Sunday, August 26, 2007

Are You Left Out in the Cold?

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Sunday, August 26, 2007
Luke 13:22-30

All you baseball fans know what an achievement a perfect game is. Maybe some of you have seen a perfect game and know that you have seen something that not many see. For those of you who think baseball is about the most boring thing around and you’d sooner watch grass grow, you might actually wonder if the game will ever end and what exactly the point of the game is if you were witnessing a perfect game. A perfect game is when the pitcher gets every batter out. Three up, three down, for nine straight innings. It’s been done only fifteen times.

Imagine if you are watching a perfect game in progress. Each inning toward the end is more intense. Finally, the pitcher has two strikes on the final batter. All he has to do is get one more strike, but throws three balls instead. George Will in his column this past week talked about the umpire who was behind the plate at just such a moment. History is about to be made, and yet, the umpire called the pitches for what they were—balls, not strikes. And the last pitch? Also a ball, spoiling a chance for history. But George Will points out that though one kind of glory was lost that day, another one was achieved: the integrity of rules. The pitcher could very well have been feeling that the umpire took away his glory and spectacular of achievement of that day.

It’s a sinking feeling when the authority tells you that you’ve come up short. Kind of like when you get to the door of an event you were really looking forward to like a show or a sporting event and you realize you lost your tickets. The people at the gate can be the nicest people in the world, but they’re not going to let you in without a ticket. Or if you’ve maintained a 4.0 grade average but in one of your classes you make enough mistakes to bring you below that. Your teacher may feel for you in giving you a lower grade, but gives it nonetheless.

A good friend of mine was a model of health. He took care of himself, was in good shape, and was very healthy. But he died instantly from a heart defect from birth. It had never affected him. He didn’t even know it was there. He didn’t even know he died when he did. It was a small tear that eventually broke wide open and killed him instantly.

What’s it going to be like on Judgment Day? Do we think about that much? Or do we tend to ignore it with the thought that it doesn’t really affect us here and now? There are times, though, aren’t there, where we wonder about it all? How many will be saved? Will God go ahead and just save everybody? Or just most people, leaving only the vilest of people to rot in hell? Or do most people have no chance? Will there only be a few who are saved? And we might even wonder at times if anybody has a chance. These questions are back there somewhere in our mind, if not troubling to us more often than just occasionally. Because at the heart of it is the question, will I be saved? And how can I know?

The non-Christian, the one who doesn’t believe in Jesus, might not think twice about these things. The Christian might just as easily think that he’s in, no worries. But the pitcher was sure he was one pitch away from a perfect game. And the people going to their concert were excited about getting in to see it. And the student was convinced he had the 4.0 in hand. And my friend was expecting to live a good long life.

We’re sure we’re going to be saved, aren’t we? That if it’s only a few who are saved that the many are certainly a lot of people “out there”. But ought we to be so sure? What’s all this talk from Jesus about struggling to get in through the narrow door? Is He warning us that we shouldn’t be so confident of our salvation after all? The people He describes at the big feast are shocked that He won’t let them in. Is He trying to tell us that this is us? That’s not a very comforting prospect.

Jesus makes clear that He doesn’t come to save only some. The door is open. It’s open for all. But it’s narrow. Not all will want to go through the narrow door. The wide door is also always open. But being wide it will appeal to many. So Jesus doesn’t just usher some through the right door. It’s just that He offers His salvation in only one way, and that’s why it’s narrow. The wide door is the one that appeals to many because it doesn’t exclude them if they don’t believe in Jesus, or no matter what they believe, for that matter.

The narrow door is exclusive, however. Like that umpire who didn’t just give the perfect game to the pitcher, or the ticket taker who doesn’t just let people in without a ticket, or the teacher who gives a lower grade even though it means the student is out of the 4.0. The authority is rigid and unwavering. My friend looked like he had a long life ahead of him, but he had no chance against a little defect.

That question—will I be saved?—is a disconcerting one. Because we have doubts. On the other hand, we might have no doubt at all. What’s even more disconcerting is Jesus’ answer. He seems to put those of us who see ourselves as among the few who are saved among the many who are left out in the cold. But Jesus isn’t assigning us to hell. He’s not saying we have no hope. Otherwise, why would He bother telling us all that He says here? If we had no hope He would just say so and leave it at that.

But there is hope. That’s why He keeps saying “you”. You struggle to enter through the narrow door. You will be standing outside and not let in. He will say, “I do not know where you come from.” You will say, “But we ate and drank with You and You taught in our streets.” And He will say, “I don’t know you,” and “Depart from Me, all you workers of evil.”

I know. It’s scary stuff. It’s as if He’s saying, “You think you’re saved? Think again. You’re going to hell.” But that’s not what He’s saying. He’s warning us. And that is the greatest kind of love and grace. He’s making us aware of what could be before it happens. So that it won’t happen to us. He doesn’t want it to happen to us. Otherwise, why would He go through such pains to warn us? Why would He come at all?

And most of all, He makes known to us that it will be a struggle. We don’t want to hear this, of course. You mean it’s going to be hard? You mean there’s difficulty to this? It’s not just an easy ride?

If it were, why would Jesus leave the eternal throne of glory and become a man? Talk about difficulty—He’s living proof! But this is really where He’s going with this. It always is. He never points us to ourselves when it comes to salvation. He does point out, yes, that we of ourselves are on the outside looking in if we’re content with our own righteousness. That’s what all the “you’s” were about. But the reason He uses all those “you’s” is so that when we look to Him—where our only hope is to be found—we can hear the “you’s” He speaks to us in our Baptism and His Holy Supper.

I forgive you of all your sins. He says to you, “Welcome into My eternal feast of glory.” Take and eat, this is My body, given for you. Take and drink, this is My blood, shed for you. The reason it’s a struggle is because our sinful flesh is always wanting to focus back on itself rather than on Christ. But Christ focuses our attention to Him. Where He has endured the supreme struggle, taking the sins of the world upon Himself in His suffering and death. He died for you. He rose from the grave so that you may live forever. Amen.


1 comment:

rev.will said...

Please don't rapture me.