Friday, June 11, 2021

Opening Up

 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline.  So be earnest and repent. 

     Here I am! I stand at the door  and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,  I will come in  and eat with that person, and they with me. 

-Jesus, Revelation 3:19-20 (NIV)

It’s a big weekend in Chicago. As I write this, Wrigley Field is full for a Cubs game since 2019. Shops and restaurants are at full capacity too. Masks aren’t required for those who have been vaccinated in most settings. If the traffic is any indication, people are leaving work early to take long weekends. Things are opening up.

     The same around church, too. Oh, we like to say that we never closed, and we didn’t. But there was a long while that we couldn’t get together in person. There was a long while that we were masked and distanced when we were together, waving at each other across the room but unable to shake hands, hug, or put a friendly hand on a shoulder as we talked. 

     Now we’re taking down signs around the building. We’re opening up pews that haven’t hosted a body in over a year. Hymn books and Bibles are going back in their racks. (A year ago, taking them out seemed like the smart thing to do.) Things are starting to look more like they did before we had ever heard of COVID-19. Oh, some of us will wear masks for a while yet, maybe a lot of us. Still, there’s a feeling of celebration in the air that I haven’t really felt in a while. 

     Things are opening up. 

     And we should celebrate. I’m happy for the business owners who have had to ride out something that they never imagined they’d have to deal with. I’m happy for families who can take long-delayed trips. I’m happy that there will be reunions, and that we can go to movies and restaurants again, and that homers will raise up cheers that only a crowd of 40,000 can create. 

     I’m happy that maybe our church is turning a corner too, that maybe some of us will take the opportunity to be present at worship physically for the first time in a long time. I imagine I’ll go to bed Saturday night wondering who I’ll get to see Sunday for the first time in a while. 

     Things are opening up. We should celebrate.

     So the last thing I want to do is pour cold water on this whole celebration deal. But then, isn’t that what preachers do? Isn’t it kind of in my job description to be a buzzkill?

     No, it just seems that way. Still, Jesus has something to say about opening things up, doesn’t he?

     While we celebrate — OK, maybe right after — let’s think about opening what Jesus most wants us to open.

     Revelation 3:20 is one of those verses that finds its way to our social media a lot. Taken by itself, it calls to mind pictures of a friendly Jesus who’s all smiles as he waits for us to open the doors of our hearts or whatever so that he can come in eat with us (whatever that means). In its larger context, though, Jesus has something very specific in mind. First of all, he’s speaking these words to a church that has some problems. It’s the last church on the list of churches that Jesus is speaking to in the second and third chapters of Revelation, seven churches in what was known as Asia at that time — now what we’d call Turkey. To most of those churches, Jesus has something good to say, in addition to some criticisms. But to the last church on the list, the church in the city of Laodicea, he can’t really find anything positive. They’re lukewarm, probably meaning that they hold to a weak version of faith while in many ways ignoring the obligations it places on them. They’re wealthy, which has given them the sense that they’re the masters of their own destiny, that they’re self-sufficient, that they have the world in the palm of their hand. They’re dealing with what’s almost always the dark side of wealth and prosperity: an overdeveloped sense of independence and underdeveloped sense of our own need. 

     “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked,” he says to this church.

     Church, the past year should have been a slow-motion reminder of our own wretchedness, pitifulness, blindness, and nakedness. 

     Just like everyone else, we’ve suffered sadness and depression at what we’ve lost.

     Just like everyone else, we’ve seen how inadequate we really are.

     Just like everyone else, we’ve been shown how blind we are to issues of race and class as fault lines that have opened in our country threaten to tear apart churches as well.

     Just like everyone else, we’ve seen — or should have seen — how much of the culture we’ve built and have placed such value on is worthless, turned to rags by one microscopic organism

     As we get back to normal, well, let’s not go back to normal.

     As we reopen our restaurants, our shops, or ballparks, our homes, our theaters…wait, what’s that knocking? Why is that one door over there still closed?

     “I stand at the door  and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door,  I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.” Jesus’ words to us are as relevant as they were to this church half a world away from us over two thousand years ago. As Jesus reminded that church, we need his riches so that we’ll stop being so hypnotized by our own. We need him to cover our shame, the shame of selfishness and greed and arrogance and immorality and injustice, of racism and sexism, the shame we’ve covered ourselves with by hating our political enemies and passing on lies that only serve those in power. We need him to open our eyes so that we can see our neighbor who we’re called to love, the hope of God’s kingdom, and the path that Jesus would have us walk in this world.

     These are hard words, as we’ve accomplished so much and been through so much: “You do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.” But Jesus speaks these words because he loves us. He wants us to be better, he knows we can be, and so he let us have it a little so maybe we’ll wake up. 

     “So be earnest and repent.” This is how we open the door. This is how we invite Jesus in to sit in our pews with us and change our lives. So as we celebrate reopening, let’s also take a moment to repent. Let’s lay before Jesus those things in our lives we’re not proud of, those hidden sins that have come out under the pressure of the pandemic. Say it with me, “We’re wretched, pitiful, poor, blind, and naked.” 

     Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ that he shares his riches, clothes our nakedness, opens our eyes.

     Whatever reopening gains us, it’s more of the same if we don’t invite him in.

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