Summary: For deacon ordination: God has provided the wide door through which all may come, but also the narrow gate that calls for discipline and setting boundaries.
We seem to be fast coming to the place where we will scarcely have to deal with people at all. We can just deal with computer-driven machines to get what we want.
I frankly cannot remember when I have dealt with a bank teller. I just roll up to an Automatic Teller Machine, punch in a few numbers, and do my banking at a terminal, which does not restrict itself to banker's hours, which does not ask to see my driver's license, and, best of all, does not command me to have a nice day after informing me that my balance is low! I prefer the automatic teller.
The service station where I usually fill up my car's gasoline tank is now equipped with automatic credit card readers. I just push my card in, fill up the tank, and in a few seconds after I am finished I have in my hand a neatly printed receipt with my name and account number on it. No shouting through a Plexiglas safety window; no fumbling with a pen in freezing weather; no hazy attempts to remember my car's license tag number; and, best of all, no waiting while the attendant carries on his social life via telephone. I prefer the automatic gasoline pump.
Now more and more there is another automatic device that I find helpful. And that is the automatic door opener. You find automatic door openers at the grocery, for example, so that the door swings wide for you and your loaded grocery cart. You find automatic door openers at the airport, so that you have that extra half-second to your credit when you are about to miss your flight. You find automatic door openers in a variety of places where people are expected to have their hands full or where they will be in a hurry, and just can't take the time to be bothered with the usual ways of opening doors.
All of these devices have one thing in common. You don't have to interact with people. You don't have to be bothered with people. You just approach them and use them. You just approach, or touch the right buttons, or slide in the right card, and it's done for you. No human touch at all.
God, I want you to know, has installed a kind of automatic door opener. Our God has created for us an entry that is barrier-free and easy to use.
But there is a difference. There is something about God's door opener that is not like the automatic door opener you went through at the grocery yesterday.
God's automatic door opener is highly personal. Not at all just mechanical, but highly personal.
And second, God's door opener requires discipline. It is not just a convenience. It requires discipline.
Listen to the Lord Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount and notice how He puts together two very different references to doors and gates. Notice how what He says about entering these doors, these gates, has a built-in tension:
A built-in tension.
On the one hand, God's door is automatic and easy to enter. "For everyone who knocks, the door will be opened." Easy enough, it would seem.
But on the other hand, "Enter through the narrow gate ... the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it."
It's easy to enter the Kingdom, and yet it's hard. The door is open to everyone, and yet there are few who find it.
What do we do with this tension?
First, we need to see that God's automatic door opener is highly personal. It is not just mechanical. To come to God and enter His kingdom, we do have to ask. We do have to interact with Him. We cannot just plug in our little spiritual credit cards and expect everything to swing wide for us. The kingdom of God is highly personal, it is a relationship with the living God.
And so Jesus not only speaks of knocking and having the door of opportunity opened for us. He also speaks of asking and receiving. He speaks of children receiving gifts from a loving father. He speaks of a deeply personal relationship.
You see, our problem is that we think of the kingdom of heaven as some kind of automatic deal into which we put a little time and energy, and we get what we want without interaction, without personal involvement. Our problem is that we want automatic religion ... we'd like to think that we can be saved by doing the right things and pushing the right buttons. But God's automatic door opener is a personal relationship with Him, and nothing else.
People will sometimes tell me, "No, I haven't attended worship for a long time. But I've been sending in my offerings. I do give."