Saturday, August 21, 2010

The most wonderful time of the year!


I don’t know if you’ve seen the Staples commercial that involves a parent and children shopping for school supplies. The children are walking along like they’re in a funeral march depressed at the concept of heading back to school, while the parent dances through the aisles singing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year”? This is indeed for many a conflicted time of year – for parents, rejoicing; for the kids, dread – but I think today we can learn something valuable from it in terms of our faith.

Summer is such a wonderful time. Summer is a busy time for most of us, but filled with so many different and fun events – vacations, cookouts, baseball games, camp outs, the beach, the lake, and so on. Especially at this time of year, we really want the fun and relaxation and adventure of summer to go on forever. It is just so carefree. But, the reality is that we know we must return to the orderliness, the discipline, the work of the school year. There’s just no quick or easy way around it. Despite the fact that many of us perhaps don’t want to go to school, or work, or back to the regular pace of life, we have to. We must return to gain knowledge, to learn how to live and interact in our society, to gain and perfect the skills we need in life. And, no matter how much we convince ourselves that we could find an easy way around it, there simply isn’t one.

Well, there is a similarly conflicted nature in what Jesus is telling his followers in today’s Gospel passage. Someone asks him the question, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” And Jesus gives an answer that perhaps they didn’t want to hear. He says, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.” This isn’t the answer we were looking for. We probably wanted Jesus to tell us, “Don’t worry, be happy. Do what you want, everyone is saved!” We hope that all we have to say to Jesus is, “I am a good person, isn’t that enough? Does it really matter that I don’t worship the Lord as I should? That I don’t follow His commands as I should?” Jesus gives us the tough answer that this simply isn’t enough. Our relationship with God must come first. We must follow God’s commandments and Jesus’ example and that it is indeed a narrow gate that leads to salvation.

Perhaps the man in our Gospel isn’t asking the right question, “Will only a few be saved?” Perhaps what he really should have asked was, “Lord, how can I be saved?” Just think back a few years ago before the turn of the year 2000, everyone was in a tizzy about the coming millennium and whether or not it would signal the end of the world. Did anyone ask, “Lord, how can I be saved?” No, they asked, “When will the world come to an end? When is the Armageddon coming? Who will the Anti-Christ be?” If salvation is what you’re after, these are the wrong questions!

Rather than the curiosity of who will be saved, we need to be asking questions of personal importance like, “What do I need to do to be saved? How can I serve God better in my life today, right now? How can I make use of the opportunities God gives me here and now for my eternal salvation?” Are we more worried about getting into a certain school, a particular sport or club, a better job or home than we are about getting into Heaven?

Christ has shown us in Word and in Sacrament everything we need to know for our salvation. Perhaps you’ve heard the acronym for the BIBLE – Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth? The gate is indeed narrow and we have to do the hard work to be ready to walk through it. Just like the impending school year, there’s no easy way around it. The only way we can go through the narrow gate is by turning our whole lives over to God who is our salvation.

This is the key – our openness to God’s leadership. Do we believe that God’s Word is good for us? Do we believe that God’s way is the best way? Do we believe that the Commandments are absolutes in our life that lead to Heaven? Or do we try and find the quick and easy way around it creating a God and a Bible of our own making? One that suits our own whims, will, ways and sins? Without an openness to letting God lead us, surrendering to Him, we are discouraged when we hear of those who were turned away who said, “But, we ate and drank in your company and you taught in our streets.” We might feel the same way, “Lord, we have eaten your body and we drank of your blood and you taught in our Church. Isn’t this enough?”

To this Jesus says: Eating and drinking beside Me is not the same as eating and drinking with Me. You can be near Me and not a part of Me. You can hear Me without ever listening to Me. You can know Me and still not accept Me. You can wink at Me while never loving Me. You see, I am not the one that is locking you out. You are locking yourself out. I’m not closing the door on you. It is you who close the door on Me. The door you are knocking on doesn’t lock from the inside. It is locked from the outside. And the only key that will open it is – YOU. Acknowledge Me, accept Me, love Me and the door – the very Kingdom – will open itself to you.

This is how we pass through the Narrow Gate – by allowing God to change us, to form us, and transform us. Remember, Jesus tells us, “I am the gate. Whoever enters through me will be saved.” Jesus says, “You cannot earn your place in heaven. I earned it for you when I spread my arms on that cross. It was my sacrifice for you that opened the Gates of Heaven. I was innocent, you were guilty, and I stood in your place – willingly, lovingly – all for you. And now, you have a choice – one choice – enter through Me. Be changed, be transformed, not into your image of yourself, but into My image. Let My love save you. Come from the east and the west and from the north and the south and recline at table in the kingdom of God.”

My friends, let us ask with every fiber of our being, “Lord, what must I do to be saved?” And may God give us the strength to follow.

May God give you peace.

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