2022-08-21 Pentecost 11
Grace, mercy and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
Years ago we were down in South Dakota to take in all the sights like Mount Rushmore and Crazy Horse, Custer State Park and the Needles Highway, Bear Country and Reptile Gardens! There was so much to see and do. We even dared to tour the Jewel Cave! It was a honkin’ huge cave discovered in 1900 by a couple of local prospectors who were travelling by when all of a sudden their horses spooked. They dismounted and went over to a grove of trees and discovered a cave that had so much cold air flowing from it that it was making a whistling noise and that’s what spooked the horses. They went in and thought they hit the jackpot! When they looked around they thought they discovered an enormous quartz deposit which of course would also lead to gold! But it wasn’t quartz. It was calcite. But an impressive and massive cave it was, this that’s for sure. Around 120 years later, people are still going to see it and explore it. Being a true blue prairie boy, I have a natural aversion to any rock-like things that block out sky such as scungy mountains! But being surrounded by rock on all sides and going underground… That’s a whole new can of worms completely.
Claustrophobia sets in! I remember waiting in the lobby for our tour to start and there was this little concrete box sitting there. “What the heck is that?” I wondered. It was an 8-1/2 inch by 24-inch crawl space that you needed to fit through if you wanted to go on the Wild Cave Tour wearing your hard hat and headlamp and belly crawl through crevasses for 3 or 4 hours. I nearly had a panic attack just thinking about having to squeeze through that incredibly narrow space! The last time I could have fit through something like that I was in grade 3!
What came to mind was Jesus’ words from our Gospel reading today: “24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able” (LK 13:24). Thankfully our Lord wasn’t referring to going into a cave! Rather He was answering a question that was posed to Him: “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” (LK 13:22). “Strive” and “Narrow” jump off the page at me regarding Jesus’ answer. The word strive here gives us our English word ‘agonize’, which is very appropriate for crawling through a cave! But salvation?? I thought that was a free gift by God’s grace. What then does striving and agonizing have to do with it? It becomes the good fight of faith. The devil, the world, our own sinful flesh, this unholy trinity always seeks to pull us from the narrow door of salvation. This is where the striving comes in. God has given us His free gift of salvation by faith and in our Baptism. We now strive to keep it, walking in His ways and doing His will.
Jesus was talking here to the Jewish Pharisees, those old law-dogs who He constantly butted heads with. Jesus says “In 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” (LK 13:28). This is where Jesus really drops the hammer on the Jews who were believing that ‘all Israel has a share in heaven.’ They had a narrow view of salvation alright, but it was just the wrong kind of narrow! They were striving by the works of the Law and not by works of faith. They thought that heaven would be their eternal home because of their blood lines, because they had done the good work of choosing their parents well. But they were way off in left field. They were way off base. Their thinking was wide and worldly and it was bringing them far from salvation and far from God’s Kingdom.
It’s against these people that Jesus says “For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 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!” As you can well imagine, this response really ruffled some feathers with the religious establishment. It was like a hand grenade in a bucket of oatmeal! It really created quite a stir.
We see that we have some more “hard sayings” from Jesus. They are purposely heavy and rough to make us perk up our ears and examine our hearts. Are we walking the narrow way? Are we striving for that narrow door? Or, are we like many of the world just coasting along free and easy on that big, wide highway to hell? Jesus Himself is the narrow door. And the Pharisees rejected Him, just as the majority of people do today. That’s why many churches are empty Sunday after Sunday. The world, with its many distractions and temptations is sooo seductive! Followers of Jesus have to be continuously on guard not to get sucked in to that wide road that leads to destruction. And this is where the striving that Jesus speaks of comes in. We need to check our hearts and repent of our sins, for each one seeks to drag us from the narrow way and fatten us up so we can’t squeeze through the narrow door.
God’s eternal salvation is surely a gift of grace through faith in Jesus. For truly He has walked the narrow way of the cross for us. And we are certainly Baptized into that precious gift of love and mercy and forgiveness. Faith and the Sacraments place us on that narrow road of eternal life. And our Lord calls us by the Gospel to stay with Him, to put the world in its proper place. To make Him the number 1 priority of life. Yet Satan, the world and our own sinful flesh want us to “go wide” so we can miss that long bomb of salvation! So the Christian life, most certainly is a life lived by grace. Yet at the same time, much striving is required to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. It’s that fighting and combating against the devil, the world and sin – all the things that seek to see us suffer in eternal death.
So look at your own life, examine your own heart. See all the ways that the world is trying to make you fat and sassy in your sins – too fat to slip through that narrow door of salvation. See the ways that Satan and the demons are trying to make you relax and kick back on the wide road: neglecting God’s house, failing to pray, forgetting to read God’s Word, ignoring our Christian duties to love our neighbors as ourselves, not to mention all those secret sins we’d rather not bring up. Instead, repent! Turn to the narrow door, the door that Jesus has opened to us by faith, and strive by God’s compassion to enter into the Salvation that God gives us by His grace. Stay the course! Cling to Christ. For reclining at the Table of the Lord in His Kingdom will surely be our eternal reward. Strive to enter through the narrow door of Jesus, for He alone is the door to eternal life. Thanks and praise be to God now and forever more! Amen!