PENTECOST 14, C – August 21, 2016

SCRIPTURES – Isaiah 66:18-23; Heb. 12:4-24; Luke 13:22-30

 Someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. Luke 13

 

Last Wednesday was the day of my monthly visit to see Albert, Aaron, and Jason, our brothers in Christ who are incarcerated in three different prisons in CT. While waiting at the first prison I got into a conversation with two Corrections Officers. When they heard that I would be driving across the state to visit three men in three different prisons that day, one of the officers asked me, “Do you think there’s any value in what you’re doing? Can they be saved?” I thought for a second and then responded, “Well, if God can save you He can save them.” “Oh, I have to disagree with you there,” he said. He believed there was a significant difference between him and those who were incarcerated. But, he didn’t want to get into that.

 “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” This an interesting question. And, you know, discussions about God and what there is after this life should be interesting.

Ø  For instance, Jesus not only speaks of heaven and hell as real places; He says that those in hell will see “Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God.” They will be able to see those who are in heaven! Isn’t that interesting to think about? No wonder they will be weeping and gnashing their teeth. They will be filled with sorrow and regret for rejecting or ignoring what they could have had!

We should be interested in talking about this, and we should be interesting when we talk about this. How could we make this boring and uninteresting?

 Jesus is certainly not boring. But, He not only makes religious questions and issues interesting. He makes them uncomfortable. We like to look out, you see; to keep things at a distance; to look upon others and consider them. Jesus looks upon you and makes you the topic of discussion. You strive to enter through the narrow door!” Stop looking at others and be concerned about yourself!

 You had better be concerned, for heaven and hell are real places. One or the other will be your final place, the place where you will go after this life to live day after day after day… without end. Forever! And, what will determine which place it will be? Well, it’s your eyes. Yes, your eyes! They will determine whether you will live forever in the joy and bliss of heaven or the sorrow and regret of hell.

 This is what Jesus says. Listen to Him again:

When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door [to heaven], 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!’

There it is, there’s the sin for which they were condemned to hell: it’s their eyes, their vision! They saw Jesus from a distance: “We ate and drank in your presence,” not, “with You.” “You taught in our streets,” not, “You taught us.” Those who go to hell do so because they kept Jesus at a distance.

 Are you here with Jesus, or just in church? Is God teaching you? Do you not only let your Lord speak to you by coming to where His words are read; do you listen to them? Do you want to hear them, to think about them, and follow them? Jesus will not know you as your God and Savior if you keep Him at arm’s length, or in your Sunday morning box – you know, you bring Him out on Sunday mornings, but don’t speak to Him or think about Him or follow Him or ask for His forgiveness the rest of the week.

 God cannot be in a box, for He is the almighty and eternal One who fills all things and rules over all things. You cannot put Him in a box. But, you can box Him out of your heart and mind. You can keep Him at a distance, even if you don’t intend to do so.

Ø  Look at others. See their sins and question their faith and sincerity.

Ø  Admit you are a sinner – but not too bad of one.

Ø  Have interesting discussions about God and religion.

Just don’t let Jesus challenge you or make you uncomfortable. See Him at a distance; and you will then be in a box.

 This is not what God wants. It makes Him angry. It also makes Him sad. How He yearns to be with you, and to open the door to you and welcome you into His heavenly home!! And so, He has opened the door and come down to us.

 Look at Jesus. He is rightly addressed as “Lord,” for He is mighty in word and deed. He is God come down to us in flesh. And yet, He is going through all sorts of little towns and villages in Israel, teaching and helping all sorts of people and making Himself accessible to them. He is doing this as He travels to Jerusalem – to offer Himself up to terrible suffering and the horrible death of crucifixion so that He might save us from terrible suffering and eternal regret in hell for our sins! Even as the Roman soldiers are nailing Him to the cross He prays, “Father, forgive them.” He opened the door to heaven even to them!

 Jesus is God come to us in mercy. His mercy cannot be boxed in, for He is the Lord who fills all things. He is here for you and is speaking His forgiveness to you, as surely as He did to the people He visited in the towns and villages in Israel. In fact, our reading from Hebrews 12 tells us:

“You have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all.”

You are in God’s presence here! This is why He calls you here. It’s not just to teach you; it’s to be with you. God, with His angels and those already with Him in heaven, is here!

 But, most important of all, Jesus is here. “The sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel” is here. You were marked with this blood in the water of your Baptism. Christ’s blood is given to you at this altar. His blood speaks. He speaks forgiveness to you and speaks to His Father for you, that the door to heaven might be opened to you.

 The door to heaven is narrow, Jesus says. Many who hope to enter and expect to enter will not. None of us deserve to enter, for we have sinned against the holy God in whose presence those in heaven live. But Jesus has borne our sins and won forgiveness for us by His death for us. And He is not only standing at the door and calling out; He is standing among us and calling to us here. Listen to Him and rejoice in His shedding of His blood for you; and then, when the time comes that you die and stand before the entrance to heaven, you will find the door open and Jesus, your Savior, standing by your side to bring you into the feast of joy that will have no end! Amen.