Everyone a Doorkeeper


Everyone a Minister was a 1974 book and is an ongoing concept among some Lutherans. It’s not true if ‘minister’ refers to the called and ordained, but we are all doorkeepers in the house of the Lord. At first glance it seems that just one is. Peter, Adrew, James, and John are the ones addressed in Mark 13, and so it seems an apostle is the one at the door told to keep watch and by application your pastor. But then Jesus suddenly flips it back on all of us. “What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!” So everyone’s a doorkeeper. But some regular churchgoers have heard this so often that they’re immune to watching, which doesn’t make for much of a doorkeeper.

So what’s the answer to this spiritual malaise? The short answer would be Advent, but the textual one is develop a woke culture. We hear ‘woke’ today and to most Christians it’s bad. Today, if you’re woke, you wake to see the white, middle class America around you is really a dystopia of racism, elitism, and homophobia. Even if all that was true, don’t make the mistake of being woke to worldly problems and fast asleep to the spiritual. Look at the history of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Gradually the call for justice over against real racism all but pushed out the Gospel of Christ.

The warning of Jesus has a focus on His return. The end of the world. Our text uses 4 imperatives of 3 different verbs to emphasize the call to watch and be prepared for His return. You must be on guard! You must be awake! You must rouse yourself to wakefulness! These are all present, active, imperative. They are policy commands. They are not situationally oriented. That’s because this fallen world is nothing less than the Poppie field of the Wicked Witch of Oz. On all sides the scents, the smells of this life invite us not to sleep in heavenly peace but to sleep to heavenly things, sleep to spiritual realities. Sin, Death, and Devil are just religious constructs that primitive people made up. Sleep, sleep don’t pay attention to them. Snooze on. Yeah, yeah Jesus came the first time; sure the pastor says He comes today in Words and Sacraments, and Jesus promised to come again. Sleep my pretties. Sleep.

If you realize lives depend on your staying awake, you’ll try most anything. While driving people roll the windows down, sing to the radio, chew ice, pull the hair on their neck. ‘On guard’ seems to point to a military application which fits, but it may be a specifically religious one. In the Temple, the captain of the guards made the rounds at night. The guards had to rise at his approach and salute in a particular manner. Any guard found sleeping was beaten or his garments set on fire. Records indicate this did happen. Also, the priests on duty were required to be ready at a moment’s notice for the superintending priest to knock at the door to be let in. No one knew when he’d knock. “The Rabbis use almost the very words in which Scripture describes the unexpected coming of the Master,.. ’Sometimes  he came at cock-crowing, sometimes a little earlier, and sometimes a little later’” (Edersheim, Temple, 148-9). This is found in a Jewish document that dates to 200 AD. No one knows if it reflects the practice of Jesus’ time or Jesus’ words influenced them. But it seems the idea of a no excuse spiritual reason to be ‘woke’ was something the disciples would be familiar with. 

We have a harder time ‘getting there’. So I advise you to ‘lean into’ wokeness. This is one of those expressions that you understand the first time you hear it. The first recorded use is only 2001. Advising someone to ‘lean into’ a thing indicates where their emphasis and effort should be. In this verse a lot is going on. Jesus says, “It's like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.” But the leaving and putting his servants in charge are not the main thought; they are participles. The doorkeeper being commanded that’s the main thought. You can hear this in the NASB’s translation: “It is like a man, away on a journey, who upon leaving his house and putting his slaves in charge, assigning to each one his task, also commanded the doorkeeper to stay on the alert.”

Lean into that command. The NIV doesn’t help because it introduces a ‘time doubt’. Jesus doesn’t say “like a man going away” as if he hasn’t yet gone; He says, “like a man, away on a journey”. Even though Jesus is among us in Word and Sacrament; even though Jesus is with us till the end of the ages; even though we stand for His presence in the reading of the Gospel; even though we bow at His presence on the Altar at Communion, Jesus is still away and we wait for His Second Coming. Even though He succeeded in redeeming us lost and condemned creatures, the first time He came; even though He purchased and won us from sin, death and from the power of the devil, two millennia ago; even though He did this with His innocent suffering and death by shedding His Holy precious blood on a hill called Golgotha; He’s not through with us. He’s returning to raise the dead and give eternal life to all believers in Christ. He’s returning to create new heavens and earth wherein righteousness dwells. He’s returning visibly to reign and rule visibly. Lean into watching for this reality. 

Lean into being a doorkeeper with the command to watch. The Lord tells us, “’Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back--whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn’” Last week the Lord said we don’t know the day or the hour. This is not to foster constant fear but constant expectation. A constant leaning toward the coming of Christ. Lean into His first coming: His incarnation, His redemption, His keeping of the Law and His bearing of your guilts. Lean into your Baptism, your Absolution, your communing with the Holy One by means of Holy Things. On the bad days lean into the fact that today could be the day your Lord returns to bring to fruition all of His promises. On the good days lean into the fact that the good here is but a foretaste of the far better that is to come any day now. 

If you watch enough sports, a commentator sooner or later will point out the importance of leaning. Quarterbacks watch which way a defensive back is leaning. A pitcher catches a runner leaning toward second base at the wrong time and he picks him off. The basketball player gets the defender to lean one direction to go around the other. What you lean towards you go towards. Lean not into all these things which are passing away. Lean not toward things that are going away but toward the One whose title is the Coming One. Prv. 24:33-34 says that by “A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-- and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man.” Think not that the Holy Spirit is warning you of no more than earthly poverty and scarcity. The apostles were overcome with sleep twice at the Transfiguration and in Gethsemane. 

I’ll tell you the practical advice that will help you to develop a ‘woke’ culture and to lean into it. Have the playwright’s perspective. A playwright (a novelist or screenwriter too for that matter) knows the end from the beginning. In the midst of a show, movie, or book when the writer has done a good job of jacking up the suspense in me, I think, “Wait a minute. There really is no suspense here. The writer knows exactly what’s going to happen. He knows if the bomb is going to explode. He knows whether the person who plunged over the side of a building landed on an awning.” So who better to be the doorkeepers of the world than those who’ve been trained to see the world from God’s perspective, who watch the unfolding drama with the heavenly Playwright’s script in their hands? We know Whom we watch for. We know this better than the Apostles in our text. We’ve been to Golgotha and seen the horror our sins caused and the price of our being forgiven. But we’ve also been to the Upper Room and been given His body and blood for forgiveness. We’ve been to the empty tomb and then watched as God the Son reascends His native heaven to reign and rule over all things (Oschwald, Advent 1, Concordia Journal, Fall 2017, 64-67).

We know the end from the beginning and more importantly we know Who began it all and Who will end it. Our Father, our Brother, our Redeemer, Savior, and Friend. We know the one Isaiah prophesied to come who carries the key of David on His shoulder. Isaiah predicted: “what He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” (Is. 22:22). Then in Revelation Jesus describes Himself as the One "who holds the key of David. What He opens no one can shut, and what He shuts no one can open” (3:7). We know that Rev. 3 says He stands at the door of sinners’ hearts knocking with His Law and Gospel, knocking with His mercy that endures forever, and knocking with His peace that is beyond human understanding. We know that before our Savior ever declared Himself a sheepfold or the Good Shepherd, He said He was the Door. “I am the Door of the sheep. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved’” (Jn 10:7,9).

To the playwright nothing is meaningless, right? He doesn’t have anyone or thing in the script that isn’t necessary to bring the story to the conclusion he wants. Whatever drama, pain, hardship, heartache; whatever life, death, illness, joy, triumph, happiness or grace, is there because the playwright wants it to be. I don’t think many people walk out of a play before it ends because they don’t think it can or will. Besides, no one can walk out of this Playwright’s script. We doorkeepers, intimate Friends of the Playwright, assure people the end is coming and it will be Good News for His children, His friends, His siblings.

Historically, the Gospel appointed for the First Sunday in Advent was Jesus’ Palm Sunday triumphal entry into Jerusalem. You can hear that in the hymns, Gradual, Introit, and Collect. The note is one of rejoicing, of being rescued, of being delivered into better things. What doorkeeper wouldn’t watch for something better? Amen

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

First Sunday in Advent (20231203); Mark 13:33-37