Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Few, the Humble, the Forgiven

Sermon on Luke 13:22-30
For Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Elmwood Park, WI
August 25, 2013 (Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost)

“Strive to enter the narrow door.  For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  Not exactly comforting words.  Only a few will make it to eternity.  Only a few will come in to God’s heavenly banquet.  Only a few will come in.  Normally, when we hear that only a select few will make it, we think of those few as being especially great or impressive in some way.  The few, the proud, the Marines.  When there are hundreds of applicants for only a few jobs (a familiar experience in today’s economy), it is only those who impress the interviewer the most who get in.  In sports, only a few make it to the professional leagues, out of the thousands and thousands who show promise at the high school or even college level.  What is the common thread here?  Works.  Something in the particular individual that is unusual or extraordinary.  Or, some extra amount of effort and elbow grease by which a person climbs up the ladder and comes to the attention of the coach, the reporters, the bosses, the public.  It’s all about those who, by effort or by natural talent, have something in themselves which causes them to be placed among the few.

And that’s how most Christians read this text.  The few who are the most impressive, who give the most to charity, who spend the most time in service to the church or to the neighbor, are the ones who gain entrance into eternity.  The rest Jesus doesn’t know, because they weren’t good enough to get His attention.  But that’s not what is going on here.  In fact, it is those who worked the hardest to attract God’s attention, who did the most to please Him and to try to claw their own way into a seat at the feast, who will be cast out.  He calls them workers of lawlessness.  The ESV translates this as “evil,” but literally the Greek word here means something along the lines of “un-justification.”  Those who try to justify themselves, to show themselves as worthy of God’s attention, are the ones who won’t measure up.  It’s those whose words and actions cannot be justified, who have no excuse for what they have done, and who can only admit that they are poor, miserable sinners, whose justification comes from outside themselves, that will sit with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom, which has no end.

By the way, the word justification is one of those words that we Lutherans tend to use all the time, and often it becomes almost a theological buzzword, something that us pastors use with the assumption that our congregations know what we’re saying, but which actually can result in blank stares from Christians, either because they haven’t really been taught, or because they learned it when they were in eighth grade, with their hormones surging and their bodies not completely under their own control, an incredibly awkward and stressful phase of life, and, really, who can remember all that stuff we were supposed to memorize then, since all sorts of other things were going on at that point in our lives.  But actually justification is a word we use more often than we think.  Think about it.  Some public figure has done something that is controversial or seen as politically or morally incorrect.  He may admit he made a mistake, or he may try to justify himself.  Someone is accused of wasting his employer’s money, and is asked to show proof, or justification, for each line item on his expense report.  The word actually has a meaning in secular society, and its meaning is actually pretty close to the theological meaning of the word.  It’s just that in the theological context, especially in the Lutheran theological context, the justification we’re talking about is something that comes from outside of ourselves.  We’re not justified in our own actions (let alone in our own excuses as to how or why Jesus should pay attention to us when He’s letting those attending His wedding feast in the door), but we are justified despite our actions because Christ’s perfection, His impressiveness, His glory, becomes our own.  The word justification has the same literal meaning as it does in ordinary life, but for us it refers to something that God does for us as a free gift.

And that’s the difference between those who sit at the feast and those who are begging to get in after the door is shut.  Some find their justification in God’s free gift of Christ’s perfection, while others try to justify themselves.  Some recognize that they are beggars who don’t deserve to be there and who therefore regard this as a precious, free gift, and others think they’ve done something to become the few, the proud, the self-righteous.  None are worthy in and of themselves, but only a few will be brought to repentance to see that and to accept the gift that is given them.

And what a gift.  Sitting at table with the Creator of heaven and earth, enjoying His blessings and His presence forever.  Feasting upon those things He gives, sharing with the saints who have gone on before us.  Jesus mentions Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, partially because He was talking to Jews who were proud of their descent from these patriarchs.  But we could include David, Solomon, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, and many other saints of the Old Testament, not to mention the twelve Apostles, St. Paul, St. Barnabas, St. Timothy, and so on.  We could also include St. Augustine, St. Ambrose, St. Athanasius, and many, many other church fathers and noted theologians of the early church.  Also Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, Martin Chemnitz and other heroes of the Reformation, CFW Walther, Franz Pieper, Friedrich Wyneken and the other founders of our own church body here in America, right down to our own loved ones who died in the faith.  And that feast isn’t something we only look forward to.  It’s here, now.  It’s called the Sacrament of the Altar.  We feast with the disciples in the upper room on Holy Thursday.  We feast with all those presently before God’s face.  We feast with our fellow saints still here on earth who partake at other physical altars but who share in the same Jesus.  We feast with those saints who are even now being persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.  We even feast with those saints yet to be born.  We feast with all those with whom we will share eternal life, because the feast of Holy Thursday is the feast of eternal life, all at the same time.  And we do so here and now, in this room.  The feast is ready.  The master of the house is also the meal, because he is both sacrificed for us and resurrected as our head.  We recline at table in the Kingdom of God.  Amen.

+Soli Deo Gloria+

No comments:

Post a Comment