Thursday, August 02, 2012

Sermon for 7/29/12--Trinity 8

The Gate of Life Immortal

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Bible is full of texts that make even Christians uncomfortable.  This is one of them.  False prophets and bad fruit; the fires of judgment rendered against hypocrisy; the Lord closing the door of eternal life to those who are unfaithful to Him—these are fearful things, unsettling things.  It would be so much easier if Jesus had said none of this.  But the Church cannot ignore it, and Jesus won’t take it back, so the Church must read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest these things by faith. These are words that the Church must hear in faith with the understanding that they are for your good.

The Lord knows well the difficulties presented by His teaching, but that knowledge never leads Him to compromise the truth of what He is saying. On the contrary, Jesus at times said things that were so difficult to accept that He lost many of His followers.  And while that, no doubt, troubled His loving heart, it never moved Him to change what He said.  He would have been unfaithful to His own divine nature as the living Word of the Father if He tried to accommodate divine light to weak, sinful human eyes.  Rather than accommodate, He tried to enlighten those who heard Him.

To really get a sense of the urgency of these words, we need to back up a bit.  In the verses that just precede the text, Jesus said: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it.  Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.”  Jesus is speaking about the way that leads to the Kingdom of His Father, the gate of that fold over which He watches as Shepherd.  The gate is narrow because the sheep go in one by one to make sure there are no goats or sheep from other folds that have been mixed in.  The Shepherd knows each of His sheep.  As they enter the gate they recognize Him even as He does them.  And inside the fold of the Great Shepherd there is life and joy, all gathered around their common Shepherd, in the safety of His protection.

False prophets want to undo all of this.  They are wolves who disguise themselves as sheep in order to pass as one of the flock.  “Listen to us,” they say.  “Don’t you see that we are just like you?”  They come dressed as sheep to appeal to everything in the nature of sheep that would cause their ruin, were it not for the shepherd.  Wolves want the sheep to follow their own instincts, which will unfailingly lead them astray.  Far from their shepherd, who cannot protect his sheep when they are so far away, the wolves prepare for their own diabolical feast; the death of the sheep.

Jesus says that these fake prophets try in every way possible to look and like the real article. They deceive the unwary with a teaching that brings death rather than life.  They offer a way to the kingdom that is broader and less difficult than that of the true Shepherd.  And yet, the narrow path and the difficult teaching have always been the way to God. The Word of God is life itself.

And so Jesus says: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but He who does the will of My Father in heaven.”  The one who does the will of the Father in heaven is the one who enters by the narrow gate.  Above all, Jesus is the One who has done the Father’s will, and He makes you able to walk that narrow way and enter through that gate.

It is a difficult path. You enter the kingdom of God only by following Jesus through the gate. We all wish to enter through the narrow gate.  The alternative, the judgment that follows, is unthinkable.  The true prophets speak the Word of God; false prophets would pass off their own words as God’s Word.  What is the Christian to do?  Does God leave you to try and sort out all of this yourself, to distinguish the good from the bad, the true from the false?  Hear again the words of St. Paul from today’s Epistle: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs–heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer with Him, that we may also be glorified together.” The Holy Spirit bears witness to you, so that you may cry out, “Lord, Lord!”—not in fear or doubt or deception, but in the boldness of faith.

Our Father in heaven does not forsake His children. He gives His Holy Spirit to you to convince you that you belong to Him, so that you may know that it’s the voice of Christ you are truly hearing and following, keeping you on the narrow way.  He put you on that narrow path in Holy Baptism, where He first put His name on you.  He gives you food for the journey in His body to eat and his blood to drink, given and shed for you for the remission of sins.  And he gives you a picture of what to expect when you go through that gate, the narrow gate which is the entry to the Kingdom of heaven, when He says: “Come to Me all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give You rest.”  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

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