Reflection for Sunday – August 21, 2016
Readings: Isaiah 66: 18-21; Hebrews 12: 5-7, 11-13; Luke 13: 22-30
Preacher: Irene Goodwin
Some years ago my family was visiting my brother’s family in New Jersey. My brother was the pastor of a non-denominational church and his daughter invited my son to go to a youth group meeting. The following day, on our way home, my son said to me, “last night, they asked me if I had been saved. I did not know what to answer. They prayed over me that I would be saved before I left Jersey. “
During this summer of violence and division, we look to our faith to comfort and guide us. However, the Gospel for this Sunday seems to be all challenge. This Gospel sounds like it is in conflict with our modern approach to a merciful God. We read in Scripture that God wills all to be saved. In other places we read God wills many to be saved. In today’s Scripture, Jesus would tell the reader that the gate for salvation is narrow. Some will not be strong enough. We are told that some will not be recognized. We read: “Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
We ask ourselves, why such strong words? We know the Evangelist Luke writes to explain to the gentile community that God’s offer of salvation is open to all. That offer of universal salvation is hinted at in our first reading from Isaiah. The Isaiah reading is from the closing chapter of the book. The exiles have returned with hope of restoring their land and creating a better world. It has not happened.
The Israelites are told that God will gather people from many lands and they will see God’s glory. This was a great reversal in thought for the Israelites who considered themselves God’s chosen. Luke is well aware that what was once promised only to the Israelites is now open to all. Some Scripture scholars would tell us that Luke has concerns the early Christians will question God’s reliability. If God abandoned the Israelites, will God abandon them? Like the Hebrews before them, had these early Christians become complacent? Were they losing their enthusiasm for the faith? Jesus had not returned, promises were not fulfilled. Is Luke trying to ignite a renewed passion in these gentiles?
Are these words of Jesus an exaggeration? They are probably meant to get the audience’s attention. Do Jesus’ words get our attention? Today, we are one of God’s chosen. We have been given the gift of faith. We try to be good Christians. Each of us does this in our own way. We just try in every way possible to be good people. So what does this Gospel have to say to us? As God’s chosen, that is people of faith, is more expected of us? Several weeks ago we read, “Much will be required of the person entrusted with much. “
Fr. John Groff tells the story of a monk sitting by the road. A samurai warrior appears and says to the monk, “Tell me about heaven and hell.” The monk gives the samurai every insult he can possibly think of. The samurai raised his sword ready to chop off the monk’s head. “That is hell!” the monk explained. The samurai, seconds from completing the motion, stopped and could not believe this monk would risk all to teach him. A grateful tear appears in his eye. This Monk then said, “That is heaven.”
Sometimes we need to be stunned or shocked out of our complacency. Perhaps as God’s chosen, once in a while each of us needs to ask ourselves, have I taken my faith journey for granted? Do I have a passion for my faith? We have all heard of wonderful conversion stories. We may even have a beautiful story of our own. What do I need to do today to keep my journey of faith alive with that kind of passion?
Today we do certainly believe in a merciful God. Jesus came that we may be saved. Each day we live our lives as followers of Christ and we have every good hope we will be saved. There will be days of great faith. There will be days where we struggle with our faith. Some days we may even question our faith. We count on our God to send us reminders when our faith journey needs a jump start. These moments may come in powerful events or very simple moments. They come at happy times and very sad times. They may come from a person who is part of our family or from a smile on the face of a stranger. They may come from giving or accepting forgiveness. This moment may be a song that touches our soul. It may be a beautiful day that reminds us God is present. It may be in a grateful response from someone we have helped. It may come in reading a very tough Scripture passage that tells us the gate is narrow.