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Homilies by Rev. Andrew Collis unless indicated otherwise.

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Ordinary Sunday 21, Year C
South Sydney Uniting Church
August 21, 2016

Psalm 117; Luke 13:22-30


Our image is an icon of Christ (Pantocrator) with a Book of the Gospels and an enigmatic expression – the two sides of his face are a means of conveying his human and divine natures. Enigmatic indeed. Would we want a Teacher to be anything less? And today’s Gospel is a little mysterious. 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, risk, challenge. “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 even hide in the crowd as it makes its way in through the wide door. The wide door has to do with conventional ambitions, complacent attitudes, passive beliefs and prejudices, lazy assumptions, broad generalisations, 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 I/we used to ask in fundamentalist bible classes. We wanted the information about 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 “good works” – we doubted the faith of those believers committed to social service or social justice … or eco-justice, feminism or mysticism …

We were suspicious about these things not just because we’d been taught to fear Catholic Christianity but because such commitments entail freedom – human and creaturely freedom. They present salvation (which means wholeness and wellness) 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, 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.

Our being saved – made whole, made well – entails faith and works. Faith as working draft, faith at work. Faithful words and deeds. Loving faith. Grace and gratitude. Grace and graciousness. The Good News is both gift and task.

By healing the woman long debilitated, Jesus promotes a godly desire that we stand up for ourselves – that we should grow, in the words of the apostle Paul, “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:13); that we should stand tall as children of God, inhabitants of a New Jerusalem.

“Try to come in …”

I can’t help seeing the narrow doors of the narthex/entrance here, which sometimes require a little effort to swing open! “I was born to try,” sings Delta Goodrem. “Try a little kindness,” we used to sing at the Cana Gala nights at the Pitt Street Cafe. The poet Andrew Marvell writes: “Let us roll all our strength, and all/ Our sweetness, up into one ball;/ And tear our pleasures with rough strife/ Thorough the iron gates of life.”

“Try to come in through the narrow door.”

Jesus’ response turns the question back upon the one who asks. In effect, Jesus calls/dares him or her to become one of the saved.

The response here in Luke 13 is 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 kingdom 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 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, without action, without good works. The rock, then, is integrity …

“Try to come in through the narrow door” means to resist arrogance. It also means don’t give up.

Salvation is more than just “being there” – eating and drinking in the company of Jesus or in the company of a wise and loving teacher. Salvation is more than witnessing wisdom. Wholeness and wellness is 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. It’s open to anybody who is willing to try.

“Try to come in through the narrow door” means try your best. Try your best to be loving and just.

I’m reminded of a 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. There’s something urgent about the call to salvation.

We’ve just experienced the hottest July on record. At the local level, City of Sydney grants in support of climate action have recently been awarded to projects such as Waste Less Learn More (delivered by Reverse Garbage in partnership with four low-income school communities), 1 Million Women (a movement of strong, inspirational women acting on climate change by educating others on low-carbon alternatives), SolarCloud (a not-for-profit organisation that aims to help residents save money by installing solar panels on their behalf), Closed Loop Coffee Recycling (a study on the large-scale collection and recycling of coffee cups that otherwise are sent to landfill).

“Try …”

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 judgement, shrill demands to conform, rejection, exclusion, deportation, mandatory detention, crucifixion at the hands of those who rule by fear.

We can be more cautious in assuming that our belonging to the church/establishment/first world provides us with privileged access. 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 in the kindom, or in the world? What new efforts might God be encouraging in us today? What is the narrow door through which Jesus beckons you/us? How is this challenge, this call to love (once through the narrow door we enter an infinite space of acceptance and of possibility), also and already Good News?

What is the narrow door through which Jesus beckons you/us? … Amen.