Pentecost 14, 2016

Pentecost 1416- “Hypothetical, Virtual or Actual!” Luke 13:22-30

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen

The text for our sermon meditation is the Gospel account of St Luke, the 13th Chapter.

“22 [Jesus] went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out. 29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

So far the reading.

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

How many of you remember these opening words of a long-running Emmy Award winning television show? “The story you are about to see is true.”  Perhaps these words from the main character will be more familiar. “The names were changed to protect the innocent.” “All we want are the facts, ma’am.” “All we know are the facts, ma’am.” If you thought “Dragnet” then you were correct.

Dragnet was a police show based on actual crimes that were committed.  The police officers submitted their cases to Jack Webb who turned them into a prime time television show.  Working with the facts of each case, Jack Webb entertained his viewers for 12 years and 372 weekly episodes.

What entertains us today? We have not moved very far from those days of Jack Webb and Harry Morgan.  Perhaps we continue to lose touch with reality to some extent.  How many game apps do you have on your cell phones?  How many video game machines do you have connected to your television?  Do you have a CD player that can connect you to movie and other video sites on the internet? How eager are you to hear the facts about or consider the reality of life and the truth of Jesus words speaking to preparation for the life which is still to come?

There is nothing different between our time and the time of our Lord’s ministry.  People are still more concerned about virtual reality and speculation rather than paying attention to facts and reality.

Consider the person who asked Jesus regarding the number of people who are saved.  “Lord, will those who are saved be few?”  What is the answer to this question?  Certainly there will be relatively few who are saved for the Kingdom of God.  Jesus in other places taught that “many are called but few are chosen.”  The Lord told Elijah that he had reserved 7000 in Israel for His Kingdom.  Isaiah the prophet of God speaks about a remnant being restored by God.  Those who followed idols were to be destroyed, and they were many.  Those who remained faithful to the true God were restored, and they were few.

Yet, the number being saved is not the true question to ask.  Such a question is idle speculation.  To engage in the discussion of numbers being saved distracts from the true necessity to be discussed.  The question asked does not take on a personal tone.  It stays in the realm of speculation and theory.  It is hypothetical and never touches on the actual.

Consider the criminal who is arrested and questioned by the police regarding a crime.  The goal of the detective is to gather evidence of the guilt or innocence of the people they arrest.  When they ask the suspect a direct question they would expect a direct answer.  Yet, the suspect may say, “I will give you a hypothetical situation.  I am not the person responsible, but, using my imagination, if it was me this is what I would have done.”  Can you imagine a child saying something similar to their mom or dad?  There is no confession.  There is no admitting of guilt.  There is no acknowledging of wrong doing.  There is no repentance.

Let’s look at this another way.  This happens in Bible Class sometimes.  We get to talking about some doctrine or another.  It is very clear that there is only one answer that is acceptable.  However, there are those who for one reason or another will ask “What if …?”  Again we enter into the realm of skepticism and hypothetical, imaginary thinking.  We cannot answer such questions except with the Word of God and what such word of God teaches us.

Hypothetical is okay for science.  Such questions lead to breakthroughs in medicine, engineering, chemistry and a host of other areas where research is necessary.  Yet, when it comes to faith in Jesus Christ there is no speculation, there are only absolutes and those absolutes do not change.

Take for instance the Law of God.  We read of this Law being given through Moses when he ascended Mt Sinai to the presence of God.  You can read of this account in Exodus 20. The reading of God’s Law is repeated in Deuteronomy 5.  Were the Children of Israel to receive the Law of God as Ten Suggestions or Ten Commandments?  What is the difference between a suggestion and a commandment?  Suggestions are open to interpretation.  Commandments are statements of what is to be done.  They are not hypothetical.  The Ten Commandments are the revealed will of God for all people.

Jesus is the perfect Teacher.  He does not enter into the discussion of hypothetical questions or speculation.  Jesus directs the attention of the questioner and our attention to what is concrete, real, personal and necessary to believe.  Jesus takes the questioner directly to the conclusion of His divine ministry.  Jesus focuses attention on the coming Day of Judgment.  The words Jesus uses are very interesting.  Jesus says, “Strive to enter in through the narrow door that many will seek to enter and not be able.”

The word in the original language is “agonizomai.” What English word does that sound like?  Agonize, struggle, fight, contend, strive all fit the definition of this word.  This word describes a very personal struggle the individual must endure to enter eternal life.  Think of yourself as an Olympic athlete.  What must such athletes endure to obtain a gold medal?  How many hours of practice and failure before obtaining success?  Some find themselves at the start of the race on the Olympic track but are disqualified for a false start.  We used to call that jumping the gun.  You anticipate the sound of the starting pistol and guess when it will go off rather than waiting to hear the shot.

What false start is Jesus addressing in his discussion with those who are gathered to hear him? Jesus addresses the very real need to hear His Word and take His word to heart.  Listen to Jesus’ example used to teach this point.  The Master locks the door to his house.  People coming to his house stand outside knocking to be let in. “I do not know you, who are you?” the Master asks.  “We ate in your presence, and you taught in our streets.”

The Master refuses to open the door.  Why?  These people did not know the Master and the Master did not know them.  What does it me to know God or for God to know us?  To know God means to have an intimate relationship of faith with God.  It begins when the Word of God is first heard and applied to our lives.  For children it would be in the water of Holy Baptism. For older people it would be someone sharing the Word of God with them and being brought to the Water of Hoy Baptism.  To know God is to confess and hold to the faith set down in the Creeds of the Church.  These creeds are a summary of Scripture declaring the saving doctrine Scripture and leading sinners to a right relationship with God.  Many people think they know God.  However, they do not seek him other than to ask for help when life is tough of come to His house out of obligation rather than desire to strengthen their relationship with God.  Like the people who knocked on the master’s locked door, they think they are in God’s grace because of some superficial contact.

Consider those who believe they have salvation because they are member of one Christian denomination or another.  Consider those who think they are saved because their father and mother, grandfather and grandmother, great grandfather and great grandmother, their aunts and uncles and cousins were all members of a Christian church.  Consider those who think they have God’s favor because a relative is a pastor or other professional church worker.

Consider the narrow door which Jesus mentions in His brief story of salvation.  Remember what Jesus said in John 10 about his sheep.  My sheep hear my voice and they follow me and I know them and I give them eternal life.  Jesus also said that he is the gate for the sheep.  They enter in to good pasture through that door.

The shepherd of the sheep guided his sheep to the gate of his sheep fold.  In order for the sheep to enter they went in one at a time.  The shepherd looked each sheep over as the passed him and he kept them safe.  So it is with the narrow door.  We go through one at a time.  We cannot rely on our family relationship for salvation.  We cannot rely on our church affiliation for salvation.  We must lay aside our pride, confess our sinfulness and look in faith to Jesus for salvation, then we may enter into the Master’s eternal abode.

Are Church bodies necessary?  They are necessary for this world.  They are the repository of God’s eternal Truth.  They are the spiritual guide and conscience of the community.  They warn against the breaking of God’s will and the coming judgment.  They bring to bear the means of God’s grace upon the communities in which they are located.  Are all church bodies equal in these tasks? No they are not.  Some have departed from the way of truth and embraced the influence of the world rather than being a Godly influence in the world. Some are faithful to the Call of God.  They continue in the way of God proclaiming repentance from sin, teaching salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and administering the Water of Holy Baptism and the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ according to His commands. We are that faithful church as long as we continue to preach and teach this Word of God in faithfulness to His will.

This is always a struggle for us.  Yet, our Lord brings to us in Word and Sacrament the reality of his forgiveness and the certain hope that we will be with Him when He closes the door to His Kingdom.  The door will be closed at a time of God’s choosing.  It will be when Jesus Returns in full glory to bring to His side all who confessed Him as Lord and Savior.

The same Lord who called us through water and His Word keep us in true faith for the Day of Jesus’ Return.  In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.