After we settled in to our sabbatical home, we developed a rather predictable daily routine. The sun would rise about 4am and I would soon after be stirred by the light and would get up and spend time with the God. This time invited me into four different exercises. First, I read through and pray through my focal Biblical passage for the day. Next invited to spend some quiet time reading one the books that used to help me work through and think through how I might grow deeper in my walk with God. Then I would spend quiet time in prayerful conversation with God. Finally, I would turn to my small computer and journal what I had experienced in our travels and what I had experienced at the feet of God in Scripture, reading, and prayer. By this time I finished the rest of the family had begun to rise and we would grab breakfast and head out for our adventure for the day. Each day we would chose a village, a manor house, or some other destination that would define our day.
On one of those days Beth, Elizabeth and I headed out to the Cotswold village Stow on the Wold. The Cotswold area of England is truly picturesque and Stow on the Wold is no exception. But, there was one site in this small village that I particularly wanted to see. The Rick Steves travel guide told me that the back door of the village church was the source of inspiration of the renowned painting of Jesus standing at the door knocking. The picture of the door from that village church graces the front cover of our morning’s worship guide. But, as I stood there I looked very different than I anticipated. It did not look anything like the picture I remembered in church hallways. (Click on the first slide – Warner Sallman’s Jesus at the Door.)
When we got back to our house I posted the photo from the church and the picture I remembered on Facebook, but was still unsettled because of how different that they looked. So, I started to do some research. I discover the picture from my memory was done by the American painter Walter Sallman in the late 1940’s. It’s name is Christ at Heart’s Door. It is an iconic image with reproductions and prints hanging in churches all over the country. While this image might be best known to many of us, the painting to which Steves refers is William Holman Hunt’s Light of the World. It was painted in 1853. (Click on the second slide- Light of the World.) Hunt is a British painter and it was his painting that inspired Sallman’s later work. To my surprise, just a day later I watched a BBC special on the pre-Raphalite brotherhood with which Hunt was associated. In that special I learned that there was a companion painting to the Light of the World. (Click on the third slide – Conscience Awakening.)The two were painted during the same time period and were intended to be seen together. One painting shows Jesus knocking at the door. The other shows the impact on a life who heard and responded to the knock. (Click on Fourth slide – the two paintings side by side.)
About a year and a half ago a member of our church family at the time, named James Anno, did a Lenten series of looking at some of the great Italian Renascence paintings and their faith messages. Something he said has stuck with me. He said that our culture was visually illiterate. He explained that those who saw the paintings in the eras before the Bible was available to the masses would spend hours looking at the paintings based on Scripture to see what all they had to say. Since that time I have begun to look at art differently. I don’t just glance at it, I take time with it. When I began to really look at these two paintings I saw some things that might have been lost to a casual glance. I saw the look on Jesus face that seemed to look into the heart. I saw the brambles and the twisted vines at the doors edge, showing that the door had not been opened in years, if ever before. I saw the piercing light in the darkness that Jesus brings. I saw his hand on the door knocking at the door in anticipation. There is no handle on Jesus’ side of the door. The door has to be opened from the inside. The door had to be opened by choice.
Why do I bring these paintings and their story into our worship this morning? Because, my time with these paintings drew me back to the passage that inspired them. They helped me to see the passage in a different way. Hear again Revelation 3:19-20. 19 Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. 20 Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.
In verse 19 Jesus tells us that he corrects those he loves and calls for us to repent – to turn around to go God's way. The woman in the painting is a visual testimony of what it means to stop what you are doing and to changing our direction. The distance between where you are and to the arms of God may seem vast and the mountain of bad decisions and regret may seem insurmountable. But in verse 20 we hear an incredible announcement from Jesus. He proclaims, “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. “The distance between where we are and the feet of God is this distance between this moment and the moment when we say “yes” to Jesus.
Jesus says, If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Jesus is talking about much more than a pleasant dinner experience together. Jesus is speaking of a life walk together. God does not come into our lives to make us be good, to behave, or to become better people. God does not come into our lives to make us more religious people.
The woman in the painting is a visual testimony of one in the process of a life transformation from one way of life to a life with Christ. When we answer the door we are inviting God to change us and change our very life orientation. We are called to a new life – a Godward life – in Jesus. This way of life changes the heart-the very essence - of who we are. When we open the door to Jesus we are inviting God to transform our lives. Jesus will flood our darkness and despair with light and our sin and shame with God’s love and grace. When we open the door to Jesus we are inviting God to forgive all that we have done and to redeem the very heart of who we are. When we open the door to Jesus we are inviting God to reign in our lives. In Ezekiel 36:26-27 we hear God say; I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. This passage tells us that God will remove our heart filled with guilt and shame that weighs us down. This passage tells us that God will give us a new our new heart and a new spirit that will, it in its very nature, point us the way toward a Godward life. This passage tells us that that the heart that God gives us is a heart for him. This passage tells us that the Spirit that God gives us is His very presence in our lives. This passage describes what happens when our hearts are transformed by God’s love and grace. Ezekiel is not alone in this testimony.
In 2 Corinthians 5:17-19 Paul teaches; 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Paul wanted the church in Corinth to hear that God was in the transformation business, forgiving and redeeming people so completely that the old self, the old way of life dies and we are new in Christ. He also wants them, and us, to understand that as the children of God we are to be bold proclaimer and living witnesses of God’s grand grace message of reconciliation. We began our service watching five claiming the symbol of baptism as their public testimony that they belonged to God. May we each find our voice and our way to share our testimony that we too belong to Jesus.
Jesus is standing at the door of your heart knocking. For some of you he is knocking to come into your life to begin a life walk with you, to offer you the way of forgiveness and of salvation. For some of you God is knocking to call you toward a deeper Godward life. For some of you Jesus is knocking to call you to make a life changing decision or to embrace God’s call to missions or ministry. For some God is knocking to make a decision about your church membership. Jesus is standing at the door knocking. Will you hear his voice? Will you let him come in? How will you respond?