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Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are,  Isaiah 1:1, 10-20,   August 8, 2010
 
Who among us as a child didn't spend hours with neighborhood kids playing hide-and-seek? One person was "It" while the rest of us found the most ingenious places to hide! The person who was "It" would count to whatever, and then open his or her eyes and shout, "Ready or not, here I come. Come out, come out, wherever you are!" And the game would ensue.
In 1853, the artist William Holman Hunt completed his now-famous painting "The Light of the World". This is the classic picture of a graciously robed Jesus, standing in a garden, gently reaching out to knock on a closed wooden door. It is getting dark. Jesus carries a lantern while stars twinkle in the sky.
The message seems to be clear: Jesus wants to come in. But the larger message is that Jesus wants in so that he can bring us out. Jesus is the Divine "It" calling for us to "Come out, come out, wherever we are."

Notice the door. Jesus is standing before a door partially covered with creeping ivy. Notice the hinges: the hardware and nails are rusty. This suggests that this door has not been opened in some time. The scripture Hunt portrays is Revelation 3:20, "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me."

Hunt's painting met with immediate and enormous popularity with 19th-century evangelicals and is now exhibited at Keble College in Oxford. In its popularity, Hunt's "Light of the World" painting soon found itself reproduced in stained glass, gilt-framed in small church chapels, and pasted inside prayer cards.
Later on, various interpretations of this image found their way onto refrigerator magnets, decals, and even paper place-mats for church suppers. The portrayal of Jesus standing at the door became a part of popular culture, inspiring hosts of hymns about Jesus' "coming into my heart."

Hunt had painted the door closed as a symbol of a "closed mind" that needed to be opened to Jesus' redemptive message, to the salvation Jesus offers. But the message and mission of Jesus Christ is not accomplished solely through interior introspection. Faith is not an inward-directed life. Faith is action. Faith goes outdoors to live and play, to love and work.

While it may appear that Jesus is knocking on the door of the human heart to get in, Jesus is actually knocking on our door to invite us out -- out to be a part of God's mission in the world.

In today's Old Testament text Isaiah condemns the hollow sacrifices religiously exhibited before God. The language in the passage which says that the LORD never asked that sacrifices be offered is likely ironic language, intended to force the listener to seek the deeper meaning of sacrifice.
Isaiah makes the road back to covenant obedience short and straightforward: "cease to do evil, learn to do good."(vv.16-17). The prophet calls the people of God to the under-girding heart-religion of obedience, which is emphasized in Deuteronomy. True worship and obedience to God leads to living out a life of justice in society.
The first two directives Isaiah provides -- "seek justice" and "rescue the oppressed" -- were no static directives. For Isaiah, "ceasing" and "learning" were not decisions or mere attitudes -- they had to be actions.
 
Isaiah leaves nothing to varied interpretation. He goes on to give two specific examples he expects from his audience -- "defend the orphan, plead for the widow." These activities obviously force the worshipers out of the temple and into the world.
As "unclean ones," women and children were not even allowed to be present within most of the holy confines of the temple. Isaiah's orders are for followers of Yahweh to go out and get their hands dirty, to work in the midst of those who really need their care and protection.

Jesus' invitation to “come out” puts meat on the bones of Isaiah's command to "cease to do evil, learn to do good." Jesus invites us to leave the self-constructed illusion of home we have created for ourselves.
We finally consider responding to this knock upon our lives when our illusions about ourselves shatter in unexpected crises that forever change our known world. Then the walls we have so carefully constructed come crumbing down.

What “Jesus at the door” keenly portrays is that there is no homey security behind the walls we have made. The door to safety is Jesus; the way truly home is out into the world, following Christ.

Jesus invites us to "Come out, come out" to join him in service in the world. This is what the temple worshipers Isaiah addressed had missed. They stayed comfortably in the temple and forgot the needy outside their doors.
At first, Jesus’ call appears an annoying affront to our comfort and security. However, the call then becomes rest, not in a private retreat of our own making, but home in Christ.
As we pass through the door, Jesus hands us the lantern and sends us out to carry the light of the world into every shadowed corner.

We believe we are already home, safe within a genteel religiosity where boundaries are clearly marked and fiercely maintained. But Jesus says, "I know you're having a private party right now, but come on out to the neighborhood cleanup day. There's a barbecue afterward and your neighbors are waiting for you."

The world tells us that home is that place where we've constructed walls to keep us warm and safe and dry. Our faith informs us that home is wherever Jesus is at work in the world.

Jesus knocks and says, "I am the door, come out, come home."
But we are afraid. We are afraid to release our fears of what might happen to us if we walk through the life of Christ who is the Door. But when we risk stepping through, then we find ourselves safe in unexpected ways, at home with Jesus in a new creation confined by neither walls nor windows of our own making.

When Jesus comes for us, we're at once horrified and compelled: horrified to be found out, compelled to join the garden party where our deepest longing to be at home with ourselves and others is met in mutual service through Christ in the world.  
In grade school if you accidentally bumped into somebody, a standard face-saving reply was "Gee, you make a better door than window!" A new look at Holman Hunt's painting suggests that the same statement may be made about Jesus.
Hunt showed Jesus knocking on a door -- gently urging those shut up within to open up and let him come inside. Jesus is not only knocking on the door to our hearts. Jesus IS the door -- a way out of the closed-up, interior-focused, self-absorbed lives we lead. "I am the door," Jesus said.
Jesus came that we might have life and have it more abundantly. But we have to come out and follow where he leads. Jesus is a "better door than a window." He makes it possible for us to walk outside ourselves, walk outside the protective walls we have built around ourselves, and step out into a world that needs the message of compassion and redemption that Jesus has given to us.

In other words, Jesus comes in to get us out. Note where Jesus is standing: in the garden. Jesus comes into our hearts to take us out into the garden where the fruit is. Jesus wants us to become part of what God is doing in the world, not to play in our personal spiritual sandbox.

"Let me in," Jesus says, knocking on your soul. Then Jesus says, "I am the Door, the way out from whatever is trapping you inside. Follow me and come on out." Jesus says to us, as he said to Lazarus long ago, "Come out."

Come out from the seclusion of bitterness to risk forgiving those who've hurt you.

Come out from the seclusion of elitism that pulls away from those who don't agree with you.

Come out from the seclusion of fear that keeps you from trying anything new.

Come out from the seclusion of self that keeps you from seeing the needs of others.

"Come out, come out, wherever you are."

"I am the Door ... an open door, which no one is able to shut."

Jesus still makes house calls. But only to get us to come out and join him in God's mission in the world. Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these other things shall be added unto you. Amen.
 
 
Rev. Rosemary Stelz, First Presbyterian Church, Bastrop, Louisiana
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