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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Homily

Ordinary Sunday 21, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 25, 2013

Psalm 71; Hebrews 12: 5-7,11-13; Luke 13: 22-30

‘The narrow door’

Jesus is sounding a little ornery again today. And this Gospel is tricky. Perhaps (hard on the heels of an episode in the synagogue which saw him criticised for an act of healing on the Sabbath – the healing empowered a woman long-debilitated to stand up for herself) Jesus is taking an opportunity to make clear a tenet of radical religion – inclusivity means difficulty, challenge, social change. “Try to come in through the narrow door,” Jesus says. God be with you

It is easier to enter through a wide door. I can hide in the crowd as it makes its way in through the wide door. The wide door has to do with conventional ambitions, mainstream attitudes, populism, passive beliefs and prejudices, broad generalisations, lazy assumptions, and so on. In that regard I hear the question put to Jesus: Will only a few people be saved?

It’s both a fearful and a vain question. It reminds me of questions we used to ask in fundamentalist Bible classes. We wanted the information on salvation. We wanted to know who was in and who was out – in the present and in the future. We fixated on heaven and hell. We talked a lot about faith and grace, and we were very suspicious about “works” – we doubted the faith of those believers committed to good works or politics or social justice … or feminism or mysticism or eco-justice …

We were suspicious about these things, I suspect, because they entail human freedom. They entail human co-operation with God. They present salvation in terms of human beings freely/passionately participating in the love of God. Salvation is active – an adventure, a daring, a life, a conversation, a creativity and improvisation, a process of becoming fully human, fully aware, fully responsible, with others, always with others. I recall again St Augustine’s maxim: God who created you without your help will not save you without your co-operation.

Jesus’ response, then, turns the question back upon the one who asks. Jesus, in effect, calls/dares him or her to become one of the saved. “Try to come in through the narrow door.” Jesus’ response here in Luke 13 is quite similar to the words recorded in Matthew 7 – the closing words to the Sermon on the Mount.

“Enter by the narrow gate,” Jesus says. “The wide gate puts you on the spacious road to damnation, and many take it. But it’s a small gate, a narrow road that leads to Life, and only a few find it … Be on your guard against false prophets who come to you disguised as sheep, but underneath are ravenous wolves. You will be able to tell them by their fruit … It isn’t those who cry out, ‘My Saviour! My Saviour!’ who will enter the kindom of heaven; rather, it is those who do the will of Abba God in heaven … Anyone who hears my words and puts them into practice is like the sage who built a house on rock. When the rainy season set in, the torrents came and the winds blew and buffeted the house. It didn’t collapse because it had been set solidly on rock …”

There are various images here. The narrow door/gate is acceptance of love’s particular call in life. True prophets/teachers/leaders may be discerned by their fruits – evidence of love and respect, humility and friendship, joy and generosity in those around them. Words, even or especially religious words, are nothing without practice, without disciplined application (see the Hebrews reading), without action, without good works. The rock, then, is integrity …

Salvation is more than just “being there” – eating and drinking in the company of Jesus or in the company of a wise and loving person. Salvation is more than witnessing wisdom. Salvation is knowing Jesus, relationship with God and others committed to life and truth and peace with justice – “the feast in the kindom of God”. There’s no privileged access. There’s no secret password. It’s open to everybody. There’s something significant in that little word, “try”.

I’m reminded of a recent comment by theologian Walter Brueggemann who says of the artist, of the work of the artist: “It’s very hard intentional work because when we don’t do hard work and when we don’t do intentional work, what we wind up doing is reiterating the dominant narrative. Thank God for artists and poets that they do it otherwise.”

Admittedly, Jesus’ tone seems harsh. He is calling the disciples/us to awareness and to action. Being saved is something you’ll experience in the act of responding, Jesus says – in the process of becoming responsible. “People will come from the East and the West, from the North and the South …” These are your brothers and sisters, your kin. Love them. Love them especially that meet with violent judgement, shrill demands to conform, rejection, exclusion, deportation, mandatory detention, crucifixion at the hands of those who rule by fear.

I start to hear the Gospel differently. Being first or last is, perhaps, not so important. Whatever happens so that all are included. Whatever the process of inclusion. Salvation, wholeness, wellness, right relationships, respect for Creation and for every creature ... These things are important. In the kindom of God there is no first and last ...

We can be careful not to assume that our belonging to the church/institution/establishment/first world provides us with privileged access to the kindom. We too are called to “try to come in through the narrow door”. We often share a meal with Jesus and listen to his teaching, but is that enough? Our calling is to live simple, humble and open lives, in imitation of Christ, aware that “some who are last will be first, and some who are first will be last”.

Let’s complete the homily together. Have we taken for granted our place at the feast of the kindom? What new efforts might God be encouraging in us today? What is the narrow door through which Jesus beckons you? How is this challenge, how is this call to deeper love (once through the narrow door we enter an infinite space of acceptance and of possibility), also and already Good News? … Amen.