Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 26, 2001
The Gospel: Luke 9:18-24
Sermon: "Saved by Grace not Credit Card"
The Rev. William D. Oldland
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, 'I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, 'I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."
Luke 13: 22-30
Saved by Grace not Credit Card
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - August 26, 2001
The other day I opened my mailbox and found a letter from one of the many credit card companies. The letter stated I bad been pre-approved for their Preferred customer platinum card. Normally, I throw these things away. I took a moment to read the first paragraph or so of the letter. The first paragraph congratulated me on being a preferred customer. According to them I was special, unique, one of a select few to be selected for this offer. Then they outlined the offer. I was to have a substantial credit limit. By using this card I would be entitled to discounts on airfare, hotel accommodations and car rentals. I would be able to transfer balances from other cards at an exceedingly low rate. I could even borrow money as a kind of second mortgage on a home. I was to receive all of these benefits because the company selected me. I had not chosen them, they had chosen me, was the message. I'll bet many of you have received a similar letter.
We all know these pie in the sky offers from credit card companies are crazy. However, I believe these offers actually shed a light on an aspect of the sinful human condition, pride. These companies prey on our sense of being special. They want us to feel as if we are one of a select few. They hook us by telling us we have been chosen. Out of all of the people in the world we are one of a select few to have this card, these benefits, these perks.
Many aspects of our lives are built on this concept of being chosen and pumping us full of false pride. Last night I was watching the Little League World Series. A twelve-year-old boy pitched a no hitter with sixteen strikeouts. He pitched the first shut-out in the history of the series. The press is having a field day. They are already comparing this boy to past pitching greats in the major leagues. He is being chased by the press. He has gained the attention of a large following of young ladies. He is already being approached for autographs. I do not want to take away from his accomplishment. However, what do we think is happening inside this young boy? After awhile I fear he may start believing the press. We all know this kind of notoriety has been the downfall of many an athlete, entertainer, or politician. The pride of feeling particularly chosen or special can be deadly.
This sense of false pride or being particularly chosen is what Jesus is addressing in the Gospel. Jesus is asked if only a few will be saved. Someone in the crowd of people wants to know how difficult it will be to get into heaven. The Jewish people in Jesus' day had been taught for many years they were God's chosen people. Since the Exodus they believed they were chosen. Out of all of the people in the world they were the elect. God chose them over anyone else. God did choose the Hebrew people. God chose them to carry the Word of God to all people. They were given a set of guidelines to follow. These guidelines gave a broad sketch of how they were to respond to God and how they were to respond to each other. The basic component of this response was love. Love God and love your neighbor.
However, over time the teaching was misinterpreted. The feeling of being chosen, being the elect, was misunderstood. The false sense of pride caused many people to become exclusionary to some degree.
Jesus knows the way this sense of false pride has affected the people. He knows many people believe they have a special status as God's chosen. His answer could not have been very comforting. He tells them the door to salvation is narrow. The Lord opens and closes the door. Many people will try to enter it and find the door closed. Yet, they will claim to know the Lord. They will claim to have shared meals with him. They will claim to have heard him teach. They will claim the Lord does know them. Through the claims they are attempting to prove their status. They are trying to claim to be on a first name basis. They are claiming preferential treatment.
Yet, the Lord does not know them. They have not been faithful in trying to love God or love their neighbor. The false pride of feeling chosen overshadowed their willingness to love. The door is closed.
How do we feel about these words of Jesus so far? I wonder how we rate on feeling we have a preferred status. Do we feel we are saved if we are baptized? Do we feel we are saved if we are a card-carrying member of a Christian Church or organization? Do we feel we are saved if we come to church every Sunday? In other words, do we feel we are God's elect in some way? The short answer is yes. We do feel at times we are God's elect in some way. At times in our lives we have felt, do feel, or will feel like we are better than some one else. We may feel better than our neighbor, a relative, a schoolmate, or our spouse. We have those moments when we catch ourselves saying, "Thank God I am not like that person over there." We feel God has especially blessed us or chosen us. In actuality, we are chosen. We are chosen to respond in humility and compassion. The person we are thankful we are not, is the first person we should be responding to in love.
So, will many be saved? The answer is still yes. Jesus tells us in the lesson many will be saved. They will come from all over the world. They will come from north, south, east and west. They are the ones who have tried their best to put aside the idea of being specially chosen. Instead of depending on status, name, or birthright, they place themselves in the grace and mercy of God. They have tried their best to love God and to love their neighbor.
We all have those moments when we start to feel chosen or elected. Perhaps we can find a way to deal with them. After I read the first few paragraphs of the platinum credit card offer I ripped the letter in two and threw it away. In those moments when we start to feel our special election or false pride maybe we can catch ourselves. We might have an opportunity to rip through the false pride and respond in love instead. In a way I am thankful for all of the credit card applications I receive in the mail now. They cause me to wonder how I am feeling about my relationship with God and others. I kind of hope I get an application every day. I find I often need the reminder.