Behold, I stand at the door and knock: if any man hear my voice and open the door,
I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me.
(Rev. iii. 20)
I think that it is probably the case that, more often than not, we do not think of God moving or coming towards us. Rather we think of our relationship with God as our moving or coming to Him. The most earnest of Christians come to the Lord with laundry lists of petitions, supplications, and intercessions. And expecting to be heard and heeded, in the end we find ourselves mostly disappointed and ignored. The problem with it all is that we spend so much time talking that God cannot get His Word in edgewise. We forget that we are called to love God because he first loved us, and sent His Son to be a propitiation for our sins. (1 St. John iv. 19, 10) Jesus says that, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. (St. John xiv.23) Jesus makes it clear that He and His Father intend to move or come to their faithful friends to make a home in their hearts through the Holy Spirit so that they can be saved.
The point is that the Christian religion is really all about God’s ever-moving desire for us. That desire is expressed in our opening quotation: Behold I stand at the door and knock….(Ibid) And yet it requires a response: if any man hear my voice and open the door….(Ibid) If we don’t open the door, then he will not come in to [us], and sup with [us] so that we can sup with Him. (Ibid) So, you might ask, what is this door that Jesus is speaking about? The ancient commentators say that the door is the soul or the human heart. The soul is not only the seat of reason but of the will also. From the ground of the soul we either say yes or no to God. And Paul Claudel reminds us that most men say no, and so refuse to open the door. He says: we are like a bad tenant allowed to remain through charity in a house that does not belong to him, that he has neither built nor paid for, and who barricades himself and refuses to receive the rightful owner even for a minute. (I Believe in God, p. 244) The image is brilliant. We have our lives – our souls and bodies -- on loan from God. We have neither made them nor are we able to sustain them. They have been given to us on loan, and God intends that we should occupy them usefully and profitably. So, what we have comes from God, is preserved and conserved by Him on good days and bad, and yet is always what was made by Him and for Him. Long before we perceive that Jesus is knocking at the door of the human soul, our Heavenly Father has bestowed upon us the precious gifts of creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life. (GT) In and of themselves these constitute treasures for which no man can ever repay his Maker. Through mere existence, nature, and even forms of human happiness and joy, God comes to man and lavishes him with spiritual riches for which he should be eternally grateful.
So human life is a gift from God long before Jesus comes knocking at the door. And yet Jesus does come knocking at the door of the human soul because God’s movement and coming to man are all about much more than mere existence or secular and temporal happiness. God loves us so much that He wants to save us. And the love that He brings is the forgiveness of sins. Without the forgiveness of our sins, we cannot be saved. And so God in his Son Jesus Christ reveals and incarnates the forgiveness of sins. In fact, Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. And if we are like 99% of practicing Christians in our world, we might want to leave it at that. We might say with the majority of believers that Christ died once for all for the sins of the whole world, and that means that He died for my sins and has forgiven me, and so I’ve got a clean slate, and I am saved. And if we were to think this way, we might make it half-way to the Kingdom of Heaven. But half-way won’t get us there. The other half is needed if we are to be saved. Half-way hasn’t arrived, and if we don’t arrive, well we just won’t make it to the Kingdom.
What I mean to say is that God’s moving and coming to us, His knocking at the doors of our souls, doesn’t stop once Christ has died, risen, and ascended back to the Father. Our religion had better not be past history. We said earlier that the Father and the Son intend to make their abode with us, pitch their tent within our souls (Idem, 23) and dwell in us through the Holy Spirit that we might dwell in them. And if that is the case, then we had better realize that God’s love, which is His forgiveness of our sins through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, is coming always towards us. God’s life is His love. His love is always alive and on the move. It approaches us with the promises of the forgiveness of sins and resurrection into new life. God’s living love comes to us in order to find a home in our hearts. But, remember, as Claudel says, we are …tenants who live in the homes of our bodies and souls by the gift of charity. The lease is extended to us for as long as we live, and yet the quality of life in these earthen vessels that we inhabit can be made all the better only when the owner of the property enters and begins to make His repairs. We must remember that what we have on lease, we must return to God, and we must return it in much better condition than we found it. Since receiving the gift of life, if we are honest, most of us have found that it has been tormented, distracted, tempted, and even handicapped constantly by sin and the Devil’s determination to keep us from God. The threats to spiritual advancement don’t go away once you’re baptized; it might even be said that they increase! So we must remember that God comes to us through Christ’s ever-approaching merciful help. Christ does intend, after all, to repair and renovate us by applying His all-Atoning Death to our sin-sick lives. And His death is the forgiveness of sins! So when [He] stands at the door and knocks, we [must] hear [His] voice, and open the door (Idem) so that we can invite Him in to fix us -- Him, the rightful owner of the property we lease.
And so when we open the doors of our souls, [Christ] will come in and sup with [us] and [we] with Him. (Idem) And what is this supping but our feeding? Feeding on what, you ask? Feeding on the forgiveness of sins – which alone can fix us. This means feeding on God’s desire to conquer evil in our souls and to redeem us. This is that feeding that we petition in the Lord’s prayer: Give us this day our daily bread. And it is followed by forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us. (L.P.) The chief form and substance of our nourishment must be God’s ongoing forgiveness of our sins, through Jesus Christ, by the real presence of the Holy Spirit alive in our souls. St. Maximus Confessor tells us that when we ask God to forgive us…as we forgive others, [we are summoning] God to be for us, what [we must] be towards our neighbours. (Comm. Lord’s Prayer) His point is that if we would be nourished, strengthened, moved, defined, and informed by the unmerited and undeserved mercy of God, it must be shared with all precisely because it neither begins nor ends with us! God provides the food that heals and offers it to all. God’s mercy is never intended for a select few. The idea is taken up in this morning’s Gospel. St. Peter asks Jesus, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? (St. Matthew xviii. 21) Jesus responds with, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven. (Ibid, 22) The implication is that St. Peter and all of us should forgive men their trespasses against us an infinite number of times. Jesus goes on to offer a Parable in which one man is forgiven a huge debt that he owes to his master. But then the same man turns around and refuses to cancel a much smaller debt that another man owes him. The image is clear. God forgives us an infinite number of times for sins that are more than number than the hairs on [our] heads. (Ps. lx. 12) And should we fail to forgive every man his sins against us, we are killing effectively the uninterrupted generosity that God offers to all men. St. Augustine says: Imagine the vanity of thinking that your enemy can do you more damage than your enmity [and unforgiveness]! Jesus says: If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses. (St. Matthew vi. 15) Forgiving all others is the unalterable condition of salvation. Waving one’s hand and saying silly things like I may forgive, but I will never forget is sure to land us in a place where our not forgetting will be remembered… for eternity…in a place other than Heaven.
Behold I stand at the door and knock. (Idem) Jesus desires to enter the house of our hearts and souls and to reclaim for Himself what has always been His. We have our lives on loan from God, and they can be redeemed and made right only when we digest the forgiveness of our sins and it comes alive in the center of our souls. If we feed on the forgiveness truly and habitually, we shall discover that His forgiveness becomes our love, His love becomes our hope, and His hope brings the possibility of healing to those who might not otherwise have ever imagined or encountered it. So, today my friends, we should not only treasure and cherish the forgiveness of our sins, but grow and assimilate it, so that it flows out of us and into the hearts of all others. Then we shall be good tenants whose lease is well spent, because our souls have been refurnished and renovated by the forgiveness of sins – eagerly and generously bestowed upon all others because when Christ stands at the door and knocks…[we] open the door, and [He] sups with [us], and [we] with [Him]. Amen.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons