Things to keep open: doors, scriptures, minds | April 15 

Text: Luke 24:36-49

Around this time of year about a decade ago, Abbie and I and little Eve and even littler Lily were waiting, hopefully, for thousands of small openings in the soil of our backyard.  We had just bought a house in Cincinnati that winter.  The house fit our needs just fine, but the backyard needed some love.  The previous September, during the windstorms of Hurricane Ike, before we owned the house, a massive silver maple from our yard had fallen across several properties.  Many of the branches and cut up pieces of trunk were returned to the yard we’d purchased.

Also the family who lived there before us had a large playset roughly the size of a McDonalds play land.  It had taken up a good chunk of yard.  A neighbor later told us they were pretty sure it actually was a used McDonalds play land set.  It was gone, but its large footprint was grassless.

We cut, chopped and stacked the silver maple, and rototilled the yard that wasn’t actually a yard to loosen up the soil.  We spread grass seed, threw out some straw covering, and welcomed the rain that soon came.  Moisture and warmth from the sun was all it took to open up all those small seeds.  With some assistance from us, nature did its thing enabling the seeds to open: to shoot down into the ground with some roots and up into the air toward the sun.  Those thousands of openings provided a turf for playing for the following years.

From Easter to Pentecost, the season we’re in now, a similar kind of opening is happening for the disciples.  The risen Jesus has this limited time to open his followers to a new reality.  To crack the shell of their fear.  To put them in a position where they can take firm root and thrive and grow.  The process of being cracked open is not an easy one for the disciples to undergo.  It is met with skepticism and disbelief.

In the story from Luke, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples the evening of the resurrection, we can note three different openings taking place.  So let’s consider each of these:

Open Doors. 

Luke doesn’t emphasize this as much as John, but if we take John’s version into account we are told that the disciples’ initial encounter with the risen Christ happens behind closed doors, or, locked doors to be more precise.  With the public execution of their leader only two days in the past, they’d found a relatively safe place to huddle so they wouldn’t be found out as members of the Jesus movement.  But then, at some point in their huddling, Jesus came and stood among them.  Luke and John do agree on Jesus’ initial words to them.  “Peace be with you.”  They also agree on the theme of Jesus’ message – The Spirit of God will come to you, and you’re going to open wide these doors and start doing my work everywhere you happen to be, even in the far corners of the world.

It’s quite a shift.  Quite a change from closing the doors.

Living with the doors open means the disciples will encounter people and situations they couldn’t anticipate.  Like Peter and John who, on their way to the temple, cross paths with a man who can’t walk.  Or Phillip who, while on the road, had a run-in with the treasury secretary of Ethiopia, the eunuch who was on his way to Jerusalem to worship.  Or later when Peter starts walking through the open doors of Gentile homes, and discovering that the Spirit shows up in all sorts of off the map kinds of places.  In the power of the Spirit the disciples go from being closers and lockers of doors, to being door openers.

I have to interject here that there are many good reasons for closed doors.  One of the great reliefs of spring is that I can let up on my vigilance of reminding people in our household significantly younger than me to shut the door when they’re coming and going.  So simple yet so rarely done.  I also have this thing with keeping bedroom doors closed at night.  I have difficulty falling asleep if our bedroom door isn’t closed.  Like I need the cocoon fully sealed shut.  Where it borders on slightly pathological is that I also don’t like it if the girls’ bedroom doors are open, so on my final evening rounds, that’s on the checklist.  There’s some kind of peace of mind when everyone is sealed up temporarily in their own cocoon.  My theory to explain away the pathology is that it’s only when we take care to have some closed door time that we can joyfully engage in open door time.

But most of our days are most likely spent behind closed doors.  Doors at home, doors at work, and doors on the cars that transport us from home to work.  Part of our calling is to find ways to make closed doors open.  When we welcome people into our home, or into our office, or into our church building, there is a sense in which we are welcoming Christ.  All who pass through the door make the place holy ground.  We break bread together, we share thoughts and stories.  We collaborate on projects.  We welcome in those we love and those who are difficult to love, and those we barely know.  The book of Hebrews picks up on this theme.  It says, “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.”  The experience of the risen Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit had the effect of enabling the disciples to recognize that everyone who crossed their path was in some way a piece God.

Keeping the door open gives us less control over who or what may come across our paths.  Open doors enable Christ to wander in and say, “Peace be with you.”

Open Scriptures

Luke 24:45 says “Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.”  In this case, scriptures means the Hebrew Scriptures, what we sometimes call the Old Testament.  The Law, the prophets, and the Psalms and Writings.  Something recorded by previous generations about their encounter with God that the disciples had available to them.  Tellling about creation, covenants, teachings, sayings of wisdom, praising and lamenting.  Expressing longings for justice.  Telling the story of the people of Israel who move from slavery to wilderness to promised land, through judges and kings and wars and prophets and exile and return.

All of this, Jesus opens up to them.  They already know what it says.  Have heard the stories from their youth.  Perhaps memorized whole chunks of passages as was more common in oral cultures.  They already were plenty familiar with these scriptures.  But with Jesus in the room, this time, they see scripture as if for the first time.

What is going on here is just as instructive for us as it was for the disciples.  What is being offered is a particular way of reading scripture and the tradition we have inherited – of reading history.  For the disciples, over however long a stretch of time it took to sink in, the suffering Christ, the one who identified with the least of these, the dying and rising Christ for whom death was not the end, becomes the primary narrative of every narrative.  The life of Jesus becomes the primary way of reading every other life, every part of scripture.  In other words, we read everything from now on as if Jesus is in the room.

The “New” Testament reads everything as if he had always been in the room.  Christ was in the room at creation, the word that was to become flesh, as John’s gospel says.  He was in the room when Abram and Sarai were promised that their offspring would become a blessing to all nations.  He was in the room when Jeremiah spoke about a new covenant that God would write on the people’s hearts.  He was in the room when Isaiah spoke about the servant of the Lord who was anointed to preach good news to the poor.  And this presence then and now effects how we see things.

The lowly and weak of each story turn out to have much more in common with Christ than the mighty and powerful.  Certain codes and laws that served to separate the righteous from the unrighteous turn out to be less important.  Acts of kindness and compassion turn out to be signs of good news, even if they happen through people and places formerly considered outsiders and outside.

We have come to call this a Christo-centric reading of Scripture.  Christ becomes the organizing principle through which all teachings are interpreted.

And so if Jesus is in the room, it affects how we interpret our culture.  How we read the events going on around us.  Open Scriptures means the story is still being written.

Open Minds

In some ways, talking about open minds is a little redundant after talking about open doors and open scriptures.  Luke does pair open minds and open scriptures together when he says that “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scripture.”  It might be something like the proverbial chicken and the egg question – which comes first?  The open door or the open mind?  The open mind or the open scriptures?  By the way, there were eggs long before there were chickens.  So the egg came first.  But, the first chicken was a slight mutation from an egg laid by a non-chicken, so a chicken at least came before chicken eggs.  But this is a different conversation.

It could be the case that the open mind comes first, and leads us toward open doors and open scriptures.  Having an open mind is a fairly common phrase that we’ve tossed around for a while.  And a lot of people seem to agree it’s a good kind of mind to have.  Open-mindedness may be enough of a catch-all term that we don’t put a lot of thought into what it actually requires to have an open mind.  Has open mindedness been reduced to just mean liberal?  Can one be an open-minded conservative?  Something even this basic gets politicized.  Hopefully an open mind can mean something beyond ideology.  Beyond where we come down on any particular political or theological issue.

Having an open mind could be another way of saying that we are listening.  We are listening, and we’re willing to take in new ideas.  And we’re willing to take in old ideas.  There’s room to allow all those things inside of us.  The boundary between where I end, and not-I begins is an open boundary.  We keep a particular identity, and certain core convictions, but we recognize our identity to be fluid.  To be incomplete.  To be needing more.

It could also be the case that open doors and open scriptures come first, and only then can the mind really open.  I like the way this works because it means that our actions and relationships shape our thoughts.  Rather than thinking our way to right action, we act our way to right thinking.  We keep our doors open, we allow Christ to open the scriptures to us, and this shapes our thinking.  The people we encounter, the ways we discover Christ present around us, open up new ways of thinking and new ways of seeing the world.  We have to deal with unexpected relationships, unanticipated life decisions.  Our minds must adapt, be flexible.  We must listen.

In this season of spring and Easter resurrection we look for the ways that we are being opened up.  Cracked open, growing, receiving the Spirit of God.

Open doors.  Open Scriptures.  Open minds.