Lord’s Day 31 (Q/A 83-85): CLOSE, OPEN, CLOSE, OPEN

83   Q.   What are the keys of the kingdom?

A.    The preaching of the holy gospel
and Christian discipline toward repentance.
Both of them
open the kingdom of heaven to believers
and close it to unbelievers.

84   Q.   How does preaching the holy gospel
                open and close the kingdom of heaven?

A. According to the command of Christ:

The kingdom of heaven is opened
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to all believers, each and every one, that,
as often as they accept the gospel promise in true faith,
God, because of Christ’s merit,
truly forgives all their sins.

The kingdom of heaven is closed, however,
by proclaiming and publicly declaring
to unbelievers and hypocrites that,
as long as they do not repent,
the wrath of God and eternal condemnation
rest on them.^1

God’s judgment, both in this life and in the life to come,
is based on this gospel testimony.

^1 John 20:21-23; Matt. 16:19

85   Q.   How is the kingdom of heaven
               closed and opened by Christian discipline?

A.    According to the command of Christ:

Those who, though called Christians,
profess unchristian teachings or live unchristian lives,
and who after repeated personal and loving admonitions,
refuse to abandon their errors and evil ways,
and who after being reported to the church, that is,
to those ordained by the church for that purpose,
fail to respond also to the church’s admonitions—
such persons the church excludes
from the Christian community
by withholding the sacraments from them,
and God also excludes them from the kingdom of Christ.

Such persons,
when promising and demonstrating genuine reform,
are received again
as members of Christ
and of his church. ^1

^1 Matt. 18:15-18; 1 Cor. 5; 2 Thess. 3:14-15; John 2[:13-22]; 2 John 10-11


LORD’S DAY 31 (Q/A 83-85)
“Close, Open, Close, Open”

I can still hear their voices. My grandmothers and mother telling me to close the refrigerator after opening it. My wife occasionally tells me that too when I stand in front of the fridge, with both side doors wide open, wondering, pondering, scanning the shelves of what strikes my fancy. I can hear their collective voices as I follow their lead in urging our own boys to close the front door lest the mosquitoes and flies come in.  Exhortations, warnings, urgings to close the door when the door is swung open.

But I have another memory of close, open, close, open. My grandmothers and mother using their hands to cover their eyes for my baby cousins, and my little sister (12 years my junior). After cooing, a simple game of peek-a-boo always made any infant smile and laugh. Each succeeding “close, open, close, open” revealed the momentary hidden face of the grown-up, and when the hands were removed, revealed either a smiley face, a goofy face, or some other expression that made any baby clap their little hands in approval. I followed suit in caring for my kid sister, and with our two boys.

Q/A 83-85 is about what Craig Barnes nicely describes as the custodial work of the Holy Spirit, like the church custodian at his former congregation who held a ring of keys making sure room doors were either opened or close. The keys of God’s kingdom are the proclamation of the Gospel and Christian discipline.  Barnes reminds us that the responsibility of drawing people to God and to God’s community is the act of the Holy Spirit; the responsibility of the Church is to testify of the Good News and to live it out in its common life.

Preaching and teaching the Good News of Jesus Christ, and living that out in our common life are acts of “close, open, close, open.”  These twin actions, like the parental peek-a-boo, momentarily hides the face of God, but then reveals the smiling approval and embracing love of God.  Our lives daily pulsate for resonances of God’s presence, of God’s voice, of God’s direction.  Being on the giving end of the Good News, or on the receiving end of the Good News sometimes brings the palpable, convicting power of God. Sometimes.

Most of the time, it takes time for that clarity of peace and presence to be evident.

Likewise, the wise counsel of fellow believers, the corrective exhortation of a sister in Christ, the encouraging hug or prayer of a brother in Christ may be what brings us back to the straight and narrow – giving tangible embodiment of God’s love.

The power of preaching, teaching, and discipline comes from the Holy Spirit. It’s these raw materials which the Spirit uses to “close, open, close, open” that which we strain to know.

Wouldn’t we really want to know God’s presence every single moment, a constant “open”?  Think of Moses being given the slight view of God’s nape; the holiness of God’s presence and power was overwhelming.  Think of Isaiah’s “Woe is me” refrain when confronted with the vision of the heavenly creatures in a perpetual Sanctus.  That would be like a child who is constantly exposed to the face of their parent or caregiver; every single moment, every single time.

But the opposite is also true. We don’t want a constant “closing” either? We’d feel abandoned, bereft, forsaken.

The Church doesn’t consistently get the preaching, teaching, and disciplining right all the time. And when we do, the Holy Spirit doesn’t show the effects immediately. In those gaps in time, between consistency and inconsistency, between faithfully and unfaithfully using and turning the keys…the Holy Spirit is acting, in ways seen and unseen.

It’s that mystery of not knowing how and when the face of God is being opened or being closed, that we are reminded to place our trust in the certainty that the Holy Spirit is acting, drawing us to God’s self; and with that dynamic, simultaneous relationship of mystery-certainty, or “close, open, close, open,” is the face of God disclosed for us.

The Lord bless you and keep you
The Lord make His face to shine upon you
And be gracious to you.
The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you
And give you peace.  (Numbers 6:24-26, New International Version)