Sermons 2003-2004

Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30
Home | Christmas Eve A, "Are we really ready?", Luke 2: 1-20, 24 December 2004 | "Finally! Well, almost...." Advent 4A , 19 December 2004, Matthew 1:18-25 | Faith and Doubts, Advent 3A, 12 December 2004, Matthew 11:2-11 | John the Baptist, Advent 2A, 5 December 2004, Matthew 3:1-12 | Left Behind? Advent 1A, 28 Nov 2004, Matthew 24:37-44 | Some King of kings! Proper 29C, 21 November 2004, Luke 23:35-43 | "Not one thrown down", Proper 28C, 14 November 2004, Luke 21:5-19 | All Saints and for all the saints, 2004C, 31 October 2004, Luke 6:20-36 | The Lambeth Commission Windsor Report, the Pharisee, and the tax collector, Proper 25C, 24 Oct 2004 | "Lord, teach us to pray." Proper 20C, 17 October 2004, Genesis 32:3-8, 22-30; Luke 18:1-8a | "It's all in the choosing", Proper 23C, 10 October 2004, Ruth 1:1-19a; Luke 17:11-19 | "Increase our faith", Proper 22C, Luke 17:5-10, 3 October 2004 | Proper 21C 2004, 26 September 2004, "R&R: Response and Relationships", Luke 16:19-31 | Proper 19C 2004, 12 September 2004, "Lost and Found", Luke 15:1-10 | Proper 18C 2004, 5 September 2004, "Preaching or Meddling", Luke 14:25-33 | Proper 16C 2004, 22 August 2004, "The Narrow Gate ", Luke 13:22-30 | Proper 15C, 15 August 2004 | Proper 14C, 8 August 2004 | Proper 13C, 1 August 2004 | Shrinemont: "Surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", Proper 15c, 15 August 2004 | "Lord, teach us how to pray," Proper 12C, 25 July 2004, Genesis 18:20-33; Luke 11:1-13 | The Summary of the Law and the Good Samaritan: "Go and do likewise" Luke 10:25-37, 11 July 2004 | Independence Day 2004. "The Creative Tension of the Church: Who is to be included?" | "Now! Now! Now!", Proper 8C, 27 June 2004, Luke 9:51-62 | "Star Throwers", Proper 7C, 20 June 2004, Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 9:18-24 | The more things change the more they remain the same, Pentecost 2C, 13 June 2004 | "O Holy Triune God, most Holy Trinity; here are we. Send us." Trinity C, 6 June 2004 | "Come, Holy Spirit", Pentecost C , 30 May 2004 | "That they all may be one", Easter 7C, 23 May 2004 | The Holy Spirit: Paraclete, Pneuma, Ruach, Easter 6C 2004 | Agapate Allelous: Love beyond each other, Easter 5C 2004, 9 May 2004 | The Good Shepherd and the five people you meet in heaven, Easter 4C 2004 | "The God of the Second Chance -- and of many chances", Easter 3C, 25 April 2004 | Baptizatus Sum: I am baptized, Easter 2C 2004 | It is NOT an Idle Tale: Easter Sunday, 18 April 2004 | Palm Sunday-Passion Sunday Roller Coaster: What We Want or What We Need? | Who are the Wicked Tenants, Lent 5C 2004 | The Prodigal Son -- and so much more | God, the Gardener, and the Fig Tree | "The Hen and the Fox", Lent 2C | The Comfortable Rut of Ordinary Temptation | "Getting from Uh-oh to Aha", Luke 9:28-36, Epiphany Last C, 22 February 2004 | Jesus, Jeremiah, and the Beatitudes: What to Make of it All | The Sword of the Lord and of Gideon: God working in the world | Jesus, the Archbishop, and Annual Council The Dark Abyss of Schism | The Nature of Revelation: Jesus' Sermon at Nazareth | The Miracle at the Wedding in Cana | The King of kings and the Lion King | "The Magnificat, Watching, and Waiting" | "Gaudete in Domino semper: Rejoice in the Lord always" | A Voice crying in the wilderness, "Prepare the way of the Lord." | "Standing in the Day of Battle: Isabel and the Gospel" | Dogma, Doctrine, and the Theological Enterprise | The Little Apocalypse | Jesus and theWidow's Mite | One Priest's Response to the Election of Gene Robinson | The Great Commandment: Jesus Meant What He said | Who is blind? | Eyes on Jesus and minds on mission! | Tradition or Traditionalism? | Credo: Be doers of the Word and not hearers only." | Who do YOU say that I am? | "It's about Power and Winning" | Contact Wicomico Parish Church

Proper 16C 2004 Luke 13:22-30
One winter afternoon in Russia, a young Russian-American named Alex walked along a canal in Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), looking for the palace where the monk Rasputin had been killed during the reign of the last Tsar, Nicholas II. Saint Petersburg winter days are often short and grim: the sun rises late in the morning and sets early in the afternoon. The brief weak and wintry daylight filters through a dark haze. It’s a narrow door of light to be searching for something in Saint Petersburg
Alex didn't understand that what he was seeking was what he would find there. He thought he was looking for the place where some Russian nobles had poisoned, shot, and finally drowned Rasputin. But God had a different idea.
When Alex finally found the palace he wandered through the grounds, peeking through this door and that trying to catch the flavor of the place the way it was when they had killed him.
That's when he found out that God has something else in mind. Over a small portico on the palace grounds he saw these Latin words, "Deus Omnia Conservat" -- "God takes care of everything." What a thing to find in a palace used for decades as Soviet offices the word "Deus" – God carved in stone declaring Deus Omnia Conservat." "God takes care of everything." (1)
In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus has his face still set toward Jerusalem and the death he knows that awaits him. The shadow of the Cross now lies heavily on his journey. Jesus has preached and taught the Good News but most people still don’t get it. The conservative religious people of the day, particularly the Pharisees, especially didn’t get it.

One commentator has noted that “the Pharisees in Jesus' day were specialists of the narrow door. They really promoted narrow door living, preaching the 613 prescriptions of the Mosaic Law as the answer to all life's problems. "Hold fast to these," they said, "and then God will love you." They did not have the faintest notion that God takes care of everything, the 613 prescriptions notwithstanding.” (2) Their door was narrow and their God was in the box the Law had built. They could quote the Summary of the Law but they couldn’t think about what it meant outside the box of 613 rigid rules. It was a comfortable rigidity and narrowness.
Such pharisaism is still alive and well today. It is still alive and well in the church that Jesus founded. In Friday’s Times Dispatch there was an Associated Press news report about an eight year old girl who had her first Holy Communion declared invalid because the rice flour wafer she was given by a sympathetic priest in another parish contained no wheat. Eight year old Haley Waldman has celiac sprue disease. People who have this disease cannot eat gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains. It damages the lining of the small intestine, blocking nutrient absorption and leading to vitamin deficiencies, bone thinning, and sometimes gastrointestinal cancer.
Roman dogma on this subject holds that Communion wafers, like the bread served at the Last Supper, must contain some unleavened wheat flour. ”This is not an issue to be decided at the diocesan or parish level but has already been decided for the Roman Catholic Church throughout the world by Vatican authority,” said Trenton Bishop John M. Smith in a statement. (3)
I would like to think that we Episcopalians were not like this, but recent experience suggests otherwise – and perhaps it has always been that way. I hear too many sour notes of pharisaic self righteous judgmentalism from both left and right.

On the Sabbath before Jesus spoke about the narrow door, Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues. A woman crippled and bent over for eighteen years entered and when Jesus saw her he called out, “Woman, you are set free from your ailment,” laid his hands on her, and cured her. She began to praise God for this miracle. But the leader of the synagogue kept saying over and over to the crowd, from the Fourth Commandment, “There are six days on which work ought to be done; come on those days and be cured, and not on the Sabbath day.” He just didn’t get it; did not understand that Jesus was God in Christ, did not understand the Good News of love and hope, did not have the faintest idea of what the Summary of the Law actually meant. His door was too narrow and he couldn’t escape from the box..
One commentator noted that for centuries leaders of synagogues had been telling people, "You can come to God only by the narrow door of the Sabbath and its laws." Little did they know that God has no need or use for such a narrow door, as God – Jesus – showed that day by healing in the synagogue on the Sabbath. Our God is too great for any narrow door or rigid set of rules humankind can construct to control access to the healing power of God. There’s a wideness in God’s mercy, like the wideness of the sea, goes a lovely hymn world. But even a comparison to the sea is too narrow a door for God. God knows no limits except those that God chooses to know.. God has no narrow door.
"Go ahead," said Jesus, "try it. See if you can sneak into the kingdom of God by a narrow door. You can’t get there that way." (4)
Although Jesus was fully divine he was also fully human. And he understood humanity well. He understood how comfortable we are behind our narrow doors, safe in our little box of rules. "You can't be healed on the Sabbath, so come another day;" "God will not accept you if you continue this behavior"; "Smile, or God won't love you." If you love Jesus, honk. If you love God send this message to 10 other people… If you really love God, send $50.00 in care of this station to further our ministry. And so on.

We humans are adept at building narrow doors. It helps us believe we can control how God can act, and move, and stir his Holy Spirit among us. Narrow doors restrict, repress and block the flow of life. Narrow door people prefer to keep God in a box so that they can pick the rules that they prefer instead of having to think about it. Narrow doors into the box where we keep God lets us feel an undeserved superiority and leads to a narrow judgmentalism. But God really doesn’t live in our boxes, peering out through our narrow doors.
God usually has other ideas. "Deus Omnia Conservat" -- "God takes care of everything." We Christians believe that Jesus himself is the householder who rises and shuts the narrow door of death. In his resurrection he closed the door of all human efforts to restrict and control the mercy of God. He cleared all narrow doors that tried and still try to restrict wideness of God's mercy.
The narrow door is not God's door at all. It’s ours. And the key out of it, the key through it, the key to being among those people who will come from east and west, from north and south, from outside the box and outside the narrow door – that key is this: Jesus said, This is the first and greatest commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor like yourself. There is no other commandment than these.

1. John G Lynch, “The Narrow Gate”, in TROUBLED JOURNEY, CSS Publishing Company, 1994, eSermons, adapted.
2. Ibid.
3. Richmond Times Dispatch, Friday, 29 August 2004, p. A2.
4. Lynch, op. cit.