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13th Sunday After Pentecost PDF Print E-mail

Vicar Christopher Stout

Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”  And Jesus said to him, “Strive to enter through the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” (Luke 13:23-24)

It’s called “breaking the wall.”  It’s a movie and television trick that I’m sure you’re all familiar with though the name doesn’t sound familiar.  You’re watching a movie and the characters are talking, one to another, just like they always do.  Then they stop, look at you, and address you.  The movie Ferris Bueller does this quite often.  He’s talking with his friends, and then he stops, looks at you and says, “What are you doing?  Go on, the movie is over.  You can go now.”  He addressed you and there’s no doubt about it.

Lord, will those who are saved be few (vs. 23)?  You know, those people over there doing their thing.  How many of them are going to be saved?  Is it few?”  Then Jesus, who doesn’t even answer the question, breaks the wall of this someone who said that to him, and we get the feeling he’s breaking our wall as well.  (You) strive to enter through the narrow door (vs. 24).  I tell you (vs. 24).  You begin to stand outside and knock (vs. 25).  I do not know where you come from (vs. 25).  Depart from me (you), all you workers evil (vs. 27).”  It was a simple question and this someone, and we, get a harsh, serious, and rather frightening response.  Why so serious, Jesus?  Because the issue at hand is salvation – those who are saved.

The response breaks our wall and makes us stop looking around at others and ask, “Am I the few who are being saved?  Or, am I the many who strive but are not able to enter?  Am I inside or outside of the master’s house?  Will I be weeping and gnashing my teeth for all eternity?  Or will I join the people from east and west, and north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God?”  Why so serious Jesus?  Because the question at hand is so serious.

Our text gives us an answer.  “Strive to enter through the narrow door….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, ‘I do not know where you come from.’  O.K., but I guess I have a few other questions, then.  What does it mean for me to strive?  How narrow is this door?  And, what does it mean for the master of the house to not know where I come from?

“Strive to enter.  Try you hardest and be on your best behavior.  Stop doing those sins that you do to please others, stop doing those sins that you do to please yourself.   Stop doing those sins that you know and even the ones you don’t know you’re doing.  Just stop sinning and know that as long as Jesus sees that you’re trying – striving – to enter the narrow door, then maybe you’re fine as long as you’re striving hard enough.”  Comforting words of Jesus, aren’t they?  If that’s what it means, then why are you here?  “What are you doing?  Go on, church is over.  You can go now. You better get to work striving.”  That’s not what it means.  

The Greek word is agonizomai.  Sounds painful?  We get words in English like agony and agonize.  It indicates a struggle or fight, like a bitter gladiatorial athletic contest.  It’s a bitter – strain every nerve you have in your body against your opposition – type word.  It’s exhausting, it hurts.  It’s a Jesus in Gethsemane, being in agony, sweating blood type word (Luke 22:44).  “Do that to enter the narrow door,” says Jesus.

Who’s the opposition?  Who’s the struggle and fight against?  It’s you, your sinful nature.  It’s our Old Adam that’s put to death by the Law, put to death by drowning as our baptism continues to do its work.  Drowning hurts, you know?  The Law kills your flesh, ouch.  Striving is repentance, which is a work of God, not of you.  It’s discipline from God so that “we may share in his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful (that’s because it is) rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:10-11).  How long is this struggle and fight, God?  It’s ongoing, it’s lifelong, and it’s the every day, every hour, every minute, dying to sin and living in Christ life that we have as a Christian.   So strive to enter.  Talk about breaking the wall to get through to us.  Has He got your attention?  Do you know that He’s addressed you and me?

But, know dear Christian how you strive and struggle.  Your strife and struggle is centered in, but not limited to, this location.  The killing, drowning, repentance stuff happens as you hear the Word spoken to you in liturgy, in hymn, in Scripture reading, and in sermon.  It shows your sin.  It shows your serious and deliberate sins.  It shows your sins that you can’t seem to control.  “For I know their works and their thoughts” God says in our reading from Isaiah.  Uh, oh.  But that’s not the only part of striving, which is a work of God.  For the raising to new life, rescuing, forgiveness of sins stuff happens as you hear the same things. 

“Strive to enter” was the saying of Jesus as “He was on His way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem” (vs. 22). It was His journey of strife and struggle for us.  The One who was in agony in Gethsemane, sweating blood, ended the journey of strife in death and it seemed the contest was over.  He tried, He strived, He struggled, but He died.  Death won, sin won, Satan won, it seemed.  But when once the master of the house had risen (Luke 13:25), the contest was truly over.  Jesus won and you won.  In His death, your death loses, for you enter eternal life through Jesus, the narrow door. 

“Depart from me you worker of evil” was the verdict of God the Father to God the Son as He bore each and every work of sinful evil that we are and that we do.  With your works of evil wiped away, you knock and the master of the house knows you and where you come from.  You come from Him, His own precious son or daughter, that’s why he treats you like one (Heb. 12:6-7).  “For I know their works and their thoughts” (Is. 66:18) becomes good news, even though we know our thoughts and works, because Jesus’ thoughts and works are what the Father knows us for.  This only happens because the very master of the house, our Lord Jesus, was placed outside, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, as the Father forsook Him and said, “I do not know you or where you come from.” 

So striving hurts, because it kills us.  The struggle is tiresome and exhausting.  But that’s how you enter through the narrow door, Jesus, because that’s what He said and that’s what He did for you.  So when killed, be at peace that you have new life.  When drowned, live in the new man which daily emerges.  And when the struggle exhausts you and Satan hurls his threats, recline at the table in the kingdom of God, this table (Luke 13:29).  You are joined in your struggle, and in your reclining relief, by living Christians from the east and west, and from north and south (Luke 13:29).  And you are joined by those who strife and struggle has ended, not just angels and archangels, and Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, but your loved ones who have died in the faith.  It is truly good, right and salutary that we should at all times and in all places give thanks to You, Jesus, who had every right to be first, for becoming last for us, so that we who are last, will be, and are, first (Luke 13:29).  He breaks our wall, He addresses us here and says, “You can go, go on, and depart in peace.” 


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