Can You Hear Me Knocking?
by Fr. Ricardo Avila, 8-11-13
Heb. 11:1-3, 8-16; Luke 12:32-40
I’d like to speak to you this morning about faith. And I hope I can speak to you from my heart, with as much honesty as possible. But I have to say right from the start: faith is messy and hard to talk about. Because none of us has all the answers, even though some of us think we do; and many of us have lots of different opinions about faith. Your faith may be very strong, and you might say your prayers every day and trust that God is always by your side. But the person sitting next to you might struggle with their faith, they might be filled with doubt and sometimes wonder where God is in their life – especially during hard times, painful times. For them, prayer might feel hollow, like there’s nobody up there listening. And so I’d like to invite you all to be gentle with yourself and with each other, whenever you think about your faith. Because we all long for God’s presence in our lives – that’s why we’re here at church, after all.
In my own moments of doubt, I often turn to the first sentence in today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews. It says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” In other words, there is so much we hope for but can’t see, or that hasn’t happened yet. And faith is the courage and the vision God gives us, to believe these invisible things will come to pass. Faith is the trust we have that God is with us throughout our lives, and that we will one day be reunited with God. And so, I take comfort from this sentence in Hebrews; because it tells us we don’t have to have all the answers right now. Faith is all about trying. Proof is not necessary: it’s enough to just put our trust in God, to keep trying, and to do our best as children of God. Martin Luther King, Jr., once said, “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” And as the poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Faith is the bird that feels the light and sings while the dawn is still dark.”
Today’s gospel reading is also about faith. Jesus tells us to stay alert and be ready for his coming again, like servants awaiting their master’s return from the wedding banquet. Jesus says, “blessed are those who open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks.” And so, as followers of Christ we live by faith, trusting that we will somehow see Jesus again, and preparing for that knock on the door while we wait. Some people choose to live a life of prayer while they wait, like monks and nuns. Others prepare for Christ through a life of service, like those who volunteer to help others, and perhaps like teachers, social workers, and activists who fight for change in our world. Still others don’t know how to wait – we get impatient and wonder where Jesus has gone, or we blame God for the problems we have.
But I would like to suggest to you that Jesus isn’t going to come at some far-off point in the future. Instead, Jesus is always knocking at the door of your heart, waiting for you to open up and let him in. And to live by faith is to listen for that knock, turn the doorknob, and let Christ into your life. Sometimes God knows how badly you need to be saved, and so the knock on the door of your heart is a pounding fist, Jesus demanding to be let in. Other times, it’s a soft tap, an invitation for you to listen closely for the presence of God in your life. It can take years to hear that persistent tapping. But Jesus doesn’t give up on you until you can hear him and let him in. I’d like to tell you a story about someone who could hear the knocking, but didn’t know how to answer it for many years.
I occasionally celebrate Eucharist on Sunday afternoons in a park in Hayward, with a group called “Sacred Space – East Bay.” The congregation is made up of the homeless who gather in that park. After the liturgy, we serve a meal and visit with people. One woman, I’ll call her “Yolanda,” never takes communion. Instead, whenever I offer her the bread, she says, “can I talk to you for a minute?” “Sure,” I reply, “but I can’t right now – how about after the service?” She says, “okay,” but then disappears before I can find her. Well, last month, when she wanted to talk, I said, “Don’t leave! I’m coming to find you immediately after the service.” And I did. Before she could get her food and go, I pulled her aside and we sat down on a park bench.
After much prompting on my part, and lots of stops and starts, she finally said, “I did something bad – but I had to do it, I had no choice! – when I was 17 years old.” And she started crying. “My Mom, we were very Catholic, she told me I had to confess my sins to God and pray for forgiveness. That, if I didn’t, I could never go to church and take communion again. But I never went! I didn’t go! And now, I’m 49, and I’ve done even more bad things – like, look at my arms, I’ve done drugs and lived on the street. And I, I want to take communion – but I can’t!” And she began to cry again. Just then, a friend of hers showed up with a meal from the Sacred Space group. “Here, Yolanda, I didn’t want you to miss the food!” he said.
After he left, I turned to her and said, “Listen! God loves you right now, every last bit of you, the good and the bad, the wrong and the right, with all the mistakes you’ve made. God’s been waiting for you like this – with open arms – ever since you were 17. It’s only you that’s held yourself back!” “I know, I know,” she said. “So, do you want communion today?” I asked. I had brought along a bit of consecrated bread and a thimble-cup of holy grape juice, and I offered it to her. She wouldn’t take it. “I have to confess first,” she mumbled. “Well, guess what?” I cried. “I can do that!” And so we did. I really had to prod her along, but we got through it, with only one interruption: another friend, bringing a second meal to her, worried that she’d miss out.
Afterwards, I gave her communion. “The body of Christ, the bread of heaven. The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation.” She cried again, and thanked me. I told her, “Yolanda, those friends who brought you food and now you have twice as much to eat? Maybe that was God taking care of you, surrounding you with friends who love you. And maybe Christ has been with you all along, waiting for you to acknowledge his presence.” She nodded, and we said goodbye. I left her on the park bench, opening up her containers of food and digging into the feast of food.
If I could add to that first sentence from the letter to the Hebrews, I would say, “Faith is also our response to the blessings and challenges in our lives.” I don’t believe Yolanda ever lost her faith. But she just didn’t know how to respond to God’s forgiveness, to Jesus’ gentle knocking. Her shame kept her from hearing it, like someone covering their ears with their hands because they don’t think they deserve to hear the Good News. I pray that we can all trust that God is always with us, no matter how far we think we’ve strayed.
When I have my doubts about God, I try to remember the people who love me and care about me; and I say to myself, “God sent them to me.” When I can’t quite see God at work in the world, I try to find examples of goodness to help me feel that God is still with us. May God bless you and surround you with many who love you, and may you never lack proof of God’s goodness in the world around you. Listen for Jesus’ knocking, and welcome him into your heart as much as you can. He returns to you every day; so have faith, and keep trying.