Second Sunday in Lent
March 7, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 13:[22-30] 31-35
Sermon: "Strive to Enter the Narrow Door"
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."] At that very hour some Pharisees came and said to him, "Get away from here, for Herod wants to kill you." He said to them, "Go and tell that fox for me, 'Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work. Yet today, tomorrow, and the next day I must be on my way, because it is impossible for a prophet to be killed outside of Jerusalem.' Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you. And I tell you, you will not see me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'"
Luke 13:[22-30] 31-35
Strive to Enter the Narrow Door
Second Sunday in Lent - March 7, 2004
Someone asked Jesus, “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 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.’”
How do these words make us feel this morning? Do we find them uncomfortable? I would imagine they are. In fact, I imagine they make us squirm inside as much as we might be squirming in the pews. The reason these words make us squirm is because they are about judgment. If there is anything we do not like it is judgment. Oh, it might be all right to hold someone else in judgment, but not us. When we hear words of judgment concerning our own salvation we get quite uncomfortable. We do not like the fact that we might be judged. I am sure the people at the time did not like it either.
For a moment let's put ourselves in their shoes. Jesus is traveling through the towns and cities on his way to Jerusalem. On the way he is teaching. He is mainly teaching the Hebrew people on the streets and in the synagogues. For many years they have been taught they are God's chosen people. They were rescued from oppression in Egypt, brought to this land, and now they wait for the Messiah. While they wait they are to observe the Law of Moses. By their birthright and by following the Law they will be saved. Yet, someone still wonders and asks the question will many be saved.
In the crowd at the time there were poor people, rich people, Pharisees, his disciples and other followers. People came from all walks of life. There were the righteous people. They were doing their best to follow God and follow the Law. There were the rich people. Some of the rich felt that they were blessed by God and that was why they were wealthy. There were the poor people. The teaching of the day blamed their state on some sin they had committed before God. Being poor or ill was the punishment, a misinterpretation of the Law, for their sin. There were the self-righteous as well. They believed they were perfectly all right, no matter what they did or said, with God. As you can see they really fall into two groups. The first group is those that have a relationship with God. The other group does not have a relationship with God. They think they do.
Which ones will God know? God will know the ones with whom God has relationship. God will not know the ones who have no relationship with God as Lord. The funny thing is those that have no relationship think they do. Somehow they believe God knows who they are. They think God knows where they come from as the scripture implies. Yet, God does not. I am not saying God does not know them. However, they do not know God. They might believe they are saved through birthright. They might believe they are saved because Jesus passed through their town. They are the Chosen they must have eternal life. The question is do they really know God.
Leaving their shoes for a minute let's come back to our own. What are our criteria for salvation? Some people believe that regular attendance at church is what is required. Some believe a large donation assures them entrance into the kingdom. Some believe memorizing the Bible and following all the rules will mean entrance into the kingdom of God. Some even believe that calling ourselves Christians, having fish symbols on our cars, and wwm bracelets and key chains is enough to insure our entrance into God's presence. All of these things are nice. They symbolize some belief in the Christian ideology. They state that we know something about who Jesus. Yet, do they really show a relationship with the Living God? I wouldn't bet salvation on it.
A relationship with God is based on more than following rules, attending church, giving funds and so on. A relationship with God is based on our willingness to follow Jesus Christ. Whether we realize it or not we are on a journey with Christ. We have been on this journey from the day we were born. We are in essence on our own journey, like the disciples, to Jerusalem. The journey is about building a relationship with God. A relationship with God is based on love. We have to ask ourselves do we love God with all of our heart, our mind, our soul and our strength? If we do then it will show in our journey. It will show in how we treat others and how we respond to the world around us. Do we respond with compassion and love to those in need?
I was very struck by the story of the young girl who was dying of cancer. She was offered the opportunity to have her last wish granted. She could ask for anything she wanted. She could have gone to Disney World. She could have had fun in any way. Yet, she asked that the wishes of all the children suffering from cancer like her might be granted. Her wish was for the funds to be raised to grant her compatriots their wishes. She exhibited love, deep love, and compassion for others. She was willing to give up her opportunity for other people. If I am not mistaken that is the definition of sacrifice. The love she had for others is easy to identify. We know where she comes from. God knows where she comes from. The narrow door is opened.
Striving to enter the narrow door means placing God's will before ours. Striving to enter the narrow door means loving and trusting God with every part of our being. Striving to enter the narrow door means responding with the talents we have to the hurting in our world. Striving to enter the narrow door means placing our personal agendas second. It is hard to place our agendas second. That is why it is called striving. It is not easy. Yet, with God all things are possible. If we trust God. If we love God. If we try our best to follow Jesus Christ. Then God's grace will abound. And we will join with all of the heavenly host, from north, south, east and west, and be in the presence of God, in the love of God forever.