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Sermon for Sunday 21 August 2016

FIRST READING Isaiah 66:18-23

18“For I know their works and their thoughts, and the time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see my glory, 19and I will set a sign among them. And from them I will send survivors to the nations, to Tarshish, Pul, and Lud, who draw the bow, to Tubal and Javan, to the coastlands far away, that have not heard my fame or seen my glory. And they shall declare my glory among the nations. 20And they shall bring all your brothers from all the nations as an offering to the Lord, on horses and in chariots and in litters and on mules and on dromedaries, to my holy mountain Jerusalem, says the Lord, just as the Israelites bring their grain offering in a clean vessel to the house of the Lord. 21And some of them also I will take for priests and for Levites, says the Lord. 22For as the new heavens and the new earth that I make shall remain before me, says the Lord, so shall your offspring and your name remain. 23From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the Lord.”


PSALM Psalm 50:1-15

1The Lord, the God of gods, has spoken; he has called the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. 2Out of Zion, perfect in its beauty, God reveals himself in glory. 3Our God will come and will not keep silence; before him there is a consuming flame, and round about him a raging storm. 4He calls the heavens and the earth from above to witness the judgment of his people. 5“Gather before me my loyal followers, those who have made a covenant with me and sealed it with sacrifice.” 6Let the heavens declare the rightness of his cause; for God himself is judge. 7Hear, O my people, and I will speak: “O Israel, I will bear witness against you; for I am God, your God. 8I do not accuse you because of your sacrifices; your offerings are always before me. 9I will take no bull calf from your stalls, nor he goats out of your pens; 10For all the beasts of the forest are mine, the herds in their thousands upon the hills. 11I know every bird in the sky, and the creatures of the fields are in my sight. 12If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the whole world is mine and all that is in it. 13Do you think I eat the flesh of bulls, or drink the blood of goats? 14Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving and make good your vows to the Most High. 15Call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall honor me.”


SECOND READING Hebrews 12:4-29

4In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. 6For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” 7It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? 8If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. 9Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? 10For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. 11For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it. 12Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears. 18For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel. 25See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken — that is, things that have been made — in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29for our God is a consuming fire.


GOSPEL Luke 13:22-30

22{Jesus} went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24“Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25When 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.’ 26Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28In that place 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 but you yourselves cast out. 29And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”



For those who have discussed sports with me, then you know that I’m a closet NASCAR fan. For several years, Terry’s dad and uncle had reservations for seats down at Darlington. This was, of course, back when there were two races a year at the track they call the Lady in Black. We went for several years and I really enjoyed going to the races, but after the Terrorists attacks of 2001, getting into the track became a real hassle. The reason I bring this up, is that I wanted to ask you a question about getting into sporting events. Now I’ve attended races at various NASCAR tracks, enjoyed several minor league baseball games in person and even caught a couple of hockey games over the years and there’s one thing that all these sporting venues have in common and that’s how you get into them.
For those who have gone to a professional sporting event, especially after 9-11, then you know that getting into the event can be a challenge. It seems like people come from every direction only to be funneled down to a narrow entrance. What started out as a wide path suddenly becomes a very narrow passageway that only a few at a time can get through. Some of these events have a slender single person gate, others have turn styles and one I’ve been to has a rotating 4-position gate that makes getting in even more difficult. For those willing to expend the effort, be patient or are dedicated fans, this hindrance isn’t a problem. The effort expended in getting in is just part of the process, it’s effort that’s worth the hassle, or it’s embraced as something that’s part of the experience. But for others, this difficulty is discouraging and prevents them from attending. Now I’d like you to do me a favor and keep this in mind as we consider again our gospel passage for this morning.
In our Luke reading for today, Jesus describes the door to the Kingdom as starting out wide and open to all – but then comes the struggle to go through the narrow door: one at a time, and hold your own ticket. The problem we have with today’s reading is that it doesn’t match up with our sometimes comfortable idea of the Christian life: being king when it isn’t too difficult; going to worship when it’s convenient; giving a little money when it’s tax deductible; helping with the Lord’s work when we feel like it; acknowledging Jesus as Savior when we’re among friends or when we happen to think about it. We want to be Christians on our terms, with little to no interruption to our comfortable way of life. It was Bonhoeffer who said it best when he wrote about cheap grace verses costly grace.
Cheap grace vs. costly grace is another one of the subjects that we will be covering in the early Wednesday Bible study in September and I wanted to touch on it briefly this morning because it’s integral to the gospel lesson for today. People want the easy way, the wide smooth path and Bonhoeffer highlighted the difference between the broad and narrow way when he talked about God’s grace. To paraphrase Dr. Bonhoeffer, cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without contrition and repentance, baptism without discipline, the Lord’s supper without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without effort or cost, grace without the cross and grace without the living incarnate Jesus Christ. In other words, cheap grace is grace without cost, commitment, effort or sacrifice. Cheap grace is universal salvation, many paths to God, and minimal effort, works salvation. Cheap grace is getting into heaven simply because you’re a decent person.
On the other hand, costly grace is the hidden treasure in the field (Matt. 13:44). It is the gospel that must be sought again and again. Costly grace calls for discipleship and for us to follow Jesus. Costly grace requires commitment, effort and the giving up of one’s own desires and placing God first in our lives, not matter the cost. Costly grace isn’t shaped by political correctness, the separation of one’s faith from one’s public life, the current political/theological trends or if the message of the Bible runs counter to public opinion. Costly grace instead condemns sin; even at the cost of one’s friends, family, their livelihood or even their lives. It’s costly grace because it cost God the life of His only Son. It’s costly grace because “we were bought for a price.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) It’s costly grace because it comes at a very high price, not because we can ever buy it or earn it, but because discipleship is the denial of the easy, striving instead for the narrow path.
It’s easy to think that once we’re members of the church we’ve reached the goal, come to the end of the road, and our striving for the Kingdom of God is done. One man was in a congregation that was singing Reginald Heber’s great hymn, “The Son of God goes forth to war.” The last line of that hymn says: “O God, to us may grace be given to follow in their train.” He was surprised to hear the woman standing next to him sing: “O God, to us may grace be given to follow on the train.” The hard thing for us to accept is that the Christian life is a constant striving to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it. The Christian life isn’t simply a destination, but a journey and the path isn’t always a smooth paved superhighway.
Jesus says that we’re to “strive to enter the narrow door.” It’s interesting to note that the Greek word for “strive” is the same word from which we get our word “agony.” “Will those who are saved be few?” they asked. Jesus’ reply was, in effect, that we’re not to worry about that, but the door is narrow and we’re to strive to enter by that narrow door. We’re to strive or “agonize” to enter.
Using the term agonize may seem like a strong word for the kingdom of a loving God, but a true disciple shouldn’t be too surprised: there are many narrow doors in our life where those who enter must strive to enter. It’s true of the scholar who, in Milton’s words, must “scorn delights and live laborious days.” It’s true of the athlete, who must scorn rich food, engage in rigid discipline and practice with constant, faithful diligence. It’s also true of the musician.
Someone once said to Paderewski, a renown pianist, “Sir, you are a genius.” He replied, “Madam, before I was a genius I was a drudge.” He said that if he missed practice one day, he noticed it; if he missed practice two days, the critics noticed it; if he missed three days, his family noticed it; if he missed four days, the audience noticed it. The door is narrow. Why then should we think we can “drift” into the Kingdom of God? It’s reported that after one of Fritz Kreisler’s concerts a young woman said to him, “I would give my life to be able to play like that.” He replied, “That’s what I gave.”
The Christian life is a constant striving to do the will of God as Jesus revealed it. Why this need to strive? Because there are forces of evil within us trying to pull us down. Have you ever tried to walk up a down escalator? Not to strive upward is to be constantly pulled down. There are forces of evil within us and around us, constantly trying to pull us down from generosity to selfishness; from compassion to indifference; from sacrifice to greed.
A little boy once asked his mother if people who told lies went to heaven. She replied “Of course not.” “Well,” he said, “it must be awfully lonesome there with only God and George Washington.” So “lie a little,” the forces of evil say. “Why struggle with it? Be partially honest, relatively pure, occasionally forgiving, comparatively loving, sometimes reverent. Relax. Nobody’s perfect.” And of course this is but one of the things we struggle with. But it isn’t society as a whole that will have to answer to the Master and Judge one day. We will all stand as individuals before Him.
God spoke through Isaiah in our first reading for today and said, “For I [understand] their works and their thoughts.” (vs. 18a) God knows everything we do and why we do it. And Jesus said, “For nothing is hidden that will not be made manifest, nor is anything secret that will not be known and come to light. (Lu. 8:17) Each of us must enter heaven (or hell for that matter) on our own – not because we ate and drank where Jesus happened to be; not because He taught on our street. Each one is to struggle to enter the Kingdom. We enter in not because we go to church suppers; not because there’s a church on our street. Each one must strive to enter the Kingdom on our own.
The husband doesn’t enter the Kingdom because his wife is a member of the church women’s group. The wife doesn’t enter God’s kingdom because her cousin is a missionary. Each of us must strive to enter on our own. There are times, of course, when our striving seems useless. Jesus exhorts us in Matthew to “be perfect as our heavenly Father is perfect.” (5:48) The goal of Christian living, perfection, seems unattainable, impossible many will say; but that’s not the point. The point is: are we doing all we can? Paul tells us in Romans, God “will render to each one according to his works.” (2:6)
An ancient king once built a temple to God. His name was on the entrance wall as the prime mover of the project. However, above his name on the wall he placed the name of an unknown woman. After her name were the words, “She has done what she could. After work was done each day, in compassion she gathered the hay to feed the oxen.” Obscure heroes will be found at the judgment – those who have done all they could. In the old hymn Living for Jesus, written by Thomas O. Chisholm, the first verse reads:
Living for Jesus a life that is true, Striving to please him in all that I do;
Yielding allegiance, glad hearted and free, This is the pathway of blessing for me.
Living for Jesus, striving to please Him, this should be our goal and desire without any regard for the effort needed to pass through the narrow door.
Here, of course, the New Testament teaching of Justification by Faith comes in. We’re made acceptable to God by our faith in Jesus as our Savior; by our own public profession of Christ crucified and resurrected, of Jesus as Son of the living God. Martin Luther, in his great hymn A Mighty Fortress is our God, wrote in the second verse, “Our striving would be losing Were not the right man on our side. We know that we’re not saved by works, but by grace through faith alone; yet if this faith in Jesus – this profession of Jesus as our Savior – is genuine, it will have a constant meaning for our daily living. It’s not that we must do good works to be redeemed. We don’t do good works for Jesus in order to be saved; we do good works for Jesus as the outward sign that we are saved. Our good works are the fruit, the outward evidence of our inward faith.
The question we must ask ourselves is, do we truly love the Lord? And despite popular notion, the opposite of love isn’t hate – it’s indifference. Lots of people don’t actively hate Jesus and what He taught; they’re simply indifferent to it, doing what suits them, not what suits God. And what we need to always keep in mind is, when it comes to our final judgement, it’s God’s judgment; it isn’t the world, the family, our friends or our co-workers, who will determine the citizens of the Kingdom. We must all stand before Jesus, who know us personally, and account for our lives. Someone once said to a woman, “Your husband seems like a wonderful man.” Out of her years of intimate experience she replied, “You don’t have to live with him.”
Intimate experience, not outward appearances, determines what we really are. God lives intimately with us. God knows our thoughts, our ambitions, our desires. He’s the one, as the confessional service puts it, “to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and from whom no secrets are hid.” The real question we need to constantly ask ourselves is, when Jesus returns, what will His judgment be? Never mind what the neighbors think.
Jesus points out that for each of us the time is short. “When once the householder has risen up and shut the door, you will begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying ‘Lord, open to us.’ He will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’” There will come a day – we don’t know when, we just know that Paul warned that it’ll be “like a thief in the night” (1 Thes. 5:2) – when God will say to us, as Jesus told the farmer in Luke 12:20, “This night your soul will be required of you.”
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus is telling us that the Christian faith is an active, lifelong striving, with God’s help, against the evil in ourselves and in our world. The end of it is a narrow door where we enter – if we enter – like a turnstile: one at a time, holding our own ticket. May our heavenly Father, inspire us with His Holy Spirit, that we shall not be listless and do-less in our faith, but eager, determined every day to do our utmost for the Lord Jesus our Savior. Amen

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