A sermon delivered by Rev. Dr. Randy Hammer, September 13, 2015
Matthew 7:7-11; Revelation 3:7-8 CEB
“I have set in front of you an open door that no one can shut.” ~Revelation 3:8 CEB
Perhaps you remember that black & white television game show, Let’s Make a Deal, that gave away prizes, but the prizes were behind three closed doors. So the contestants could not see what they were getting. They had to choose between Door Number One, Door Number Two, or Door Number Three. And then they were stuck with whatever prize—or lack of prize—was behind that closed door. Well, how much better in life when we have open doors so that we can actually see what lies there, and can make an educated decision, as it were. But often in life the doors we are faced with are not open doors. At various times we are faced with closed doors, not really knowing how things will go if we decide to enter through them.
Take, for instance, that new job or position. When it comes to changing jobs, there are times in life when we may be faced with more than one possibility—two different places of employment present themselves at about the same time. Both Mary Lou and I have been there once upon a time, and you may have been there too. And you had to choose which door, or job, you wanted to pursue. Most often we may think we are peering into a wide open door when we accept a new position, but often we only see the most visible, surface, aspects of that position. Often there is the hidden fine print, or office politics, or difficult personalities, or problems with the company that you don’t see until you have chosen and walked through that door and committed yourself to it.
Several years ago, I was contacted by two different churches in the same state within a week or so of one another, wanting me to become their minister. So I was faced with a two-church-door dilemma. I chose the one that seemed to fit me and our family best; that looked most promising at the time. But after I committed to that church and actually moved and started to work, within two weeks I realized there were internal problems that weren’t visible from outside the interviewing door. One problem was there were several personality clashes and cliques that were constantly at each other’s throats. And the second problem was at the first board meeting it came to light that the congregation was $14,000 in the red. No savings or CDs, but $14,000 in the red. My young ministerial skills were tested right off the bat. Perhaps some of you could tell a similar story. I repeat what I said earlier: How good when in life we are faced with wide open doors, so that we can really see what lies across the threshold!
Well, Jesus talked about doors. And Jesus spoke of the need to go in search of doors of opportunity, and the need to go knocking on doors. “Search, and you will find,” Jesus said. “Whoever seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door is opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). Rarely in life do doors of opportunity come to us; rarely do they just show up on our doorsteps, so to speak. Those who are successful in life are the ones who have gone searching for doors of opportunity and have knocked on those doors, probably repeatedly.
John the Revelator, speaking for Jesus, also spoke of an open door. “I have set in front of you an open door . . . “ (3:8 CEB) John quotes Jesus as saying to the church in Philadelphia. Now, if you have ever studied the Book of Revelation, you may remember that it was an apocalyptic letter that was originally addressed to seven different churches in Asia near the end of the first century. The letters were addressed to an “angel” or “messenger” in each of the seven churches. The church located at Philadelphia received one of the most positive letters of the seven. But the pertinent point for today’s purposes is the fact that there was given to the Church of Philadelphia an “open door of opportunity” for outreach, growth and development. In spite of the smallness of the church at Philadelphia, they had great potential and a great opportunity lay before them.
Such is the way it happens periodically in the course of different churches’ histories—every now and then, an open door of opportunity presents itself. And when that door of opportunity comes along, it behooves churches to take advantage of it; to walk through it.
Such words might have been addressed to this United Church. For all practical purposes, we are a small church. But in spite of our smallness, our “little power” to use John’s terminology, we have great potential. And I believe at least a couple of wide open doors have presented themselves to this United Church of late.
The first wide-open door of opportunity is the interest and increased participation of young families with children. There was a time not too many years ago when it was difficult for this church to attract young families with children because we had so few young families with children participating. In order to have a strong children and youth program, you need critical mass. So the lack of children and youth and the desire to attract children and youth can become a catch 22. You need to attract families with youth and children, but it is difficult to attract families with youth and children if you only have a handful of youth and children already participating. We lost a couple of families with children and youth because of that.
But thankfully, as the result of the hard work, dedication, and creativity in our Sunday school and Education, and children’s and youth departments, things have turned around. It is not uncommon now to have 15 or 20 children come up for the children’s sermon and then go to Sunday school. As noted in the “Chapel Chimes”, on one Sunday recently, we had 28 children and youth in attendance at the 10 o’clock service, constituting about 30% of the attendance that day. So we now have an open door of opportunity to really do some good work with children and youth and their families as we have a good foundation to build upon. We want to continue to walk through that open door and follow where it leads us.
A second wide open door of opportunity of late is the Alexander Guest House Assisted Living Facility that will soon open. Ever since I arrived here in 2008, and long before that, the old Alexander Guest House was a tremendous liability to this church. The old, dilapidated building turned many potential members away, I am convinced. Because the first thing to be seen upon turning off Kentucky Avenue was not this Chapel, but that old, run-down eyesore of a building. But now, with its renovations almost complete, the Guest House presents an open door of opportunity to us.
A few weeks ago, I had a meeting with the Executive Director and Activities Director, and we discussed ways that we can partner together for our mutual benefit. The Guest House should be good for our church, and our church should be good for them. They are eager to get their residents up here who want to attend our services. And they are eager to partner with our Nursery School and plan special events—such as having seasonal crafts or parties for the children—and invite the children down to interact with the residents. And we are willing to go down and lead devotional services or present slideshow programs and the like. We have been presented with a wonderful open door of opportunity to welcome some of their residents to our services and fellowship events; some of them who already have historic ties to this Chapel; some who may actually end up becoming members of this United Church.
So today, on this Homecoming Sunday, we express gratitude for the positive situation we find ourselves in today. There are so many good things happening, so many wonderful possibilities awaiting us, so much potential to be realized. And there are wonderful wide-open doors of opportunity set before us. But having doors, and even knocking on doors, is not enough. Once those doors of opportunity open, you have to actually walk through them. May we joyously walk through those wide-open doors together! Amen.