Sunday, May 3, 2020 “The Door with The Swinging Hinge”
Click the WATCH icon to join us for Worship Online Sunday Morning, May 3, 2020 with Pastor Erik Goehner
THANK YOU TO TODAY’S WORSHIP ASSISTANTS & PARTICIPANTS:
Sermon: Pastor Erik· The Door with the Swinging Hinge
Videographer and Editing: Anna Liljas
Richard Ferrin · guitar solo
Jim and Susie Wilber · Going to Build My Life
Virginia Walters · How Great Thou Art
Richard and Wanda Ferrin · One Thing Remains
Staff from Lutheran Retreats, Camps & Conferences· I Don’t Want to be a Sheep
Choristers: Annika Ekenstam · Alice Freeberg · Emma Stafford
(Note: The Choristers musical piece was recorded before the pandemic and physical distancing requirements)
Reader: Joan Cressman · Acts 2:42-47 + John 10:1-10
Offering Testimony: Sheri Groenveld, Harbor House Lunch Program at Holy Trinity
The Door with the Swinging Hinge John 10:1-10
May 3, 2020
If you look closely at the ways Jesus uses symbols to try to get across his point, you will soon discover that he really liked to mix metaphors. The reading we just heard from John chapter ten is a prime example of this. In the span of just a few verses, Jesus describes himself as a shepherd, a gatekeeper, and a voice. But the one he seems to really emphasize is that he is like a gate. Twice he repeats this in verses seven and eight when he says, “I am the gate.”
When we think about a gate, chances are we have the image of a barnyard gate or perhaps we think of a gate with a white picket fence in front of a house. But these are probably not the kinds of gates that Jesus had in mind as he was giving his symbolic description to his listeners. In fact, the Greek word that was used in the original writings of John is the word “thura” which more literally means door or doorway.
So what Jesus may have more accurately said is, “I am a door or an entrance way.” This is probably because a sheep pen in the world of Jesus, looked different than what we are used to seeing in the American countryside. There was not as much lumber available in land of Palestine, so the fence may have been made of stone. It may not even have had a gate on the entrance. This meant the shepherd might have sat or slept in the entrance way, acting as a kind of living door to keep the sheep inside and to protect them from possible predators.
You can see then what Jesus could have been referring to when he says “I am the door.” He could have been bringing this picture of the brave shepherd to the minds of those who lived in that culture.
If we take this symbol of the door into our modern culture, what kind of door might Jesus be? First of all, let me say what kind of door I think Jesus is not.
I don’t think Jesus is the kind of door that would be shut in someone’s face if they were looking to go inside. I don’t think Jesus is the kind of door that would refuse to open if someone was trying to push it. I don’t think Jesus is the kind of door that would deny entrance in a jarring way. When we think about doors, we might think about something that is locked or something that is used to keep people away. We might think about something that needs a key to access it or something that defines who is in and who is out. But to me, Jesus doesn’t sound like that kind of door.
To me, Jesus sounds like the kind of door you might find at a restaurant —you know, the kind that goes into the kitchen and the waiters come in and out of it—one of those types that are on swinging hinges that go back and forth. It’s the kind of door that you can push both directions and it easily opens so that the servers can come and go out while carrying trays of food. I believe this is a picture of Jesus, because he says in John 10:9: I am the door. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
Those who are saved don’t always just stay in the sheep pen. Sometimes they wander out to find different pastures. Sometimes they don’t always return right away because they have wandered so far or because darkness has covered the path and they cannot make their way back. But the good news is that even those who have gone away might hear the shepherd’s voice again and be able to come inside once more.
Such was the case for Dr. Eben Alexander. Dr. Alexander is a scientist and a neurosurgeon. He had a family, a nice home, and a blossoming career. He grew up in the Episcopal church and continued to practice his Christian faith. But there was something that was still missing in his life. He had been adopted at birth and had never met his biological parents. It had never seemed to bother him, but he came to a point where he began to wonder who they really were. He began to wonder if they had really loved him or not.
So, Dr. Alexander did some searching around with the Children’s Home where he had been adopted. After months of hearing nothing, he finally got a call saying they had located his birth mother. The doctor pulled over the car he was driving and listened to the social worker explain how they had found his mother and how she had ended up marrying his dad after they graduated from High School. They had other children. Dr. Alexander’s heart began to beat faster. He couldn’t believe they had found his birth mom! Then came the crushing news. They had found her, but she was refusing to allow contact.
In an instant Dr. Alexander’s view of himself totally changed. After that phone call he was, of course, everything he had been before, still a scientist, still a doctor, still a father, still a husband. But he also felt, for the first time ever, like an orphan, like someone who had been given away. Someone less than fully, 100 percent wanted.
This new sadness swept away something else as well. It swept away the doctor’s half-acknowledged hope that there was some personal element in the universe—some force beyond the scientific ones he had spent years studying—a belief that there might be a Being of some kind out there who truly loved and cared about him. After that phone call, the notion of a loving, personal God seem to vanish completely.
For much of the next seven years Dr. Alexander’s career, and his family life, continued to suffer. Those who were closest to him were not even sure what was wrong, but they eventually pieced it together. On a family vacation, one of his sisters broached the subject. “Have you ever thought about writing another letter to your birth family?” she said. At first he couldn’t bear the thought of another rejection. His sisters and wife finally convinced him, however, and he gave it another try.
This time the response came back positive and his biological parents agreed to meet him. He learned about their story and how hard it had been for his biological mother to give him up. Through meeting them, he was able to put away the nagging suspicion that he had carried around with him without even being aware of it. It was the suspicion that he had not been loved or cared about—that he didn’t deserve to be loved. Discovering that he had been cared for since the beginning began to heal him in a profound way.
But the Dr. still had his doubts about a loving God. For those questions to be answered, for those doubts to be assuaged, it would take an even more dramatic event than the one around finding his birth parents. It would take seven days in a coma.
The crisis began with a sudden onset of bacterial meningitis which quickly caused Dr. Alexander’s health to deteriorate to the point of being rushed to the ER, then being put on a ventilator in a state where his body was barely hanging on and the part of his brain which gives us consciousness was gone. Yet, while he was in this coma, Dr. Alexander had a near death experience that seemed completely real. The part of his brain which brings consciousness was not functioning, and yet, the doctor was highly aware of what was happening.
It began in darkness, but then there appeared a spinning light and in the light there was something like an entrance or a doorway. As soon as Dr. Alexander understood that it was a doorway, he began to move upwards very fast. There was a whooshing sound and he went through the opening in a flash where he found himself in a completely new world. Brilliant, vibrant, ecstatic, stunning… he says he could heap on one adjective after another to describe what the world felt and looked like, but they would all fall short.
It was a beautiful, incredible dream world, except it wasn’t a dream. The doctor didn’t know exactly where he was, but he was sure of one thing: The place he had found himself in was completely real. In that place he heard a voice with a message which told him: “You have nothing to fear. You are loved and cherished forever.”
You can read more about Dr. Alexander’s story in his book Proof of Heaven. It is an amazing spiritual journey that he has, which culminates in the miracle of him recovering from an illness, which medically speaking, he should not have been able to recover from. You can imagine how his faith was renewed as he came to believe there really was a loving God who dwelled beyond the confines of this life.
I am sharing with you about Dr. Alexander today because I believe his experience illustrates how the door of Jesus has a swinging hinge, letting people come in and go out. The doctor came into the faith at a young age with his family at church. But he wandered out of the sheep pen of faith as he struggled with not knowing if his birth parents loved him or not. He came back into the faith as he discovered his biological mother had cared about him, but then felt far from the source of life as he was hit by a brutal and sudden illness. He was guided into a heavenly realm, then sent back through the doorway of light to his earthly existence. While Dr. Alexander felt far from the Good Shepherd at several points in his life, he was also welcomed back into the fold of faith after going through several crises.
I don’t know where you are at with your faith right now, but I wanted to share this image with you today about Jesus as the swinging door because I think that often our faith is fluid. Sometimes it is strong and sometimes it is not. Times of crisis can sometimes cause us to question or doubt our faith and right now our world is going through a big crisis. Maybe you have wondered why God allows such things like the coronavirus to exist. Or how will our faith be affected if can’t meet together as a church? Or why would God allow a situation to exist where we have to choose between our health and our livelihoods? These kinds of questions can leave us wondering where we stand with God—whether we are in or whether we are out.
Wherever you feel you are with God right now, the good news is, Jesus sits at the entrance to the fold of God, ready to welcome you back in. If for some reason you have shut the door of your soul to God, the good news is it can be opened again. In the book of Revelation there is a verse where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”. The tragedies and mysteries of life can be confounding and leave us despairing, but we can trust that in the midst of such times there is a God in Jesus who loves and cares for us and is ready to stand with us through it all if only we are willing to let him in. Amen.
-Pastor Erik Goehner
I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
he is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and he will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church, the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting.
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name, thy kingdom come,
thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those
who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
forever and ever.
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