Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost
August 22, 2004
The Gospel: Luke 13:22-30
Sermon: "The Narrow Door is God's Love"
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."
The Narrow Door is God's Love
Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost - August 22, 2004
Throughout history people have had the question about how we get into heaven. There have been many stories, many tales and many jokes. Excuse me. We interrupt this sermon with this important news bulletin. Hell, has apparently frozen over. That's right! According to our source, one of Satan's lieutenants named Wormwood, Hell is experiencing a full-blown blizzard at this exact moment. All of the fires have gone out. Everyone is celebrating and a huge snowball fight has begun. People are looking all over Hell for sleds and skis to enjoy the fun. No one is exactly sure what has happened. Satan has been seen moving through the snow mumbling to himself. He keeps saying something about St. Peter and Hell freezing over. We aren't exactly sure, but it appears St. Peter has allowed a lawyer into heaven.
As I said, there are many jokes and stories about how we get into heaven. There are also many theories about how we get into heaven. Some religions and some denominations say they are the only way into heaven. Believe what they believe and we are each assured of eternal life. Some people believe baptism alone gets us into heaven. Others believe heaven' gates open only to faith. Still others believe that in order to get into heaven we must work our way through the door. Our good actions alone are the only ticket past the gates. Yes, theories abound and in actuality no one knows the answer.
However, today's Gospel does give us an interesting clue. As I said earlier many religions and denominations seem to believe they are the only way. This concept was also prevalent among the Hebrew people. From the time of the Exodus they believed God was their God. They believed they were God's chosen people. And to a certain point they were absolutely correct. God did choose the people of Israel. God brought them out of bondage and promised them a place to live and to grow into the fullness and richness of God's plan. For a while they tried to follow God's plan, but they never really achieved the ultimate expression God wanted for them. God's ultimate plan was for Israel to be a light to the all of the nations of the wonder, the glory, the incredible love of God. As a light they were to help draw all people to an awareness of God's mercy and love. All people were to be drawn to God through their witness of God's love.
What happened? Israel fell into the oldest of all traps. Instead of sharing God, they felt they needed to hoard God. God was to be their God and their God only. If a person wanted to experience the love of God, then they had to become an Israelite first. Their belief in God became exclusionary. It is difficult to be a light when one is exclusionary. The light becomes dim and hidden. These beliefs make any possibility of eternal life void for anyone who is not of their belief.
Jesus comes and blows exclusionary thought out of the window. No one has the right to place human boundaries between God and God's creation. Entrance into heaven is not about what group we belong to or what rules we follow according to our own faith. Jesus makes this aspect of our life with God clear.
So, Jesus makes it clear that God is not exclusionary. Everyone has the opportunity to live fully with God. What Jesus doesn't make clear is how we mange to live our life with God. Here is where we find the clue. Jesus describes entering heaven as entering through a narrow door. It is a door we must strive to enter. Striving does mean there is some work involved. What is the work that is involved? Jesus constantly gave us examples of the work we are called to do. We are called to be peacemakers in this world. We are called to be healers and sources of help to those in need. First and foremost, we are to carry the word of God's redeeming love to the world. Jesus has called all who believe in him to be lights in the world of God's love. Here at St. Thomas we are to be a light to people in our community of the love of God. We already do a great deal to help those in need. We have more people on more boards and committees than one would believe possible. But we have to ask ourselves the most important question. Are we sharing God's message of love to those who aren't in dire need? How are we letting the unchurched know they are loved by God? If we share the love of God outside these walls then we will grow. We grow not because we are trying to scare people into believing in God, but because we are opening our doors, the doors of our hearts, to include God's people.
Before we go too far down this road I want us to be sure that I am not discussing works righteousness. We can not do enough good works to get into heaven. We can not have enough faith to get into heaven. We only get into heaven by God's grace. However, we can not simply rest on our laurels. Too many Christians believe we will get into heaven by attending church and Sunday School. If they tithe and help out now and again with a particular activity then they are assured of salvation. Jesus is saying in this lesson don't bet on it. There is more to it than church attendance and throwing money at a problem. It is a way of life. Being a Christian means intentionally being a light. We share the light of Christ in simple ways. We help where we can. We study our scriptures. We attend church regularly. We take communion as the family of God. Most of all, we invite others to be a part of the family. If we want to be sure we are going to heaven we place our hope in God's grace. Meanwhile we share the love God has given us because we have been loved by God first.