“Beware: Gatekeepers of the Lord”
Sunday October 7 2018
Trinity Church, Newport RI
The Reverend Alan Neale
So, what is it that makes Jesus irritated, frustrated… even angry? Well, today’s Gospel from Mark 10 gives us an answer because it is when the disciples try to bar people from meeting Jesus that Jesus becomes angry. So… beware, gatekeepers of the Lord. During the sermon I became deeply aware of all those I have encountered who have tried to stop people from meeting Jesus. Lord, have mercy!
The sermon text follows the sermon audio (it approximates, not equates to, the audio!).
Sermon preached at Trinity Church, Newport RI; Sunday October 7th
The Reverend Alan Neale; “Beware the Gatekeepers of the Lord”
I throw my mind back, decades ago, to when I was a schoolboy in a London Grammar School – school blazer, knee-high socks and all! Those were quaint days with, what I say, “eccentric” schoolteachers. The headmaster, Mr. King, required that upon his entrance to a room all the students stood and that the nearest to the door was ready to open the door for his exit. He would ponderously recite words from Psalm 84 (verse 10) “I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness.” Only years later did I consider this appropriate response… “well, please may I have the choice…!”
Doorkeepers/Gatekeepers of the Lord and the Lord’s house are positions of honor, respect, distinction – such positions merit our applause as well as thanks. But, sadly… pathetically, over the years “gatekeepers of the Lord” have been traitors to their cause, hypocrites in their calling.
Consider, par excellence, the disciples in today’s Gospel. Mark 10:13ff. Children are being brought to Jesus for blessing – for some unknown, ungodly, peculiar reason the disciples speak sternly, remonstrate strongly and shoo the children away. This infuriates Jesus and He immediately steps in, countermanding, rescinding the negative, the unwelcoming attitude of the disciples.
Of course all this happened long before babies and children became photo opportunities for politicians canvassing votes; we have no idea why the disciples acted in such a manner that would cause Jesus to become indignant, irate, infuriated (not words we readily associate with Jesus!). Maybe the disciples thought the mission was too important, the schedule too tight, the Master too occupied to stop and entertain children; clearly they had forgotten Hebrew teaching about the value of children. But whatever the cause… these gatekeepers were acting in a way that far exceeded their authority and greatly abrogated their purpose.
Perhaps, in a sense, Satan was acting as a sort of theological gatekeeper for God in today’s story from Job (chapter 1). The author of Job succinctly describes the nature of evil all within a few verses… it is restless, knowing nothing of serenity and stability… and it is accusatory, knowing nothing of affirmation and praise. Without demur, Satan tells God he has been “roaming to and fro on the earth, walking up and down on it” or as the Message translation reads, “going here and there, just checking things out on earth”. And as soon as he can, Satan lets rip and tears into Job… in the name of some theological adjudicator, he attacks Job and tries to demean him before God and the heavenly council. And, sadly but also inevitably, this Satanic attitude begins to affect others… including Job’s wife and soon his so-called friends and advisors.
Very recently I talked with a couple about their imminent wedding and marriage; we have come to know each other quite well, we have prayed together and we have shared quite honestly and openly. A recurring theme is the man’s sense of guilt that he is divorced. I shared with him some of my own experienced as a divorced and now exceedingly happily married man… I shared with him Biblical teaching about confession and forgiveness and absolution… but, for him, the struggle remains. Clearly he has encountered some theological gatekeepers of the Lord who have closed gates tightly and firmly at the mention of his divorce. He feels that his mother church (the Roman Catholic Church) has confronted him with a loud, resounding , emphatic “No… you are no longer welcome.” Gatekeepers have to be careful; at the very least they can be solicitous even if they feel they must bar entry! To quote Tyra Banks (!!!) “There’s no excuse for rudeness.”
To those hurt, wounded, scarred by frankly unchristian gatekeepers of the Lord… Jesus offers invitation, embrace, and blessing.
In fact to any one of us hurt today (or someone known to use)… Jesus offers invitation, embrace and blessing.
Mark 10:16 (Message Translation) “Then, gathering the children up in his arms, Jesus laid his hands of blessing on them.”
So (Mr. King, my feared headmaster of long ago)… I agree with you and the Psalmist “It is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than dwell in the tents of wickedness” but please, Lord, make me, make us, such gatekeepers that of us you will be proud!