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 supplications and intercessions. 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. 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. And God intends that we should occupy them usefully and profitably. What we have comes from God, is conserved by Him on good days and bad, and yet is made 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 that ought to compel deepest thanksgiving.
Human life is a gift from God long before Jesus comes knocking at the door. Yet Jesus Christ comes knocking at the door of the human soul because God’s intention for man is about much more than mere existence 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 in His Son Jesus Christ, God incarnates and reveals the forgiveness of sins. Jesus Christ is the forgiveness of sins. And some wish to leave it at that. What I mean is 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. Because we believe this to be true, we convince ourselves that we are saved already. But convincing ourselves of something doesn’t mean that it will necessarily end up being true! Salvation is about more than what Christ did long ago; it really is about whether the effects and merits of Christ’s gift expressed then are alive and working in our souls now!
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 merely fond memories of a 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. 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 to us always to lay claim upon our hearts. 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 intends that His forgiveness of our sins should find a permanent home in our hearts. Again, 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 if we continue to pay our dues to the owner and holder of the lease. As God’s lessees, we are called to make a good and honest return on the life that is loaned to us. We are called to keep the property up to snuff. Our calling began with our baptisms when we were filled with the Grace of great hopes and earnest expectations. Throughout our lives, we have been called to cultivate the good Grace which promised to make us better. Christ has been coming to us to repair and renovate us by applying His atoning Death to our sin-sick lives. His death is the forgiveness of our sins! So when [He] stands at the door and knocks, we [must] hear [His] voice, and open the door. (Idem)
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 repair and redeem us. This means feeding and even feasting on God’s desire to conquer evil in our souls. Give us this day our daily bread, we pray. This is the bread that fortifies us to pray, 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 Word. This Word is the forgiveness of our sins. 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 alone heals. God’s mercy is never intended for us alone.
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: 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. 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 God’s persistent attempt to reform our lives with His limitless mercy. 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) We delude ourselves into thinking that our enemy has done more damage to us than we do to ourselves by not forgiving him!
Behold I stand at the door and knock. (Idem) Jesus comes to us always in order to plant God’s love and forgiveness in our hearts. Jesus’ response to St. Peter’s question illustrates what it looks like to need forgiveness. Our enemy might ask for forgiveness or he might be too bashful and shy, too fearful and cowardly, or too weak and frail to do so. Jesus suggests that he looks a lot like you and me in the presence of God. Jesus intimates also that the same person who needs our forgiveness might not have come to that knowledge. Again, he is a lot like you and me. (R. Knox: Sermons, p. 75) Lighting upon the need for God’s forgiveness is one thing; discovering where, when, and how we need it is yet another. God is patient with us as we slowly discover the details of our sinning against Him. He expects us to show the same mercy to others.
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. (Idem) Jesus longs to come into us and reveal to us how we have been the enemies of God. Our own enemies help us to see what an enemy looks like. Because of this, perhaps we ought rather to consider them as our friends. Why? Friends help one another. These friends help us to see our true natures. With them, we discover that we have set ourselves against God as enemies. With them, we detect and discern the forgiveness that alone can overcome our resistance to God’s will. In Christ, we had better start conquering all insult and ingratitude with a hardy, boisterous, all-embracing love and forgiveness. (Idem) Only then can we all assist one another in the hard work of perfecting His love in our world. Amen.