Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Voice of Authority and The Red Door


The Voice of Authority and The Red Door

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mark 1: 21-28

The year 1995 was not a good year for me. Professionally, I was burned out; personally I was confused. After years of cruising along thinking, “Life is great – I know just where I am going and how I am going to get there,” I had reached a cliff. It was a cliff that abruptly dropped off into a big black hole - a big, black hole that, seemingly, had no bottom.

My road of life so confidently embarked upon in my early twenties, had now, it seemed, ended abruptly at age 53.  It didn’t gently branch off into two different paths; it didn’t helpfully offer road signs pointing to “most success,” moderate success,” “happiness,” “sorrow,” “danger; or, no trespassing.” My road didn’t even have the courtesy to say,” Dead end;” it just stopped; abruptly and without warning.

As you might imagine, I felt quite sorry for myself. I shed copious amounts of tears. I uttered an unending litany of “how could this happen to me?” statements. And, after several weeks, I finally, I decided to drop everything, except my little dog, and head off to Portland, Maine to spend some time with my daughter and her husband.

I arrived in Portland; leased an apartment; walked my dog incessantly; and cried a lot. A word of advice – if you ever find yourself in those same shoes – don’t drop everything and go to live near your daughter, who is married, with only a dog for a companion, in a town where you know no one and where the snow drifts over your line of vision in the wintertime.

The situation was bleak – really bleak.

Then one day, walking down State Street, I passed the Cathedral Church of St. Luke. It wasn’t snowing that day. In fact, the sun was shining and there was a hint of spring in the air. Without giving it any thought, as I passed the church I looked at its huge red doors that were tightly shut. I remember saying to myself, “The church is probably locked.” At that same moment, I heard a voice. Yes, I heard a voice, a voice with authority. The voice said; “Come in.”

The voice that I heard was without question a voice of authority. It was a voice of authority, and a voice that astounded me.

In today’s Gospel reading we hear about others many years ago who heard that same voice of authority and who were, as was I, astounded.

“They went to Capernaum; and when the Sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. (Mark 1: 21-23)

Jesus’ early ministry was based in his home town of Capernaum, a small town on the northern coast of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus grew up in Capernaum. His first disciples, Peter and Andrew, were also from Capernaum. Jesus had been teaching and praying regularly at his local synagogue in Capernaum for many years; he was not a newcomer. In short, it is quite likely that everyone in the little local synagogue knew Jesus quite well and had heard him teach many times before.

However, for some reason on this particular day the gathered group of worshippers saw and heard him with new eyes and with new ears. They saw and heard him as someone with power; someone with authority.

Somehow, on this day, Jesus’ teaching - the way in which he spoke - was very different. Jesus was not just interpreting Torah; he was not simply mouthing doctrinal statements based on his interpretation of Jewish Law. No, today, Jesus was speaking as God’s son. His teaching, his words and the way in which he spoke them, came directly from God. He spoke with authority – the authority given him by God the Father.

I heard a voice, a voice with authority that said; “Come in.”

When the scribes and all the others in the synagogue heard Jesus command the unclean spirit to “Be silent, and come out of him,” they heard a voice of authority, and they were amazed. They kept asking one another, “What is this – a new teaching – with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

I was amazed when I heard the voice with authority say, “Come in.” I said to myself, “What is this; should I obey this command?”

 Across the years, from Mark’s time right up until today, Jesus still speaks to us with authority. When we are overwhelmed with difficulties - grief, addiction, illness  - whatever the situation - if we listen with the ears of our heart, if we listen carefully, we will hear Jesus saying with authority, “Come in.”

What does this mean for us today – what is the good news that we can take from this voice of authority that will sustain us and point the way to salvation; to eternal peace in God’s Kingdom?

The good news is that when Christ speaks to us with authority – through Scripture – through our baptism – through the bread and the wine that together we receive each week – through our prayers – through the kindness that we show each other – through tightly shut red doors - when Christ speaks to us with authority; Christ ACTS.

When we hear his voice, if we accept his invitation to “come in,” and give our lives – our hearts, our souls, and our minds - to Christ, he becomes the Lord of our life. He becomes present and becomes the road that leads us through the tangled maze of our everyday struggles here on earth into the eternal Kingdom of Heaven. When Christ speaks to us, if we listen, the tightly shut red door is opened. We find our way and our lives are transformed.

Back in Maine, I went through the red doors of the Cathedral and entered a cold and darkened church. Afraid, yet drawn forward, I sat in a pew near the sanctuary, sank onto a beautiful needlepoint kneeling cushion, and immediately began to cry. A priest silently appeared out of nowhere and without a word sat down next to me. The road for the rest of my life re-appeared.

I am sure that many among you have had a similar experience. You have heard that same voice of authority. A voice of authority saying, “Come in;” and you have accepted that same invitation; an invitation to “come in;” to enter the tightly shut red doors. And, in doing so, your cliff to nowhere disappeared; you discovered a new road; a new way of being in Christ, with Christ, and through Christ.

There is another piece to this story, however; a piece that we must never forget. When Christ speaks to us with authority; when he invites us to open the tightly shut red doors; he saves us; we are with him and he is with us. But that is not all that is implicit in Christ’s invitation to us.

Once we have been welcomed and feel at home on the other side of the red doors, we are called to become a shepherd to those who hear the voice of authority, enter the cold and darkened church through the red doors, and sit down and cry. We are called to welcome others.

In John’s Gospel Jesus reveals himself to us as the Son of God through seven “I am” statements.

I AM the bread of life.
            I AM the light of the world.

I AM the door.

I AM the good shepherd.

I AM the resurrection and the life.

I AM the way, the truth and the life.

I AM the true vine.

After his death and resurrection, Jesus revealed his intention for the disciples. He commissioned them to carry his voice of authority throughout the world, when he said:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”(Mark 28:16-20)

We who have heard and responded to the voice of authority are blessed with God’s grace in lives made right through faith. Are we ready for the next step? Are we ready to silently approach the stranger in our midst who enters with fear, crying for help, and sit gently beside him or her as they listen to Christ enter their lives? Are we ready to help them know that Christ is with us always, to the very end of the age?