In the soil around our house we’ve been hoping recently for thousands of little openings to happen. If anyone saw our backyard around the time that we moved in you know that it needed some love and attention. A large tree blew down last September during the windstorms of Hurricane Ike, and there were still some branches and cut up limbs in the back half of the yard. A family who lived there before us had a large playset about equivalent in size to a McDonalds play land that took up a good portion of the front half of the yard and shaded out any possibility of grass growing there. The playset was gone, but a large bare spot remained. After doing some general cleaning of the area we used a rototiller, courtesy of Ron Headings, to loosen up the dirt throughout the whole yard. We spread grass seed, threw out some straw covering, and welcomed the rain that soon came. Moisture, warmth, some light, and reasonably decent soil is all that’s needed to help open up all these small seeds. If all goes well they’ll shoot down into the ground with some roots and up into the air to provide a turf for playing for years to come. Being an amateur at this I’ll be pretty amazed if the whole yard actually comes up with no bare spots, but we’re hoping for something that’s a slight improvement over what was there before.
From Easter to Pentecost, the season we are in right now, a similar kind of opening is happening for the disciples. The risen Jesus has this limited time to open up his followers to the reality of the life of the Spirit, to crack the shell of their disbelief, and put them in a position where they can take firm root and thrive and grow. The process of being cracked open is not an easy one for the disciples to undergo. It is met with fear, doubt, and unknowing.
In the story from Luke, Jesus’ appearance to the disciples the evening of the resurrection, we can note three different openings taking place. Let’s consider each of these:
Luke doesn’t emphasize this as much as John, but if we take John’s witness into account we are told that the disciples’ initial encounter with the risen Christ happens behind closed doors, or, locked doors to be more precise. They had found themselves a relatively safe place to huddle together so they wouldn’t be found out as members of the Jesus movement. But then, at some point in their huddling, Jesus came and stood among them. Luke and John do agree on Jesus’ initial words to them. “Peace be with you.” They also agree on the theme of Jesus’ parting message to them – The Spirit of God will come to you, and you’re going to open wide these doors and start doing my work everywhere you happen to be, even in the far corners of the world. It’s quite a shift. Quite a change in how to approach life.
Living with the doors open means the disciples will encounter people and situations they couldn’t anticipate or plan for. Like Peter and John who cross paths with the man lame from birth on their way to the temple. Or Phillip who had a run-in with the treasury secretary of Ethiopia, the eunuch who was on his way to Jerusalem to worship. Or later when Peter starts walking through the doors of Gentile homes, and discovering that the Holy Spirit shows up in all sorts of off the map kinds of places. In the power of the Spirit the disciples go from being closers and lockers of doors, to being door openers.
There are a number of practices that we think of as being spiritual disciplines: prayer, bible study, journaling, fasting. One to add to this list could be the discipline of keeping the door open. A practice that helps form and shape us.
Most of our days are most likely spent behind closed doors. Doors at home, doors at work, and doors on the cars that transport us from home to work. We could even include the doors of the church. Our job, our mission is to find ways to make all those doors be open doors through which people are welcome to walk. When we welcome people into our home, or into our office, there is a sense in which we are welcoming Christ. All who pass through the door make the place holy ground. We break bread together, we share thoughts and stories. We collaborate on projects. We welcome in those we love and those who are difficult to love, and those we barely know. The book of Hebrews picks up on this theme. It says, “Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it.” The experience of the risen Jesus, and the gift of the Holy Spirit had the effect of enabling the disciples to recognize that everyone who crossed their path was in some way a piece God. Open doors enable Christ to wander in and find welcome.
It’s not such a good idea to drive with the door open, but one possibility of opening the door in our act of getting from one place to another is to walk or bike whenever possible. My commute is such that it would actually take longer for me to get in the car, start it up, stop at the stop sign, park, get out, lock up, and go around to the sidewalk. Even though it has doubled since our move, it’s still a short walk, and I’m amazed at the little encounters that happen on it. I find that there are open doors of relationship that wouldn’t be there if I were to drive past them. I encounter neighbors to talk with, flowers to observe, and trash to pick up. Anytime there is a chance to remove a door between us and our environment it opens us up to these relationships. One less barrier.
Keeping the door open gives us less control over who or what may come across our paths. But each encounter offers the possibility of the same kind of exchange that happened between Jesus and the disciples: “Peace be with you” we say to whoever we encounter. Peace be with you, we here echoed back.
Luke 24:45 says “Then Jesus opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” In this case, scriptures, of course, means the Hebrew Scriptures, our Old Testament. The Law, the prophets, and the Psalms and Writings. Something recorded by previous generations about their encounter with God that the disciples and others of the time had available to them. Tellling about creation, covenants, teachings, sayings of wisdom, praising and lamenting. Expressing longings for justice. Telling the story of the people of Israel who move from slavery to wilderness to promised land, through judges and kings and wars and prophets and exile.
All of this, Jesus opens up to them. They already know what it says. Have heard the stories from their youth. Perhaps memorized whole chunks of passages as was more common in oral cultures. They already were plenty familiar with these scriptures. But with Jesus in the room, this time, they see scripture as if for the first time.
What is going on here is just as instructive for us as it was for the disciples. What is being offered is a particular way of reading history. Of reading scripture. For the disciples, at this time, or over however long of a period of time it took to sink in, the suffering Christ, the one who identified with the least of these, the dying and rising Jesus for whom death was not the end, becomes the primary narrative of every narrative. The life of Jesus becomes the primary way of reading every other life, every part of scripture. In other words, we read everything from now on as if Jesus is in the room. The New Testament reads everything as if he had always been in the room. He was in the room at creation, the word that was to become flesh, as John’s gospel says. He was in the room when Abraham was promised that his offspring would become a blessing to all nations. He was in the room when Jeremiah spoke about a new covenant that God would write on the people’s hearts. He was in the room when Isaiah spoke about the servant of the Lord who was anointed to preach good news to the poor. And his presence then and now effects how we see things. About who turns out to be the hero and who turns out to be the ones who are off target, on the fringe. The lowly and weak of each story turn out to have much more in common with Christ than the mighty and powerful. Certain codes and laws that served to separate the righteous from the unrighteous turn out to be less important and certain acts of kindness and compassion turn out to be signs of good news, even if they happen outside of the boundaries of Israel or the certain religious expressions that came to be accepted as the norm.
We have come to call this a Christo-centric reading of Scripture. Christ becomes the organizing principle through which all teachings are interpreted.
And so if it remains that Jesus is in the room, then it affects how we interpret our culture. How we read the events going on around us. When you read the daily paper, or listen to the news on NPR, how do you hear it differently knowing that Jesus is in the room?
In some ways, talking about open minds is a little redundant after talking about open doors and open scriptures. Luke does pair open minds and open scriptures together when he says that “Jesus opened their minds to understand the scripture.” It might be something like the proverbial chicken and the egg question – which comes first? The open door or the open mind? The open mind or the open scriptures?
It could be the case that the open mind comes first, and leads us toward open doors and open scriptures. Having an open mind is a fairly common phrase that we toss around these days. And a lot of people seem to agree that it’s a good kind of mind to have. Open-mindedness may be enough of a catch-all term that we don’t put a lot of thought into what it actually requires to have an open mind. Does open minded just mean liberal? Can one be an open-minded conservative? I was challenged this week to think more deeply about what it means to have an open mind, and I’m thinking that it means something beyond these things. Beyond ideology. Beyond where we come down on any particular political or theological issue.
Having an open mind could be another way of saying that we are listening. We are listening, and we’re willing to take in new ideas, old ideas, those who differ from us and those who agree. There’s room to allow all those things inside of us. We can hold that tension. The boundary between where I end, and not-I begins is an open boundary. We keep a particular identity, but we recognize that identity to be fluid. To be incomplete. To be needing more. An open mind receives the Spirit of God.
It could also be the case that open doors and open scriptures come first, and only then can the mind really open. I like the way this works because it puts us in the place of our actions shaping our thoughts. Rather than thinking our way to right action, we act our way to right thinking. We keep our doors open, we allow Christ to open the scriptures to us, and this shapes our thinking. The people we encounter, the ways we discover Christ present around us, open up new ways of thinking and new ways of seeing the world. We have to deal with unexpected relationships, unanticipated conversations. Our minds must adapt, be flexible.
In this season of spring and Easter resurrection we look for the ways that we are being opened up. Cracked open, growing, receiving the Spirit of God.