Rev Elaine Julian ‘New Year, Open Doors’ Sunday, January 21st


Ecclesiastes 3:1-13  NRSVUE

3 For everything there is a season and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to break down and a time to build up;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek and a time to lose;
a time to keep and a time to throw away;
a time to tear and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent and a time to speak;
a time to love and a time to hate;
a time for war and a time for peace.

What gain have the workers from their toil? 10 I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. 11 He has made everything suitable for its time; moreover, he has put a sense of past and future into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; 13 moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.

Matthew 25:34-40 CEB

34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. 35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’

37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’

Reflection: “New Year, Open Doors”

I’d like to begin by sharing a couple of stories from another time in my life, a little over 10 years ago.

As you may know, I worked for 38 years as a librarian before I retired to go into ministry. My last library job was as the children’s and reference librarian at the Campbell River Branch library.

As you walk in the front door of that library, the Multipurpose Room is on your right.  As the name implies, it has many different uses: storytimes for children, book club meetings, quiet study, plugging in laptop computers and so on.  Many users are so comfortable in the library that they use it as a kind of home away from home.  This is usually a good thing, but it has a few drawbacks and the one that I used to find particularly annoying was their tendency to move the library furniture around and not return it to its proper location.

The main door to the multipurpose room is almost always open, unless there is a storytime or other event taking place inside.  There is a second door from that room that opens into the main library near the entrance to the children’s area.  It is usually closed and gets very little use, but for me it was a handy shortcut from the front of the library to the children’s area.  One day, I was going in and out of that door quite frequently because I was setting up some tables of used books for sale, and several times in the course of my project I would fling open this door only to have it bang into a chair or table that someone had left directly in front of the door.  

In a fit of frustration, I typed up a sign that said “Please don’t block the door with furniture.”  I taped it on the door and stood wondering whether it was a. Necessary and b. Appropriately worded. Then it occurred to me how well it applies to us as we enter a new year:

Please don’t block the door with furniture.

Here at the threshold of a new year, we have a choice in how to approach this door into a new time.  Let’s look at some of the ways we respond to the doors and thresholds in our lives and how that might relate to our Christian journey.

A door is always an opportunity to move from an old place into a new place.  I think one of the most important things to keep in mind about doors is that we don’t know what is on the other side and it’s a good idea not to make assumptions.  

At the beginning of Advent a few years back, I arrived at Campbell River United Church one Saturday morning to open up the building for Centering Prayer, to turn on the lights and welcome people as they arrived.  When I opened the sanctuary doors, I expected to find the usual dark, peaceful atmosphere.  But instead, I was greeted by a blaze of light and colour!  Since I had last been in the building, the chancel had been decorated with Advent banners and brilliant red poinsettias, and someone had inadvertently left all the lights on when they left.  It was a magical moment of transformation. I stood in the doorway and absorbed the visual beauty and the spiritual gift that it represented.  I was aware as never before in that building of standing on holy ground.

So as we open doors, let’s keep in mind that we don’t know what we will find.  Sure, we might fling the door thoughtlessly open and bang into unexpected obstacles like I did at the library.  But we might also step into a world transformed by God’s grace and our willingness to notice God at work. 

When we are on the outside of a closed door, we have two obvious choices:  open it or pass it by.  This is a time of discernment: is this the right place and time to open this door and investigate where it leads?  

There is a story about a man walking in an unfamiliar neighbourhood who notices a mysterious door that calls him in a way he does not understand.  Out of fear or caution or maybe just being in a hurry he chooses not to open the door and continues walking.  When he gets to his destination he keeps thinking about the door until he finally decides to go back and open it.  However, no matter how hard he tries, he cannot find the door again and he spends the rest of his life regretting that he did not seize the opportunity when he had it.

I don’t think that this is the story that God is telling us in our reading today from Ecclesiastes.  

Ecclesiastes was written after the Hebrews returned from exile in Babylon, probably during the time of the Persian empire around 350-250 BC. It was a time of great economic activity and volatility, strongly influenced by Greek culture. Qoholeth, the writer of Ecclesiastes, was probably a sage, a Jewish aristocrat charged with teaching the young male offspring of other aristocrats. He was relatively well off and moved in important circles. However, in other parts of Ecclesiastes we hear that his status and possessions brought him no comfort because he could lose them at any moment, and he would have nothing when he died. We hear subtle hints of that anxiety near the end of our passage this morning. “What gain have the workers from their toil?”

I think a lot of the angst experienced by Qoholeth is also felt by us today. We are not actively oppressed by a foreign power, but there is a lot of uncertainty in our world and in our lives. We feel like we have no control over our fates, like we are at the mercy of the economy, political rivalries, climate change, wars, wildfires and floods. We are reasonably comfortable, but we worry that we could still lose everything. And as we age, we are more and more aware of our own mortality.

In the midst of all his doubts, Quholeth writes this beautiful and familiar poem and tells us that “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven”.  If we quietly trust in God’s leadership and pay attention to God’s nudges, we will know the right time to open ourselves to new experiences and invitations.  When we hear that there is “a time to be born and a time to die, a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted”, we also know that time and life is not linear but cyclical, and in God’s good time God will always give us another chance. We will find that door again.

Now let’s put ourselves on the other side of the door.  We are inside that building or room and again we have two main options: open or close the door.  

We know that if we leave our doors open, we are vulnerable.  Police, parents and newspapers tell us over and over again:  

Keep your house doors locked even when you are at home, or you will be robbed and maybe even attacked.

Keep your car doors locked and don’t leave valuables in plain sight or they will be stolen.  

Don’t pick up hitchhikers.

Don’t talk to strangers.

But as Christians we are called to a life of radical hospitality.  The great truth of our faith and of the Christmas story is that God came among us as a human being in the person of Jesus.  Our reading from Matthew 25 tells us in no uncertain terms that the Jesus who arrived in our world 2000 years ago still lives among us.  Jesus is God’s gift and our responsibility.  If we are to welcome and live in God’s kingdom we must welcome and help those around us who are in need, without judgment or conditions, because each person is a child of God.  It is always God on the other side of that door, and each day we have decisions to make about how we welcome God and God’s children into our hearts and our lives.

Now, what about that furniture blocking our doors?  Have we left it there carelessly, not thinking how it blocks whatever needs to come in?  Or have we piled it up consciously, hoping to avoid whatever frightens or challenges us beyond our strength and faith?

The great thing about furniture is that it can be moved!  We can take the time to look for the obstacles we have carelessly or consciously placed between us and God, name them and let them go. But even if we don’t do this, our barriers will not last forever.  Think of all the movies and TV episodes where someone is trying to break down a door and the person inside piles up all the furniture in the room in an effort to shore up the door.  Does it ever work?  No, sooner or later the door crashes open!  The trouble with waiting until that happens is that it is likely to be much more messy and painful than recognizing the barriers we have erected and letting God remove them so the door can open without resistance. Let’s open the door to this coming year with hopeful anticipation, open minds and open hearts.

Guided Reflection

Let’s just take a few quiet minutes now to envision the doors that we are invited to open at the beginning of this new year: 

Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths…

Imagine that you are facing a closed door.  You might be standing outside the door wondering what is on the other side, or you might be on the inside wondering who needs to come in…

Are you anxious to open the door, or is something stopping you?…

If something is stopping you, can you name it?…

Silently ask God to help you decide what to do.  Is this the right time to open this door?  If this is the right time but something is stopping you, ask God to help.  Know that God is with you in this decision.  When you are truly ready to move the furniture, God will do the heavy lifting…

If you decide to open the door, who or what is on the other side?  How do you welcome this new insight, situation, person or opportunity?…

Now imagine doing whatever you feel asked to do at this threshold in your life.  You may step through the door into a new place, you may welcome a new experience or person into your life, or you may choose not to open the door knowing that God’s invitation to transformation will always be there for you to find again…

The Year as a House 

From “Curious About Joy: A Retreat for Women’s Christmas” by Jan Richardson

Think of the year

as a house:

door flung wide

in welcome,

threshold swept

and waiting,

a graced spaciousness

opening and offering itself

to you.

Let it be blessed

in every room.

Let it be hallowed

in every corner.

Let every nook

be a refuge

and every object

set to holy use.

Let it be here

that safety will rest.

Let it be here

that health will make its home.

Let it be here

that peace will show its face.

Let it be here

that love will find its way.


let the weary come,

let the aching come,

let the lost come,

let the sorrowing come.


let them find their rest,

and let them find their soothing,

and let them find their place,

and let them find their delight.

And may it be

in this house of a year

that the seasons will spin in beauty, 

and may it be

in these turning days

that time will spiral with joy.

And may it be

that its rooms will fill

with ordinary grace

and light spill from every window

to welcome the stranger home.

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