion that has left him dazed
for the moment. Befuddled by himself, he has become somewhat human. How in the
world did that happen?
In that moment, the Christ
comes to the disciples and says “Peace be with you”. Your defenses breached,
your guard let down, you will be okay anyway. With the Holy Spirit given to us
by the risen Christ, our doors of fear can be transformed into portals to
spiritual adventure. A future we could not have imagined can emerge before us.
At the end of his long tale
about Narnia, C. S. Lewis has Lucy and Edmund standing before the gates to
Narnia in wonder. Finally, they say "Dare
we? Is it right? Can it be meant for us?" But while they were standing thus a great
horn, wonderfully loud and sweet, blew from somewhere inside that walled garden
and the gates swung open.” Who
knows? We just might be that lucky too.
© 2001 .
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