SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTERTIDE | Acts 16:9-15; John 14:23-29; 5:1-9
Most of us have seen Warren Sallman’s famous painting Christ at Heart’s Door based on Revelation 3:20 where Jesus says, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” Jesus glows with the light of fresh hope while the dark thorns and thistles of sin threaten to overtake the door. The absence of any outside knob or latch on the door indicates that one must open one’s heart to Christ from within—He will not force His way inside. The thread weaving through this week’s lectionary texts all seem to beg the central question: Are we open to God?
In Acts 16, Paul has a vision/dream that he determines is God calling him to move his ministry to Macedonia. Are we “open” to God speaking to us through our dreams? We should certainly not assume every strange dream is a message from God, but that doesn’t mean we should close ourselves off to this possibility. Paul was open to God’s guidance and responds in faith and heads to Macedonia. Are you open to God’s leading?
When Paul arrives in Philippi he encounters one of my favorite women in the Bible, Lydia. She beautifully models a heart that is ready and waiting for God’s knock. Luke describes the encounter: “On the sabbath we went…by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer… A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us… The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul” (Acts 16).
The evidence of her “openness” stacks up quickly in this scene. First, she has a regular rhythm of worship (“on the sabbath”). Second, she has a special place set apart for prayer (“by the river”). Third, she has attentive ears and “was listening” to God’s messengers. Fourth, as a result “the Lord opened her heart.” Fifth, she doesn’t just listen to a good sermon and then go home; she acts on what she hears by being baptized (along with her entire family). Sixth, her conversion is complete when she offers herself as a “servant” to God and his people (“If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home”). When the Lord knocked on Lydia’s heart, she opened herself up immediately and enthusiastically. Lydia was open. Do you have have a worship rhythm, a special place of prayer, listening ears and an open heart like Lydia?
In our Gospel texts for today, Jesus states matter-of-factly that “Those who love me will obey my word” and “Whoever does not love me does not obey my words” (John 14:23-24). While many of our Protestant ears are not accustomed to all this “obedience” talk, Jesus clearly taught that true disciples would be recognized by their openness to obeying His teachings. As Jesus’ brother put it, “Don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves” (James 1:22). Jesus essentially says, “If you aren’t striving to obey my teachings, you really don’t love me—even if you say you do.” We may have “asked Jesus into our heart,” but the way to really know if God dwells there is the degree to which we are open to obey. “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them” (John 14:23). Is your heart open to obey Christ’s teachings?
Finally, are you open to God’s healing and transforming power in your life? In John 5 Jesus encounters a man who has been lying paralyzed for 38 years. Jesus doesn’t just walk up and heal him. Instead, he asks him a somewhat shocking but insightful question, “Do you want to be made well” (5:6)? The man responds with an understandable degree of self-pity and rehearses his reasons he is unable to get help, “Sir, I have no one to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up; and while I am making my way, someone else steps down ahead of me” (5:7). This man may be open to being healed, but is he open to do his part in the process? “Jesus said to him, “Stand up, take your mat and walk” (5:8). If Jesus will stir the healing waters, will he put in the effort to stand up in God’s power? How about you today? Are you open to miracles? Are you open to God’s healing touch? Do you really want to get well, or is the familiarity of your current miserable state more appealing than the hard road to healing and recovery that will require you to “stand up and walk”?