Sermon for Feb. 10, 2019 -- “WHY CHURCHES HAVE DOORS”


-a sermon preached by Terry McGinley 2-10-2019 Pardeeville

(Isaiah 6:1-8 and Ephesians 2:11-22, “The Message”)


          I like all of the call stories in the Bible…Old Testament…New Testament…it doesn’t matter.  And I think we can learn a great deal from these stories.  One of the things we see over and over in biblical call narratives is struggle.  The people God calls to serve rarely jump at the chance.  Which means, more often than not, they act a lot like we do.  This is good news because look how well the people in the Bible turned out!   I’m thinking that most of us would be able to relate to one of the Bible’s call stories.  Me?  I see myself vividly in the call of Samuel (1Samuel 3:1-10)…but that’s a sermon for another day.  Much like we might do, Isaiah or Jeremiah or Ezekiel or Moses tried to find an excuse that would prove to God that they weren’t the right person for the job.  They told God they weren’t qualified in some way, or they weren’t willing, or they just weren’t interested.  Isaiah, who we heard this morning, has an excuse of his own…but he ultimately comes around to accept God’s call in a unique way. 

          Isaiah finds himself in God’s presence and begins his excuse even before God asks the question!  Isaiah goes to the temple, the place where people gathered to find and experience God.  For most of his time at the temple though, Isaiah is nothing more than a passive observer.  This particular day and certainly this experience for Isaiah are quite different though.  The atmosphere at the temple that day was unlike anything he had seen before.  As Isaiah describes it, it sounds like he’s dreaming.  God is in the temple ruling in glory, wearing long flowing robes.  Quite a majestic sight!  There are these wacky six-winged creatures flying around.  The building is shaking and smoke, presumably from burning incense, is filling the temple.  It is a frightening experience.  Even for us, being in God’s presence here in worship is one thing.  Seeing what God is doing in our lives, giving thanks, asking forgiveness, lifting others in prayer…those all seem fine.  But should we come face to face with God that would be a completely different thing, wouldn’t it?  How would we feel if this building started to shake?  If the whole place filled with smoke?  If there were angels flying around praising God? 

          But that’s the situation Isaiah describes today in the passage we heard this morning.  And, as all these things are happening around him, Isaiah feels compelled to say something.  I don’t know about you but, if I were to come face to face with the creator of the universe I don’t think I would be able to say anything.  I might not be able to move or even stand up.  If I could somehow summon the courage to speak to God, I might say something along the same lines as Isaiah.  Isaiah tells God, “I am doomed because everything I say is sinful and I live among a sinful people.”  There are a lot of words that we can use to describe our relationship with God—friend, redeemer, creator, guide, and many more.  Yet, in the very real presence of God, when we can feel God like the shaking of the temple, when we get real close to God, all we can talk about is how we have not lived up to God’s expectations!

          In our story this morning, God prepares Isaiah through a service of confession and pardon.  Isaiah confesses his sinfulness and God graciously offers forgiveness.  And this act of grace has a profound impact on Isaiah.  It changes his whole experience at the temple.  Rather than paralyzing him, it energizes Isaiah to be able to respond to the call God offers him.  God asks a question of everyone who’s gathered at the temple.  God asks, “Whom shall I send?”  In a matter of moments, God’s mercy transforms Isaiah from “I’m doomed.” to “Send me!”  That is the power of God’s grace, yesterday, today, and tomorrow.  Even now, in a very similar way, we come to worship and are changed in the process.  We are energized by God’s Spirit when we’re here and sent out into the world.

          The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians touches on forgiveness as well.  Paul reminds the church at Ephesus that, because Christ has paid our penalty for sin, all people have become a new family.  So we get to treat each other as family.  This was something the Jews struggled with.  They were fine with other Jews, but they seemed to go out of their way to disassociate themselves from anyone else.  Paul writes to tell them that things are different now.  The Christians at Ephesus were Gentiles themselves once.  In this short time, they have gone from knowing nothing about God, from not having the faintest idea who Jesus is, from having no knowledge of God’s promises, to knowing about everything.  It is a transformation patterned after that of Isaiah.

          Paul goes on to explain that there is no longer insider and outsider, no longer Jew and Gentile.  No longer are their different sets of laws for different people.  That’s all been done away with.  Instead of two groups of people, there is a fresh start, a new society, where everyone is treated the same.  The difference-maker is Jesus Christ.  He treated all people as equals.  He shared the same Spirit with everyone.  Because of Jesus Christ, there are no longer any strangers.  Everyone is a part of the group.  God is building a family and God is using all of us to help build this family, regardless of how we have come to believe. 

          As I was thinking about these two scriptures this week, I looked for what would help to make it possible for a diverse group of folks to come together and also allow each individual in that group the ability to go out.  The common denominator are the doors of our church.  Church doors provide us these opportunities because they open and they do so from either direction.  When church doors open from the outside, they permit each one of us to come in.  When church doors open from the inside, they allow each of us to reenter the world.

          Doors that open from the outside make it easier for people to enter the church.  Doors make it easier for all people to come in, members of our church, friends, visitors, those seeking a church home…everyone.  And as we all gather here, we are transformed into a community of faith…one family.  It may not be the exact same group from week to week but that doesn’t matter.  When we gather here on Sunday mornings, we become a single family.  Doors that open are a clear sign of welcome…to those who come in to Sunday morning worship and even to those who pass by.  Open doors mean we are no longer sealed from our community and our community is no longer sealed from us.  We are free to mingle together, to be God’s instruments in growing this “one family” that Paul described in his letter to the Ephesians.  And, weather permitting, when we prop the doors of our church building open, people passing by can listen to the music and hear the singing during the worship service.  They can hear the prayers we offer to God, prayers for each other, prayers for our community and for the world, prayers for God’s help.  When people see that our doors are propped open on a Sunday morning, it is a sign that something is going on around here…that people are gathering for some purpose. 

          But, you know, if all we did was come to church on a Sunday morning and forget everything about it for the rest of the week, we wouldn’t be honoring the partnership God has offered us.  We wouldn’t be building that one family.  We come through those open doors to gather in community in the presence of God.  We hear the stories in scripture, we confess our sin and receive pardon from a gracious God, but our church doors allow us to do something else.  They allow us to go out!  We come to worship…we are transformed in some way and we go out from this building through those same open doors.  God has called us to be witnesses to the things we experience here.   

          Moving freely through doors that open is a similar experience to the one Isaiah described.  We come into God’s presence.  We sense that God is among us.  We praise God.  We receive God’s forgiveness.  And, at the end of our worship service, we are sent out into the world.  That’s why my favorite part of the worship service is the benediction…the way we close our worship services.  We come here perhaps thinking that God is unhappy with us, for something we’ve done, or for something we have failed to do.  What we find instead when we get here is a God who is gracious beyond our wildest expectations.  Then, as we ponder whom God will send to go out into the world to bring this good news to others, we can shout, “Send me!”

          Yes, we come here on a Sunday morning and we come into God’s presence.  We can feel God’s presence when we’re here.  Rarely though, is it the kind of experience that Isaiah describes.  There’s usually no smoke or shaking…hopefully…and there’s never any flowing robes!  But that doesn’t mean we cannot experience God when we’re here.  Here, we discover a God that forgives.  A God that is our best friend.  A God willing to keep us company through illness, diagnosis, treatment and recovery and a God who sends us a whole lot of reminders of God’s presence in our lives.  We discover a God who has given us blessing upon blessing, who has given us gifts for ministry to share with others, and who has made us part of God’s one family.

          These are the things we carry with us as we go out from this place through open doors.  We remember that everyone in our community is part of God’s family.  We see that there is nothing different about us.  That was Paul’s message to the young church at Ephesus.  It is no longer us against them.  We are all “us”!  We go out to meet the members of our community where they are, in the things they are involved in.  We find out what God is already doing in their lives and we find a way to join in.

          So we’ll continue to keep our doors opening in both directions.  People will be able to come in.  People will be able to go out.  Those doors are symbols of who we are and who we wish to be…coming together to worship a generous, loving, and caring God…going out to serve others in God’s name.  When we do, we share our idea of who God is with others.  And we’ll find that people aren’t different.  People are the same.  They all belong to the family that God has created.  So go ahead, walk out the door today and be God’s partner in transforming others.  Thanks be to God!      


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