Karen Mains, in her book Open Heart, Open Home, included a chapter entitled The Nicest House in Town. It describes a beautiful home, in a beautiful yard, and through the windows people can be seen happily visiting together and feasting on sumptuous food. Sounds of beautiful singing can be heard coming from those inside. Huddled around the hedge outside there are shivering, hungry people longing to be inside where it is warm and cheery, where there appears to be food and love in abundance. But the doors are locked; they are not wanted in that house.
This is an meant as an allegory of many supposedly evangelical churches. I’m afraid it hits pretty close to home. Why do people have that idea about us? What can we do to change the way people look at us?
A tract that I once read told a similar story. On a cold winter evening someone met a starving, shabbily dressed man, gave him a key and a piece of paper with an address written on it, told the man to go to that address, use the key, and all his needs would be met. He found the house, much like the one that Karen Mains described, saw the warm, happy people inside, saw the table loaded with food. But he could not believe that what was inside could be for him. He couldn’t believe that the key would work for him; he never even tried it. He sadly walked away and was found frozen to death the next morning, the key still clutched in his hand.
This story seems to put the blame on the man who walked away. His problem was unbelief. But why was the door locked?
The prophets foretold a time when the gates of Jerusalem would be open continually for the strangers and Gentiles to come in (Isaiah 60:10-11); of a land of unwalled villages, having neither bars nor gates (Ezekiel 38:11 and Zechariah 2:4). Surely God is not pleased when we put up walls. We may try to defend ourselves and say there are no walls, we would never do such a thing. Why then do other people see walls?
In the parable that Jesus told of the wedding feast, the king asked his servant “Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in hither the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind,” and a second time: ” Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” (Luke 14:21-23). We claim to be servants of God, don’t we? Are we doing anything like this? Of course, the parallel account in Matthew 22 mentions the man who came to the wedding feast without a wedding garment. It is part of our responsibility when we call people to come in to explain about the wedding garment and how to obtain it.
What is holding us back from flinging open the doors and going out to invite those shivering, hungry folks huddled in the hedges to come in? Notice that I say “us” — I cannot claim to have done better than others, perhaps much worse than many. And there were people who invited me to come in many years ago. Yet it is becoming more clear to me than ever before that there really are folks around us who are spiritually cold and hungry and it looks to them like we have closed and locked our doors.