This sermon was given to the Iglesia Luterana del San Marcos in Maya Itza and San Salvador del Mundo in Guatemala City during our trip in August 19-28, 2019. The readings come from the Revised Common Lectionary. The Gospel is Luke 13:22-30. I am very grateful to Pastora Karen Castillo for helping me to know the audience and craft this sermon.
Pastora Karen knows that I like to use visuals when I preach. So, she bought me a pack of chalk and asked me to draw on the wooden wall of the new church during the sermon in Maya Itza.
Sermon Title: The Narrow Door
When I was a boy I was an easy target for bullies. I was the pudgy kid with glasses. One day, in the winter, the ground was very icy. A boy came up behind me and kicked my leg out from under me sideways and really injured my knee. I just laid there, hurt and angry, and didn’t know what to do. I felt helpless.
Over the next few years I began to grow tall and thin and strong. Suddenly I was one of the biggest in my class. There was one guy who taunted me every day. He would come up in my face and say, “You wanna fight?” Most days I would just walk away. I was a good Christian kid and I didn’t believe in fighting. One day, when he was in his normal taunting, something snapped inside me. I grabbed him, threw him to the ground on his back, pinned him down with my knee, and said, “We’re done.”
He never bothered me again. Yet, I didn’t really feel better.
Our lives are often filled with circumstances when if feels like things are working against us.
These stories are the common stories of a boy. When I became a man the stakes got more serious. I grew up in the Baptist Tradition and became a pastor in a large Conservative Evangelical church. The more I studied and grew in my understanding of God the more difficult it was for me to stay in that tradition. I had to walk away from that church because I was asking questions that made people nervous. Eventually, God led me to the ELCA where I found a place where my questions were welcomed and I could continue to serve and grow as a pastor.
Whenever you leave one tradition and join another it makes people uncomfortable. Sometimes people get angry and attack you. Many people from my past question whether I am even a Christian any more because I am a Lutheran pastor. I have received very hurtful accusations.
I tell you these stories because I have heard some of your stories. I know that it is very difficult for many of you to be a part of the Lutheran Church when so many around you are in different faith traditions and they don’t welcome or understand you. I know that you have suffered greatly from the government in the aftermath of war. I know that you are literally living on the edge of the ravine and many forces are working to tear you down: The forces of gravity in the ravine, the forces of government and the cost of relocation, the forces of the neighborhood where there is violence and crime.
My question today is, “How should we respond when things get very difficult and it seems like things are working against us?”
I think the answer to that question can be found in our Gospel reading for today. Luke 13:22-30 tells us that Jesus was walking through the countryside, from village to village on his way to the Capital City, Jerusalem. As we were driving here to Guatemala City from Maya Itza, I couldn’t help but think how much the villages must be similar to the ones he visited.
It says, in verse 23, “someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door.’”
That seems like a strange response. What does a narrow door have to do with being saved. Saved from what?
Here’s what I think is going on. The people in these villages were suffering greatly from two oppressive forces. First, the Roman Empire had sent armies from across the sea and conquered their land. The Romans invaded their villages and forced the people to give them their crops and their goods. Second, the religious leaders of their land cooperated with the Empire and helped to put pressure on the common people of the villages. If you didn’t not cooperate with the invaders, they would kill you.
What is our natural human response to pressure like this? I think there are three basic ways that people respond. Each of them is like a wide door that is easy and natural to walk through. I chose each of these doors in my childhood stories.
The first wide door is to give up and let them hurt you, because you believe you have no power to do anything about it. This is the passive door. People who walk through this door often turn to alcohol or drugs to mask the pain of continually being abused by evil forces.
The second wide door is the violent door. Sometimes people think that the only way to stop the evil forces is to take up arms and start a violent revolution to get rid of the oppressors.
The third door is to run away. I know that many of you are tempted to come to the United States because you think that there is a better life there for you. So you leave your family behind and flee.
Here is the truth about each of these doors. Each one leads to more death and destruction. When we are passive and do nothing, then evil continues to kill and destroy. When we fight back with violence and vengeance, then that leads to war which leads to even more death and destruction and everyone loses. When you run away from your family and seek a better life you discover that all the promises you heard were lies. The people in the States will not treat you better and your family is left with pain and debt and even more hardships.
But Jesus said there is another way. There is a narrow door. He tells us in many other places what this door looks like. It is the choice to love your enemy. It is the choice to pray for those who persecute you. It is the choice to stand in a non-violent resistance to evil and respond with truth and love.
This is the example that Jesus set. He did not sink into self-pity. He stood boldly and spoke the truth and called out the evil that was being done to the people, but he never called for violence. His truth got the authorities angry and they killed him for it. Even then, he took the narrow door. He loved his enemies. He took all their violence into his own body and did not return it to them. As he died he spoke these powerful words, “Father, forgive them, because they don’t know what they are doing.”
Then he rose from the dead to show us that death is not the end. Death is not our greatest fear. There is a life beyond the narrow door. It is a life of truth, love, and peace.
Notice how the Gospel reading ends. All the people who choose the wide gates will meet the natural consequences of their choices. There will be death and destruction. They will not be able to enter the house. But then, if enough people walk through the narrow door, there will be a time when people will come from all nations, from the North, the South, the East, and the West and will live together in peace, knowing how to speak the truth in love.
This is the Good News. This is the Kingdom of God. Jesus invites each one of us to take the narrow door every day. I pray for you, that you would find encouragement to know that you are not alone. No matter how difficult things may get, God is with you. You have brothers and sisters from our congregation praying with you and for you.
May we, together, learn how to speak the truth in love and find the narrow way. Amen.