21st of the Year, 21 Aug 22
All three readings for today tell of suffering as part of the cleansing work of God for those who seek to follow him on the Way of Redemption.
We have gathered here to eat and drink at The Lord`s Table and by doing so we declare, both individually and collectively as part of the Body of Christ which is His Church, to be gathered to the Lord with a place at the heavenly Banquet. As we examine deeply what we are now doing we must ask our Lord to grant us forgiveness for our manifold sins and a place in His kingdom.
This passage of scripture from St. Luke`s Gospel chapter 13 is, in a sense, doubly important for those who seek to follow Jesus for we find a shortened version of this passage of scripture too in St. Matthew`s Gospel chapters 7 and 8. Both place great emphasis on the narrowness of the door or gate which is the entrance to the heavenly kingdom! So hard is today`s passage from St. Luke that we might be tempted to lose heart and give up the struggle to remain faithful Christians.
The teaching in both St. Matthew`s and St. Luke`s Gospel tells of Jesus pointing out that there is no automatic link between being part of God`s first chosen people – the Israelites and a place in the presence of the Father. Indeed, we are assured, that the Father can raise up children of Abraham, the father of many nations, from every place and people. Luke was a Gentile and he is assuring his readers or listeners that Gentiles truly following Jesus Christ could share fully in the promises Made to Israel.
In one of the places where Jesus was teaching he was asked, by one of his hearers, `Sir, will there be only a few saved ?` The Lord does not give the expected simple answer but said to all gathered, `Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because I tell you, many will try to enter and not succeed…..`
There is no automatic entry into the kingdom. Being a member of the Church or completing the right forms or ticking the right boxes will not lead us to be called to a place in the kingdom. God`s love and mercy look to the heart and soul not to outward appearance. I remember walking through a gallery in the Uffizi in Florence and pausing to look at a Last Judgement painting and seeing the `Chosen` entering heaven to see Christ in Glory with the Father and the Holy Spirit, Our Lady and many saints shown in the upper part of the vast painting and the damned in the lower part of the painting surrounded by devils who were torturing them. Among the damned, particularly, were kings and rulers, one or two popes, several bishops and priests and monks and nuns. No surprising then that Jesus says: `Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside……` People have said: `There are many with a place in the church who still not have a place in the kingdom, and there will be many in the kingdom who have not been part of the church.` This is a very negative approach when it could be expressed more positively by saying something like this: `There are people in every age, culture and religion who will hear the voice of the Spirit and inherit eternal life.`
Salvation is available for all so in the heart of Jesus, and by implication in all His genuine followers, there is no is no place for exclusive-ism. Sadly there are some sects who proclaim a very narrow interpretation of Christian teaching such as, `Outside the church there is no salvation.` Such narrowness is not the mind of Jesus for his sacrifice upon the Cross was that ALL might have the opportunity of being saved. However, we only inherit salvation by seeking to do the will of God.
The Book of Proverbs, that book which follows the Psalms in the Old Testament has these words in chapter 3 and verses 5 & 6: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will show you the way.”
Truly to seek God`s Kingdom is to have a true humility. As the well-known hymn puts it: `Seek ye first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you…` It is not the church that grants salvation but seeking to do the will of God yet the Church by being the Body of Christ in the world is still the means of learning to discover the will of God and anyone who truly seeks out the voice of truth and justice and love and living by it will be called through the narrow gate or door to take his or her place at the feast in the Kingdom.
For each of us who has heard the word of God revealed in Jesus Christ discovers the blessing of knowing the joy to which we are called by God and not least as we gather together for worship and to anticipate that great feast in the Kingdom each time we gather. We, in the gathering, will discover the greater responsibility to build the kingdom of truth, life, holiness, grace, justice, love and peace .
Our God is the One who is perfect love, who reigns by love and not by force. Love, of course, requires a response of love which we show by a true searching for the Kingdom and a generous heart and true desire to love others into God`s Kingdom.
Entering by the narrow gate it would seem can only come about by stripping away the dross we collect on our pilgrim journey and that last sentence of our Lord: `Yes, there are those now last who will be first and those now first who will be last` is both a warning and an encouragement. One of the dangers of being a Christian can be taking God and His mercy for granted. The truth is that none of us matches up to our calling – we fall short and so repentance, that continually TURNING BACK TO GOD must be part of the essence of our Christian pilgrimage.
If, come the Day of Judgement before Jesus at that Great Assize does not admit us into His Kingdom it will not be because He has rejected us but that we have rejected his invitation. Have no fear, every grace that we shall need will be provided by our Saviour if we truly seek membership of His Kingdom.
We may take our cue from those wonderful words from chapter 12 of that Letter to the Hebrews at verses 12 and 13: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.”
There can be the temptation to be self-righteous to make the Church, not so much part of the living Body of Christ but a pale reflexion that can become club-like in the way in which some of its members seek a sense of security by flaunting their “good works”. Praise God that we don`t see much of that here. Individually we are made in the image and likeness of God but each with our own gifts, variety, strengths and weaknesses to be used to his Glory and to the service of his people – not just to the first chosen but to all who truly seek Him.