A sermon delivered by Dr. Randy Hammer, March 13, 2016
Luke 9:51-56 ESV
Reading from Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
Most of us—sooner or later, at one time or another—find ourselves facing a closed door in life. Something happens to upset the status quo, and suddenly our world is turned upside down. Suddenly and without warning you are called into the boss’s office and you are dismissed. There have been company downsizing and the elimination of positions, or your job performance has not been up to par, you are told. So suddenly you are without a job and a way to support yourself. A closed door slammed in your face.
Or, you applied for what you felt was the perfect new position for you. You worked hard on the resume, you had what you felt was a good interview. You had your heart set on this new opportunity, and you just knew that you would be getting a call soon to discuss salary and benefits. But alas, instead of an offer, you get a “Dear John” form letter in the mail, thanking you for your interest in the position but informing you that another candidate has been chosen and you are wished well in finding the best position for you. You thought you had found it already; but they seemed not to concur. A closed door, slammed in your face.
I have shared before that I was not called by every church I applied to over the years. I have applied to be the minister of churches that I felt would have been a perfect fit for both the church and me. There were a couple of churches that I had my heart set on. I felt that my resume perfectly matched what they were looking for. But they didn’t seem to concur J . When those “Dear John letters” came in the mail, they threw me for a loop. It took a few weeks to reorient myself. A closed door. By the same token, I had a few churches contact me before we moved to Oak Ridge, wanting to talk seriously about become their minister. But I had a feeling in my gut that they were not good matches. So I closed those doors myself.
Someone close to us had her heart set on a Ph.D. program in psychology. She worked hard on her application and essay, and was invited for a weekend gathering at the university with the Psychology department and twenty-four other candidates. This was the new future she hoped to chart for herself. But she was not one of the five candidates that were chosen for the program. A closed door; big disappointment.
Someone else was heart-broken when his girlfriend broke off the relationship a few weeks before it was time for both of them to go away to college. Through sobs he confessed to me, “She was the one I wanted to marry.” A closed door.
Well, what got me to thinking about all of this was an article by Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, in the current issue of UU World. Peter shares how that even as a man of his position and standing, he has faced a few closed doors in his life. Morales shares, “My life, like yours, has had its ups and downs. More than once I have seen my cherished plans unravel. When I was in my twenties . . . The way seemed clear. I made plans and began to make them a reality. And then life happened—a war, a life-threatening illness, a move to a new city. I felt like a door had been slammed in my face.”1
Well, this reminded me that even Jesus faced a closed door on occasion. I was reminded of the passage that I read of how Jesus attempted to enter a Samaritan village, but “they would not receive him.” Would not receive him? Jesus? Yet, the reality is that happened more than once. Indeed, it might even be said that Jesus faced a closed door as he journeyed to Jerusalem. There, in the heart of the religious-political establishment, Jesus was rejected, humiliated, and crucified. If Jesus faced a closed door on occasion, then I don’t feel as bad that I have faced a few closed doors in my life. Few of us are exempt from a closed door of life every now and then.
And sometimes when way closes before us, we may feel a bit like Jesus’ disciples who wanted to call down fire from heaven and consume those who would not receive them, who had slammed a door in their faces. Anybody want to admit that on occasion you secretly wanted to call down fire from heaven upon those who slammed a life door in your face? Well, if you have, it is human nature. But we know that is not the way of Jesus. Luke says Jesus rebuked the disciples for their harsh attitude. Some ancient manuscripts add to the verse, and Jesus said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of; for the Son of Man came not to destroy people’s lives but to save them.”
When life slams a door in our face, we may be inclined to think, “Well, that’s it; that’s the end. All is hopeless. I might as well give up.” But one door closing doesn’t preclude another door opening. The Quakers have some wonderful beliefs and wonderful sayings in this regard. One Quaker saying that I love is “Way closes. Way opens.”
To elaborate, sometimes way closes for a good reason. That “perfect position” that you applied for may not have been so perfect after all. I am glad that some of the positions I applied for in life didn’t work out. I couldn’t see it at the time, but I could see it later: Going to some of those places would have been a big mistake. Some of those closed doors were places or positions for which we may not have been well suited. Or we might have actually been miserable there.
Sometimes when way closes a better way is about to open. In place of that position that was terminated, or that new position that was applied for but not received, a better came along shortly thereafter. After the end of that romantic relationship, the perfect mate came along. If I had been called to one of those positions that I applied to but did not receive, or if I had gone to one of those churches that contacted me, wanting me to become their minister, I would not have ended up in Oak Ridge at the United Church. And what a huge loss that would have been to Mary Lou and me!
And sometimes a closed door can provide us with guidance as well as an open door can. Parker J. Palmer, in his wonderful little book, Let Your Life Speak, shares some wonderful wisdom in this regard. Palmer relates how that when he was approaching middle age, he still didn’t know what he was supposed to do with his life. So he spoke to Ruth, “an older Quaker woman who was well known for her thoughtfulness and candor.”2 Palmer shared with Ruth how people kept telling him that way would open, but in spite of all his sitting in silence, praying, and listening for the calling, way was not opening. He lamented that he had been trying to find his vocation for a long time, and he still didn’t have the foggiest idea of what he was meant to do. Way might be opening for other people, but it sure wasn’t opening for him. Well, after a moment passed, Ruth finally replied, “a lot of way has closed behind me, and that’s had the same guiding effect.” So Palmer goes on to note, “there is as much guidance in what does not and cannot happen in my life as there is in what can and does—maybe more.”3 Then a few pages later he confesses, “When I try to do something that is not in my nature or the nature of the relationship, way will close behind me.”4 By the way, Palmer did find his calling, becoming a leader in a well-known Quaker retreat center and writer on the theory of education.
Peter Morales, likewise, goes on to share this in his article: “More than once in my life I have gotten stuck because I kept trying to go through a door that had closed. My attempts to stick to my dream (which had become a fantasy, really) prevented me from seeing other doors that were open all around me. First I had to let go of my plans . . . I had to stop pounding on a door that had shut. When I let go of my plans I was able to look around and see other opportunities and new possibilities.
“When I finally explored new ways open to me, I was able to see all kinds of paths—paths that turned out to be better for me than the path I had planned to follow. . . The door that slammed turned out to be a blessing.”5
Yes, the reality is most of us have or will face at least a few closed doors in our lifetimes. The good news is a closed door doesn’t have to be a bad thing, the end of the road, or the last word. The traditional Christian message is that Jesus’ closed door in Jerusalem led to the open door of Easter. We can take a lesson from that, as well as from the Quakers and try to be open-minded and have faith that when way closes, way—perhaps an even better way—will also open. May it be so for each of us. Amen.
- Peter Morales, UU World, Spring 2016, p. 5.
- Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2000, p. 38.
- Ibid, p. 39. Ibid, p. 47. Morales, p. 5.