Monday, August 26, 2019

Our Father leads us home. . .

Sermon for Pentecost 11, Proper 16C, preached on Sunday, August 25, 2019 (prepared by the Rev. Daniel M. Ulrich).

    Watching the HGTV shows you find out the value of curb appeal.  Front doors are for more than entrance.  This hit home when we built onto our building and people in the community said that you could not see a front door from Madison Street.  Though we knew most folks would enter by the parking lot entrance, it was important for the cars driving by to see a door so that they knew where to enter and that they were welcome here.  The entrance is not just a door but the way to all that is inside, to the house of God and the things of God and the gifts of God.

I.    In the Gospel reading today, Jesus was asked a question, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (Lk 13:23).  Though there is no context given for this question, it is a question sure to be on the minds of many people of God.  We want to know, too.  Who is in and who is out?  That is why the internet is so popular – you can find out anything on it.  And we want to know.  Why are some saved and not others and will heaven be full or empty.               

    You will notice that Jesus did not really answer that question.  He did not give a number or even a general idea.  Jesus turned the question right back on the one who asked it.  It may be curiosity to know if there will be many who are saved but it is a completely different thing to know YOU are saved.

    Jesus said, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (Lk 13:24).  The door to heaven is not wide and easy but narrow.  Jesus tells the person to strive to enter through this narrow door.  That means to struggle with, fight for, and expend great effort to enter through this narrow door.  It does not mean to push one’s way through, forcing your entrance into heaven, but to make sure that you enter as God has provided, that you come through the door as God has opened the door. 

    So you cannot get through the door claiming your right.  You did not earn your way through nor do you deserve what awaits you.  Your works cannot pay the entry fee and your sins keep you and every sinner from entering. . . EXCEPT where God makes it possible.

    The door has no place for the self-righteous.  It only has a place for the penitent.  The narrow door has no place for those who presume they belong but it does have a place for those who enter through the humility of faith, pleading Christ’s merits, and trusting in His promises.  The door is not simply a door but a judge – it determines whether the person belongs or does not belong.  The only ones who belong are those who are in Christ Jesus, who have been washed clean in the waters of baptism, who recognize the voice of God in His Word as the voice of the Good Shepherd, and who discern Christ’s presence in His Holy Supper.   You have to know Jesus to enter.

    Jesus says this bluntly.  No one comes to the Father except through Me.  Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.  The door only opens to Christ and to those who are covered by His righteousness, washed in His blood, and given His new life.  Jesus is that door.  He is not come to justify the sinner or excuse the sins but to forgive the sinner and to pay the full penalty of that sin.  And the Spirit reveals this to us so that we may believe it and by believing it be able to enter to be where Christ is.

    Our Lord fleshed this out with a parable.  “When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’  But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from.  Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’” (Lk 14:25-27).   This is not about what you know but about who you know and about how you know Him.  Luther once said, “For even though you know that He is God’s Son, that He died and rose again, and that He sits at the right hand of the Father, you have not yet learned to know Christ aright” – unless you believe that He is God’s Son for you, that He died for you, that He rose for you, and that He sits at the right hand of the Father for you.  Even Satan knows all the details about Christ – perhaps even better than the best of us.  But knowing Christ here means trusting Him for salvation.  It means knowing Him by faith.  It means trusting the facts of Jesus’ life are for you.  It means believing and trusting that He did everything for you.  His birth is for you.  His death is for you.  His resurrection is for you.  This faith is the only way through the narrow door.  This faith is how you’re led through that door. 

    When Jesus said “Strive to enter through the narrow door,” He wasn’t telling us that salvation happens because of your efforts but was talking about the necessity of knowing Him by faith, living in this faith, and trusting that He has accomplished all things that you may be forgiven of your sins, declared holy and righteous, and be welcomed into everlasting life.

    Faith is not the easy way.  The easy way is to make salvation into a simple transaction whereby we do something and God acts in response to give us something.  Faith is hard because it means trusting in what you cannot see and believing what seems completely unreasonable to your mind.  This faith requires the gift of the Holy Spirit or we could not believe at all.  But because God gives us His Spirit and works in us to teach our fearful hearts to believe and to trust in Him, the door opens and heaven and all its glory is ours.  That is what it means that we are saved by grace – grace in what Christ has done and grace given so that we might believe it.

    II.    In the collect of the day we prayed, “O Lord, You have called us to enter Your kingdom through the narrow door. Guide us by Your Word and Spirit, and lead us now and always into the feast of Your Son, Jesus Christ.”  You know that many things can be learned by praying the collects of the Church.  So in this prayer we acknowledge two things.  First, that God has called us to enter His kingdom, and second, that He guides and leads by His Word and Spirit.  God must lead us through the narrow door and He does so by teaching us to know Christ as our Savior.  This happens when His Word is preached, the word of Christ and Him crucified and risen.  This happens where we are connected to Christ’s death and resurrection through the Waters of Baptism.  This happens where we hear His voice absolving us of our sins and we are given the gift of a clear conscience.  And this happens when we hear Him address the bread of His Supper as His body and the wine as His blood and bids us eat and drink with joy in our hearts.   By the means of grace, God takes us by the hand and leads us to Christ and through Christ leads us to everlasting life.

    Now the person wondered if many will be saved or just a few. But Jesus directed him not to the what ifs of theory but to the concrete of His own path of faith and life in Christ.  How many will be saved is God’s to know.  But that you are saved is yours to know and to rejoice in, especially when the world is hard and life is difficult.  Remember when God asked Abraham to count the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the shore to count His children?  But it began with the promise of one child, one son.  As Abraham saw through his one son Isaac the full promise, so we do we see in our own gracious welcome of God the welcome of the many who shall be saved by grace, through faith in Christ.  We see the whole by seeing ourselves first as the people of His promise and the recipients of His grace, walking through Christ, the narrow door, to everlasting light and life.

    The door is not narrow because only a few fit but it is narrow because entrance only comes through Christ.  Christ is the only Way, the only Truth, and the only Life by which any and all who will be saved, shall be saved.  Doors are more than curb appeal, but the entrance into the whole house.  That is true of our homes but it is also true of God’s House.  Christ is the door, He opens that door to us and He leads us through that door home, homes to the Father, and home to the place prepared for us before the foundation of the world.   In Jesus’ name...Amen.

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