Thursday, August 25, 2016

The narrow door. . .

Sermon preached for Pentecost 14, Proper 16C, on August 21, 2016.

    We want to know what we want to know.  How many will be saved?  The disciples then looked around and saw what we see. They lamented empty pews and hard hearts, people caught up in the moment who rejected the call to faith and disciples who had lost their way.  Will those who are saved be few?  Is it not our curiosity as well?  Even Jesus had His critics.  Those who are saved are the Lord’s business – not ours.  Though we want to know how and why, we are not given this to know.
    What is our business?  Our business is the strive to eneter by the narrow door.  In other words, our business is faith.  Our business is to live this faith our daily before the Lord and before the world, living in hope and as witnesses of this hope, rejoicing in the comfort of the cross and telling its story to all around us.
    That is probably not what we want to hear but it is the truth. Strive to enter by the narrow door.  Those are hard words for a people seeking easy street.  To strive means that faith does not come naturally to our hearts sinful by nature.  Faith cannot be taken for granted but must be constantly nurtured by the means of grace.  Faith comes not by hearing once but by living where the Word of God is spoken.  Faith lives by daily repentance that is the fruit of our baptismal new life.

    Strive means that life in the Kingdom is not easy but hard. We have heard it – persecution by a world that hated Jesus and hates those who belong to Jesus.  Tribulation in a world where the easy way is nearly always the wrong way and to stand up for Jesus is to stand out from the crowd.
    Life in the Kingdom is not a path of moral perfection but of daily repentance.  We live in this daily repentance by the power of forgiveness as the Spirit works to dailiy reclaim us from our pride and from our weakness both at the same time.  Strive means that we work at this, working out our salvation by the power of the Holy Spirit.
    Strive to enter by the NARROW DOOR.  That again is not what we want to hear.  We want to believe that the way of salvation is a broad boulevard but it is a narrow path.  We want to think of it as a grand entrance but it is a narrow door.  Christ is the way the truth and the life and no man comes to the Father but by Him.  Sincerity does not save but faith in Christ does.
    The narrow way is truth – not good feelings or noble intentions but solid doctrine formed from Scripture and normed by that Word.  The narrow way is creed that confesses with specificity who Jesus is, from whence He has come, and what He has come to do.  The narrow way is confession of this faith boldly before a world that may or may not hear.
    The narrow way is the life of faith – life in the Spirit, life lived by faith and not by sight.  The Christian life is our concern – not who will be saved but the Christian life born of baptismal rebirth, nourished by the Word and Supper of the Lord, lived in tension with the world, confessed without fear by those who would persecute us, and lived confidently even in the faith of death. 
    Have you read how many hymns in our hymnal sing of the glory of a faithful death or pray for the same?  These words have nothing to do with whether or not that death is painful or it comes at the end of a long life.  No the faithful death is the Christian who dies in faith no matter the circumstance, confident that they will rise with Christ to everlasting life.
    You have probably noticed this is no pep talk to try harder for Jesus.  No, this is the unpleasant truth of false prophets, of hypocrites, of lies that damn, of true alone that saves, and of the vanity of sincerity without the narrow faith in the one and only Christ.  We may be curious about what belongs to God but it is God's to decide and ours to believe.  Instead of trying to know what is not ours to know, He has called us to do what does belong to us.  Strive to live by faith, to walk the narrow path of salvation by grace alone for the sake of Christ alone, and our own entrance into eternal life through Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.  So strive for this.  Work for it.  Live for it.  Die in it.
    The narrow way is Christ alone – exclusive for there is salvation in no other but inclusive because everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.  The hypocrisy of good works and dead hearts is exposed.  The arrogance of sincerity which believes everything in general but not in specifically in Christ is laid bare. Repent. Believe. Strive to live in Christ alone.  This is our only peace and comfort.  Amen.


John Joseph Flanagan said...

Amen. Who can add anything to what you have stated? Jesus said the broad way is not where we should walk. Only the narrow way leads to eternal life. If we believe theology that says otherwise, we are misguided. Christ is the only way and John 14:6 records the words of Our Lord quite directly.

Anonymous said...

“Our business is to strive to enter by the narrow door “ and “Strive means that life in the Kingdom is not easy but hard.” How did we get from “striving to enter” to “Strive means that life in the Kingdom is not easy but hard”? If we would only limit ourselves to what the words say, we would not constantly burden the conscience of Christians with the things “they have to do” to be saved. But that would make it too easy, wouldn’t it. That would almost be like saying, Matthew 11,”28“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest or your souls. 30For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
To “enter” does not mean “to be in” and “to be in” does not mean”to enter.” The narrow door is our Lord Himself. John 10:9-16,”9 I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” The way we enter through the narrow door is by Baptism, even as our Lord commanded.
One we have entered, we are in the Kingdom. That is the foundation of the New Covenant. “Having overcome the sharpness of death, He opened the Kingdom to all believers,” as we sing in that most ancient of Christian hymns.
The constant striving with our own sins, contrary to what the majority of Lutheran pastors preach, is not the main purpose in our lives. As both our Lord and so eloquently St. Paul in Philippians 2 said, “5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant...” If our main concern is to struggle with our sins, when will we have time to serve our neighbor?
By no means is our own sin to be ignored. But the whole point of our faith is that our Lord has overcome our sin – we are forgiven. Yes, we should be contrite, yes, we should ask for forgiveness daily, but we should not believe that this “striving” is what we are here on earth for. That is not what put the sheep at the right hand of our Lord at the judgement.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

John Joseph Flanagan said... have managed to turn a straightforward scriptural verse into a complex and cloudy theological discussion.. Christ was speaking this verse to uneducated people and not to a room full of theologians . He meant what He said. Nothing more. Nothing less. We must strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and we still take time to "serve our neighbor."

Anonymous said...

John Flanagan:
If you read my posting to the end, you might have noticed that I put my name down.
You might be surprised at the level of education of the people our Lord was addressing, neither is what I wrote understandable only to theologians. It all depends on your understanding of the Gospel.
Our Lord said many things during His sojourn on earth. But if you could point out to me where in the 12th Chapter of Luke He said “We must strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil,” I will admit that I am wrong. He was specifically speaking about “entering” beginning at verse 24 and following. Do you think that those who, according to our Lord’s words were left outside of the banquet room were left there because they did not “strive against the world, the flesh, and the devil,” or because they wanted to enter through the wrong door? Romans 9: 30What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31but the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. 32Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone. 33As it is written:
“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes people to stumble
and a rock that makes them fall,
and the one who believes in him will never be put to shame.”
So the message to us, who have been brought into the Kingdom by the grace and mercy of God is one of Joy, because God saw to it that we entered by the right door. It has nothing to do with “striving against the world, the flesh, and the devil.” There are enough other places where that is the message, but we do not have to make it into the message where something else is meant.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

John Joseph Flanagan said...

The verse speaks for itself and can stand alone. That is my view. Blessings.