Summary: The pastor has two roles that must not be reduced -- a gatekeeper to guard against useless ideas and hateful attitudes, and a gateopener to let in God's surprises.
Do you think the Lord has a sense of humor? I do. I see a delicious little coincidence that God’s word drops in our laps today.
Some of us remember a 70’s TV program, the Mary Tyler Moore show. If you remember that program, you will recall that sweet, nice, loveable Mary lived in an apartment building, where there was a neighbor named Rhoda. Rhoda was many of the things that Mary was not. Rhoda was bold, brassy, loud, dipsy. Many of the scenes involving Rhoda also involved the disembodied voice of Carlton the doorman. You never saw Carlton; you only heard his flat, expressionless voice, announcing to Rhoda that this or that peculiar person was at the door. Rhoda always had to make a decision about whether Carlton should let in the latest crazy. It was a constant battle of the wits – what you say and what you do with the folks at the gate.
I don’t know whether the producers of the Mary Tyler Moore show had ever read the New Testament. I don’t know whether their choice of the name Rhoda for this character had anything to do with the Rhoda who appears in the Book of Acts. But I am absolutely certain that they could never have predicted the delicious coincidence for us when they selected to play the character of Rhoda an actress named Valerie. Valerie Harper as Rhoda constantly dealt with bizarre happenings at the front door. And the Reverend Vallerie today becomes your Rhoda, your gatekeeper and your gateopener. The delightful little story of Rhoda in the Book of Acts provides us with wonderful insights for today.
Let me remind you of the occasion. The apostle Peter had been thrown into jail by King Herod. This meant a crisis for the church in Jerusalem. And so while Peter languished in jail, the church went into a nonstop prayer meeting to intercede. While they prayed and asked God to set Peter free, dramatic things happened in the jail – chains fell from Peter’s wrists, doors opened, guards went to sleep – and it was not long before Peter was at the gate of the house where the church was meeting. The one-time prisoner knocked at the gate, and young Rhoda left the prayer meeting long enough to answer his knock. When she heard Peter’s voice, she was so astonished that she forgot to open the door, but ran back in to tell the others that their prayers had been answered. Now since the others didn’t see Peter, but just saw one worked-up, excited, stirred-up Rhoda, they told her she’d lost her ever-loving mind.
I want you to catch the spirit of this passage. I want to use it to put into context the work of your Rhoda-Vallerie, your pastor, your gatekeeper and gateopener.
Somebody has to be the gatekeeper for the church. Somebody has to take on the task of maintaining the security of a church. I am not talking about the church building. I am talking about the church itself, the spiritual fellowship. Your pastor must be the gatekeeper, to establish the church as a people of prayer, to keep out things that do not belong here.
When the little Jerusalem church heard what had happened to Peter, they knew it meant crisis for them. So they pulled themselves together to go into prayer, and they locked the gate of the house against the world. Sometimes that has to be done. Sometimes the principalities and powers that are ranged against God’s work are strong, and must refocus, you must gather energy, you must leave everything else aside and pray. Over the coming years, there will be times when you will not know what to do. You will not understand the storms that strike you. At times like those, let your pastor be your gatekeeper. Let her gather you in prayer and keep away from you those things that do not belong.
You know, there is a temptation that besets all churches at one time or another, and that is the temptation to adopt the newest fad, pick up the latest gimmick, do the trendiest thing, all in the name of success. And indeed, I am one who is in favor of trying new things. I push for change. Some of the folks here today know that at our church in Washington, they shake their heads over me and tell me that all they ever hear from me is change, change, change. I believe that today’s church must change, or else it will die.
And yet, the pastor is a gatekeeper. The pastor needs to bar the gate against things that are merely new, merely trendy, merely fashionable. Your pastor is trained for that. She knows the Bible; she understands what is healthy and what is not. She has a grasp of the long history of the Christian movement; she can perceive phony theologies and wrong ideas. She is immersed in pastoral skills; she can hear your hearts, but at the same time warn you against destructive behavior. Your pastor is your gatekeeper. You need to trust her to guard your church against things that are not healthy.