Season: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
Scripture: Isaiah 29:17-24
Prayer: Loving and gracious Spirit, give us hearts to see the blessings in our lives. May the words I am about to speak be a blessing, may the meditations of our hearts be pleasing to you. AMEN.
Here we are at the end of a seven sermon series on “Half Truths of the Bible.” We have talked about several common things that people say so frequently and in such a disarming way that many times it sounds as if they are quoting the Bible. However, the truth is that they are not. In fact, they are only half truths. These sayings are meant to be encouraging, but are sometimes more hurtful than helpful.
Our final half-truth is this: When God closes a door, he or she opens a window. The theologian Nadia Bolz Weber says this: “Whenever I am in a real mess of pain, when a relationship has ended or I am in some kind of emotional suffering, and some well-meaning Christian says “Well, when God closes a door, he opens a Window” I start immediately looking around for that open window so I can push them out of it. Which is to say, I don’t find ignoring the difficult reality of our lives in favor of some kind of blindly cheerful optimism to be hopeful. I find it to be delusional.”
Of course, today’s Half Truth, When God Closes a door, she opens a window,” is not in the Bible.
WHERE IS IT IN THE BIBLE? NO WHERE!
As we have learned from other Half Truths, we Christians sometimes find our understanding of God and the ways God works, commonly called theology, in the strangest places.
It’s not as if we are looking for theology outside of the Bible, but it seems that when Christians hear a saying that sounds nice about God, it often becomes a theological sound bite. If this series has taught us anything, it is to beware when we hear someone say something that sounds like a sound bite. These sayings are repeated so many times that it becomes a belief and steers us away from the real truths of the Bible.
What makes this morning’s half-truth even more shocking and embarrassing is its origin. No, it didn’t start with one of Aesop’s fables or John Wesley. We cannot blame St. Augustine. Yet all of those sound very noble when we hear the source of this morning’s cliché. It comes from none other than “The Sound of Music.”
To be fair, Rodgers and Hammerstein should not bear all the blame for popularizing the notion that “when God closes a door, He opens a window.” While they may have been the first to phrase it this way, the general idea has been around for much longer. Both Alexander Graham Bell and Helen Keller are credited with this statement: “When one door closes, another opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” However, it was Rogers and Hammerstein who credited God with the closing of doors and opening of windows, and placed that theological half-truth in the sweet mouth of the musical’s protagonist, Maria.
The statement has been used to give hope to many that God will always find a way to satisfy their hopes and fulfill their dreams. And that can be very disappointing. At least on the surface.
Of course, you have already heard my sermon about how God doesn’t close doors, that we shouldn’t be blaming God when things don’t go our way.
This saying seems to be the other half of that circumstance. If a door in our lives closes, whether it be through the end of a relationship, a job, an aspiration, a dream, it is not up to God to create something bigger and better to feel the hole one feels in their life. It is not up to God to open a window that we find suitable, or just as fulfilling.
Consider our scripture reading this morning from the end of Luke’s gospel. A few days after the crucifixion, a pair of disciples are walking along the Road to Emmaus. They are struggling with what has happened and the severe disappointment they feel. They are nothing short of devastated. Then a stranger joins them on their journey and asks what they are talking about. They begin telling the story of Jesus’ triumphal entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, recounting everything that had happened during the week since his arrival. Finally, they describe their hope that Jesus would redeem them. They speak these incredibly sad words, “We had hoped Jesus was the one to redeem us.” We had hoped.
Hope is important in our lives. It is important to hope. However, sometimes our hope causes us to imagine a future that is far from what redemption really looks like. Sometimes it’s easier to not hope at all rather than to risk starting with hope and ending up with disappointment.
For the disciples walking to Emmaus, and for us, hope looks a lot like Palm Sunday. We think we know the end of the story.
What have you hoped for?
That the time and energy spent on a college degree would land that dream job? Of course you did.
That your family, your friends, and especially your church would never disappoint you? Of course you have.
That you would be able to retire and live in luxury the rest of your days? Of course you do.
The disciples hoped Jesus would redeem them with a mighty sword. They were sure that he was the one to free Israel from its’ occupation by Roman soldiers. Of course they did.
Then Good Friday happened and they were devastated. Beyond devasted.
Maybe real hope is what is left when we are devastated. When we have hit rock bottom. When all else has failed us and we come to terms with a radical reorientation about what hope might really be…
Anne Lamott says that “Hope begins in the dark.” We can’t convince ourselves or others into having hope. We only get there by continuing to strive in the darkness and trying to do the right thing.
We don’t just want to hope, we need to hope. Not in a naïve way, but in a truthful way, in a fluid way that can take the pain of disappointment, walk through the valley of the shadow of death, and find a new reality on the other side that is the answer to hope. That is the truth about hope.
The reality, the truth of our hope, may be both preposterous and impossible. And yet, today we heard a story about two disciples who had hoped, and found themselves walking with Christ, yet still not recognizing him.
Maybe, if an opportunity has been closed, something else, something different and better, is on its way and will help us to grow, to reassess our values, to delve deeper in faith than the direction we were previously heading.
Many years ago, I worked for an international corporation. Like many large companies, I struggled with some of the practices and ways that company chose to make its profits. However, I was on what some would call the fast track. I was promoted regularly and moved to different cities and markets. I had a competitive salary, although not as much as my male counterparts, good benefits, a pension, and profit sharing. I also had all of the same questions about the morality of the business practices I saw.
When I had my second child, my immediate supervisor, a new Vice President in the organization, was very clear about his views that mothers shouldn’t work. Finally, I had enough, and left the company.
The entire experience left me in a bit of a tailspin. I was offered several opportunities to do the same work, but I choose to step through a different window, a window that led me, eventually, here to you. And I am grateful it did.
However, God didn’t open those windows. In fact, those windows were always there through God’s grace. It was the opportunity presented by the closed door that allowed me to look around at the world, to spend some time thinking about the world’s great need and my own great passion, and to respond doing work that I love.
God doesn’t close doors and open windows. People and circumstances do that. But God is ready to show us all of the opportunities that faith offers if we will but hope.