Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Sermon for Year C Pentecost 13 Proper 16

Strive to enter through the narrow gate

This is my suitcase.
One of my many suitcases that is.
When my husband Tom and I traveled to Ireland a few years ago.
I took this suitcase--
and two smaller ones.
After all,
we were going to be gone for three weeks!
I wanted to be prepared.

There was only one thing I had not taken into consideration.
There is one thing that is often lacking in Ireland: elevators!

That’s right.
I got to tote and lift (and my husband Tom got to tote and lift)
all my heavy luggage,
up stairs and up more stairs and up more stairs,
from hotel to hotel.
from bed and breakfast to bed and breakfast.
If the Maytag repairman suffers from underemployment here in the States,
I tell you,
the Otis elevator man is absolutely unemployed in Ireland.

Then I made my first trip to Wales.
I traveled much lighter.
Two suitcases.
Much smaller,
but still two.
Still heavy.
And I was by myself.
No helpful husband to tote and lift.
Wales has even fewer elevators than Ireland--I am convinced.
Two won’t do I thought by the end of that trip.

I now make even those long international trips
with one small rolling suitcase.
Okay, I do tuck in an extra bag that will fold out into a second suitcase
for the journey home.
Because even when I don’t buy much,
it seems everything expands when you pack to come home.

How difficult it is to travel light!

There is another kind of suitcase we all own.
It is quite large and bulky.
The size and weight of that suitcase
makes it very hard for us to enter the narrow door
that Jesus speaks of in Luke’s gospel this morning.

It is the suitcase
where we keep all our grudges, our prejudices,
our fears, our bitterness, our jealousies,
our judgement of others.
We keep that suitcase out of sight
to most of the world most of the time.
But we don’t leave home without it.

We lug that heavy suitcase around with us
every day.

Through the years it often gets heavier and heavier.
We find that we can always stuff one more little complaint
into the side zippered pocket.

It is easy to read the gospel this morning
and believe that Jesus has done a complete turnabout.
Rather than being inclusive and welcoming,
Jesus is suddenly preaching about keeping folks out.

Jesus is suddenly saying
you might come knocking,
but don’t count on the door being opened.
you know there are a limited number of seats in God’s kingdom
and you might not make the cut.

Jesus preaching exlusion?
Not true.

Jesus is preaching to us about how we keep our own selves
outside the door.
How we are usually our own worst enemy.

The door into God’s kingdom is narrow.
Purposefully narrow
to force us to leave behind that heavy emotional suitcase,
all that weighty garbage--
we have been lugging around with us
for so many years.

The narrow door is not about excluding people.
The narrow door is about challenging us
to stop competing for power and prestige.
to lay down our relentless judgment of others
and to travel lightly for a change.
To travel with a clean heart.
One that allows even the widest of us,
to slip right through that narrow door.

I know someone who carried a very large and heavy suitcase
all of his life.
Much of his suitcase was filled with burdens that he did not create.
They came from a childhood that was horrendous.
But he had never been able to take those memories,
those weighty hurts, out of his suitcase and leave them behind.

He tried to padlock the suitcase
but it didn’t make it any lighter.

I was with him when he found the narrow door.
He did it quite unintentionally really.
But I was a witness to when it happened.
That someone was my father.

He was in his mid-eighties
when he collapsed one winter day with an excruciating headache
and was taken to the hospital.
A large tumor in his brain showed up in the scans
and he was quickly scheduled for surgery.

My mother, brother and sister and I stayed at the hospital
during that surgery.
When the neurosurgeon appeared to speak with us,
I could tell by his face that the news was not good.
The tumor was malignant.
They had removed as much as they possibly could
but most of it was inoperable.

I remember excusing myself to the bathroom down the hall.
I can still remember how ice cold the tile wall felt
as I pressed my face against it and wept.

But we came back together and stood in the hall as my father was
wheeled by.
He was smiling this incredibly big smile.

He did not know his prognosis;
he actually did not really understand the diagnosis.
He spotted my sister and looked up at her
as the gurney stopped in the hospital hallway.

“Your hair!” he exclaimed.
My sister tensed, “What about it?”

You see my father and my sister had a rocky relationship.
When one of them tried to get along with the other,
the other rebuked. And so it had been for decades.

My sister’s hair is dyed blonde.
My father had always hated it.

“What about my hair?” my sister retorted.
“It’s so beautiful,” said my father absolutely sincerely.

The entire family was speechless.

“Thank you, “ my sister finally said.
And there was kindness in her voice.
“Thank you, Daddy.”

That was only the beginning.
My father never had a harsh word for anyone after that.
It was a mystery.
I wondered if the tumor itself
had cut off that judgmental, critical part of the brain.
Or had something happened in the surgery?
We did not know.
All we knew that was in his last seven weeks of life
my father showed everyone immense unconditional love.

My father told friends and family, nurses and doctors,
how beautiful they were,
how wonderful they were,
how much he loved them.

And his love transformed people.
Almost on the spot.
It was truly the most mind-boggling thing I have ever seen.

My father left behind his heavy suitcase of opinions and hurts,
of judgments and fears,
of suspicions and shame,
and all he had left was love.

Love to give away to others.

It is not accomplishments or achievements or being the first,
that gets us through the narrow door.

The key to the door is love.

Love for God.
Love for one another.

Love doesn’t take up much room
but it opens up a space in relationships
that is beyond our wildest dreams.

+ + +

Luke 13:22-30
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, `Lord, open to us,' then in reply he will say to you, `I do not know where you come from.' Then you will begin to say, `We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.' But he will say, `I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!' 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, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last."

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