Summary: Annual Theme sermon for 1989. Some of us have entered the fold by the back doors, for all the wrong reasons. We need to get that right, and then obey the Lord's invitation to bring others to the only door to the only fold.
One day as we/were here in the church building we heard a loud banging noise, as if somebody were trying to get inside the building. It was an insistent loud knocking, but at first we couldn't find out where it was coming from. Our secretary went down the hallway to the door on the alley, but it wasn't coming from there. I went out to the Aspen Street doors, but no one was there. Still the noise continued … knocking, banging, insistent. And our sexton found it: someone was down in the stair well that leads to the Social Hall from out here in the yard ... not the stairwell off the alley, but the stair well and door that comes off the yard and directly into the Social Hall. It took us a long time to find the man who was there, because he was using a back door, a door we very seldom use ourselves and we just didn't expect anybody to be there.
As it turned out, he was a transient, one of the folks who come through here from time to time looking for a little help, and I don't quite know how he got around there to the back or why he picked that door to enter. It seems out of the way and obscure. But I do see a certain symbolism in it. I see a kind of message in it.
I see, quite possibly, a man who didn't think he was good enough to enter the front door. I see, very probably, a person a little confused, a little disoriented from all his trials. He just didn't have the lay of the land. I see, more than that, somebody who maybe just didn't know his way around churches, didn't have a feel for the way most churches are laid out, didn't have the ability to figure out where he should go. And so, when it came down to it, when he needed the help of the church, he just banged away on any door ... any door, back, front, side, alley, service entrance, whatever. It didn't matter. Any door will do when you hurt, and you will take any avenue you can to get help.
I say I see a symbolism and a message in that little incident. I see that as in part the way the world relates to the church, and I see it too as a signal for the mission of the church to the world. It is to have people enter by the front door. What we want to have happen ... we want to invite men and women of all walks of life to enter, but to enter by the front door.
Let me lay out what I am saying in a Biblical context. Let me speak to you of the door of the church, the front door, not in my own little parables, but in the great parable of the sheepfold as taught by Jesus. You’ll find it in the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John.
John 10:1-11, 16
In this parable Jesus uses two pictures to describe himself. He calls himself the door, and he also calls himself the good shepherd. Actually these two pictures may be only one picture, but for right now I want us to focus on Jesus the door to the sheepfold, the front door.
He tells us that He himself is the door to the sheepfold, that if anyone will enter by this door, he will be saved, and he also tells us that those who enter by any other way than the door are not there legitimately. They are thieves and robbers, He says.
"Truly, truly, I say to you I am the door of the sheep … I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved ... he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber."
I am the door ... the front door.
You know, people join churches for all sorts of reasons. All kinds of things motivate people to get on the church rolls. In some communities if you are not a church member you are just not socially acceptable; all the right people are in church. In fact the righter people are in the First Baptist Church or the Cathedral Episcopal Church or whatever. You know how it is … that some churches are very upper-crustish, and it's just good manners to be in that church.
Other folks join churches for business reasons; you'll make the right contacts. Some join churches to satisfy a need for friendship and fellowship. I do not read the advice columnists very much, but when I do I find that they are all the time telling folks who feel lonely to find a church where they can meet people. I don't really put that down ... I don't throw that out altogether. When I was in campus ministry I used to remind those husband-seeking young ladies that they might just find the right kind of fellow on the pew next to them; ah ha, I see you out there sneaking a look at who's sitting next to you! But it's true that sometimes people join churches for romantic or social reasons.