Monday, August 26, 2013

Sermon for the 14th Sunday after Pentecost

The 14th Sunday after Pentecost
St. Luke 13:22-30/25 August 2013
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church of Chicago

In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.
It is always a risky thing asking Jesus a question, because His answer will always be more than you could have possibly imagined. In the Gospel reading for this morning, our Lord had just finished teaching about the Kingdom of God, and had started journeying toward Jerusalem, through the cities and villages, making His way toward His own suffering, Cross, and Death. That is exactly where all His teaching about the Kingdom of God would find its fulfillment - that is where the Kingdom of God would be me made manifest - upon the Cross of Calvary. 
And in one of these villages, someone asks Him, “Lord, are the ones being saved, few?” In other words, “Are only a few going to enter the Kingdom of God, of which you speak?” Who will be there? Will there be many or will there be few in the Kingdom of God? It is a bold question. But, as I said, asking Jesus a question is always a risky thing, for you never know the answer you might get.
Jesus answers, but not the way one would think He might. He tells them to be concerned about themselves entering the Kingdom of God, not the number of the saved. He tells them, “Struggle to enter through the narrow door, because many will seek to enter and will not be able.” 
Struggle. It’s not an easy thing being a Christian. It is the narrow door - and struggling through a narrow door is a difficult thing. It is the narrow door of putting away all of our idols, the narrow door of turning away from our favorite sins, the narrow door of repentance, the narrow door of every day picking up our crosses and struggling and striving - despairing of our own ability to save ourselves and putting all of our hope for the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ alone. 
But that is what it means to be a Christian: and do you know something - sometimes I hardly have the energy for it. It is not a bunch of platitudes and New Age, Self Help nonsense. It is not “Living Your Best Life Now,” or “40 Days of Purpose,” or a get rich quick scheme. It is the Narrow Door of faith in Christ Alone. It is a struggle. It is hard and it is draining to live the Christian Life which our Lord has called us to in our Baptism into Him. But it is what Jesus says it is - striving to enter the Kingdom of God by the Narrow Door, and that Narrow Door is nothing more or less than Jesus alone.
And left on our own, we would be lost. Left on our own to struggle and strive to find the Kingdom of God would leave us facing the shut door and saying, “Lord, open to us,” and hearing the response, “I do not know where you came from.” The Law is perfect and requires perfection. Yet, in our sin and rebellion against our Creator we fall short every second of every day. All of our good works, all of our righteousness, cannot get us through the Narrow Door. 
Those who fit through the Narrow Door are those who despair over their sin and know that they in themselves have no good thing - that they claim no righteousness of their own. The works they do in the world are left behind, in service to their neighbors, but not carrying them through the Door. Through the Narrow Door they carry nothing, but instead are carried by Christ Himself through the Narrow Door. 
So our "striving" and our “struggling” is really nothing more than trusting in Christ alone and HIS perfect work already accomplished in His life, death, and resurrection. And our trusting rests upon the faith bestowed upon us by God's grace through the work of the Holy Spirit in Word and Sacrament. 
That is the actual stuff of the Christian Faith: Word, Baptism, Eucharist, Forgiveness, and trust in Jesus Christ’s life, death, and resurrection alone.  The Narrow Door is Jesus Christ. The Narrow Door is receiving His divine forgiveness through the saving Sacrament of Holy Baptism and Jesus’ very Body and Blood for forgiveness of sin.
Today, we open our Lutheran Parish School for its 53rd Academic Year. We also install Mrs. Margaret Smith as teacher in our school and celebrate Mr. Scott Schilling’s teaching in our school for 30 of those 53 years. A lot has changed in those 53 years, indeed, in those 30 years. The make-up of our student body, the cost of operating a Lutheran School, the way Lutheran Schools are funded, and much more. What, of course, does not change is the Lord who bids us, “Struggle to enter by the narrow door of Faith!” “Strive to enter the Kingdom of God by the only way you can - the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ!”
That saving doctrine of salvation through Jesus Christ alone for sinners through the Holy Word and Sacraments is the message that all of our faculty teaches and that Mr. Schilling, as teacher and principal, has taught here for 30 and more years.
When Mr. Schilling was installed here on September 11, 1983, there was a brief note in the bulletin that read, “Scott Douglas Schilling will be inducted as Teacher of grades 5 and 6 of our Lutheran Day School. We pray the Lord bless him and his association with us.” I think we can say, after 30 years, that the Lord has positively answered that prayer and blessed Mr. Schilling’s association with our Church and School. 
The Old Testament reading read on that Sunday, 30 years ago, was from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 9, and contains the verse inscribed on the outside of our school building, “Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser, teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning. The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” I hope you sometimes stop to look at and ponder those words.
Fear is reverence. The reverence of the LORD that Mr. Schilling teaches the students here is the beginning of true wisdom - not worldly wisdom - true wisdom - wisdom in Christ alone. Whether or not they become wiser still after they leave this place - whether they increase in learning - depends upon their striving in their Christian life to enter by the Narrow Door of Faith in Christ or follow the broad and easy way of the world - many do that, to their own harm. 
But here in this place, Mr. Schilling and all our teachers have taught and still teach that saving message to the children of our parish school: the Message that there is a Door: a narrow Door to be certain, but a gracious, forgiving, and saving Door to the very Kingdom of God. That Door is Jesus Christ alone. And He calls you from the east and the west, from the north and the south - to sit down with Him in the Kingdom of God. Hear and heed that gracious and life-giving invitation.  
In the Holy Name of Jesus. Amen.

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