29 August 2007

Is That Door Really ‘Narrow’?

delivered on 26 August 2007 at Church of the Good Shepherd, Athens, OH

The Gospel According to Luke (13:20-33)

The readings for today suggest that not everyone is going to be saved or go to Heaven. In Isaiah, people are told that even though they thought they had their immortality guaranteed, God was going to have His will. Making deals with the Devil was not going to save them; God would rise up and to smite down those who denied him.

This is not a new story – how many time did the Israelites get too big for their own good and end up on the wrong side of God?

Let’s see:

• I remember that they wandered around for forty years because they couldn’t take directions. . .

• and I seem to remember an exile in Egypt. . .

• and one in the land north of Samaria.

Seems like they never quite learned the lesson; when things got tough, they turned away from God to something that seemed to offer more security.

In Hebrews, we are reminded that through Jesus, God has become loving God, rather than the threatening and vengeful God of the Old Testament. Through Jesus we are welcomed into the heavenly Jerusalem. This Heavenly Jerusalem is best depicted in Revelation 21 as a place where God lives with his people, where he ‘wipes away every tear’ from our eyes, there is no death, no pain or suffering, no sorrow or crying. This new city of Jerusalem is a vision that defies our imagination. This jeweled city is without a temple because God is everywhere; the Holy Spirit is always with us, and we are with other believers. And this new Jerusalem will be all that is standing when the world crumbles. Anything built on the foundation of the teachings of Jesus and God’s love will remain while all else falls. All we have to do is follow Jesus to get in; nothing else can save us.

So, according to the readings so far, we are all sitting pretty. . .

We are Christians who love Jesus and try to follow his teachings. That means we are going to be saved and live in the New Jerusalem.


Well, Not exactly!

In the Gospel, we find Jesus traveling toward the worldly Jerusalem – the place where he will suffer and be crucified. . a far cry from the picture of the New Jerusalem in Hebrews and Revelation.

Although he knew where he was headed and what was going to happen, he continued on the road, preaching whenever a group of people gathered. Here was a man walking to his own death, but assuring throngs of others that God’s love was immeasurable and eternal if they would only follow Him.

I think, had that been me, I would have been inclined to run as fast as I could in the other way. And I think most other people would have too.

But not Jesus! He trudged on down that dusty road!

As Jesus was teaching, someone wanted to know who would be saved. If you remember the Parable of the Good Samaritan, the lawyer wanted to know how to be saved. Although we have learned that salvation is for everyone, our own human foibles cause us to question our own worthiness. So this was a question that Jesus got on a regular basis. Last time, in the Good Samaritan, Jesus asked who was our neighbor. This time he gets a little more specific about who will and won’t be saved.

We can all picture that narrow door, just wide enough for some to pass through but not for others. Jesus says the door to salvation is like that. But the ‘narrow’ is not whether you are fat or skinny; the ‘narrow’ is the focus of your belief and your desire to know and follow Jesus.

We all know some very prominent ‘Christians’ who wear their faith on their sleeve like a badge of honor – who say, ‘Look at me, I am the perfect Christian’. But in their private or non-public lives they live for their own selves and gathering of riches and fame. They may be outwardly ‘godly’ but are inwardly morally corrupt.

Do you think they are going to be in Heaven?

What did Jesus say about them in the Scriptures?

We can only be saved by the grace of God through his son, Jesus. Even the most lowly can enter the door if they have a true desire to follow Jesus; no amount of wealth or influence can buy our way into God’s love. Only through acknowledging our sinfulness and accepting God’s forgiveness can we enter that door. Listening to the words of Jesus or admiring his teachings are not enough

Let’s talk a minute about the ‘narrow’ door.

The narrowness of the door refers to the commitment in our own lives to turn away from sin and walk ‘the straight and narrow’. We all slip from this path from time to time, but all is not lost. Repenting and receiving God’s forgiveness gets us back through that narrow door. As many times as we sin, are we forgiven more than that.

Jesus says that there are many who expect to be in Heaven, who will not make it and there will be some you would not expect to be there.

The reference in the Gospel of east and west, north and south suggests that no one will be excluded who believes in God.

A common interpretation of this piece of scripture by renowned theologians suggests that even those who do not know Jesus, or have acknowledged him as a great rabbi but rejected him as the Messiah will still be saved. The people of the New Jerusalem will be the true people of Israel – those who are the people of God.

One of the most often quoted Scriptures is the last of this reading: ‘the last will be first and the first will be last’.

There are going to be surprises in God’s kingdom. People who are despised on earth will be greatly honored;

• might we find that smelly, homeless man
• the person with a mental illness that makes us so uncomfortable that
we cross the street to avoid them?

Some individuals highly-respected on earth will be left standing outside the door. Those with wealth, influence and materials means may find themselves outside looking in;

• how about the pastor of a large megachurch who embezzled funds because
he felt he deserved it?

Only a person’s commitment to Christ gets you through the door. And only God knows what is really in our hearts.

So, the narrow door does not bar those who are too fat to fit through, but those who are not focusing their lives on following Jesus. By narrowing our eyes to Jesus, we are given the wideness of God’s mercy as we are reminded in the old hymn, There’s A Wideness in God’s Mercy:

There's a wideness in God's mercy
like the wideness of the sea;
there's a kindness in his justice,
which is more than liberty.
There is welcome for the sinner,
and more graces for the good;
there is mercy with the Savior;
there is healing in his blood.

How strong is your commitment to following Jesus?

Will you be standing outside the gate wailing or inside eating in the kingdom of God?

Each one of us needs to search our hearts and figure out where we will be standing. We never know when the time will come. . . it may be today or tomorrow.

Let us pray:

Dear Lord, please give us the strength to admit our faults and the forgiveness of thy loving mercy to enter into thy holy kingdom.