The Narrow Door
Ordinary Sunday 21: 25th August, 2013
Rev'd Dr Hugh Kempster, Vicar of St Peter's, Eastern Hill
Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" Jesus said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able."
It has never been easy to be a Christian. It is a narrow door hard to enter. Anyone who tells you otherwise is misleading you. Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously wrote of cheap grace and costly grace (The Cost of Discipleship, ch. 1):
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church .... Cheap grace means grace sold on the market .... The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices .... Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves.
By contrast the narrow way, or costly grace is:
The treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it [one] will gladly go and sell all that [one] has. It is the pearl of great price .... Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which [one] must knock .... Costly grace is the sanctuary of God: it has to be protected from the world, and not thrown to the dogs.
My apologies to any parishioners in the profession, but politics it strikes me is the exact opposite of this (and church politics too, I might add). The polls are all about the wide way, and our political system — especially at election time — is really asking nothing of us (other than patience). Party policy at present seems primarily founded on "what we can do for you" and "what you want to hear from us." Of course it is, our votes are up for grabs. There is a phrase in the US: "will it sell in Peoria?" Peoria, Illinois, population 120,000, was made famous by President Nixon who would work on the big political decisions in a small room with his closest advisors: "Yes, yes" he'd say, "but will it sell in Peoria?"
We are on a mission at St Peter's Eastern Hill, yes, but we mustn't confuse it with politics. We don't have a policy to sell. The gospel is rather a bitter pill, a big ask, if we take it seriously. That is part of the dilemma of our mission. Jesus was not a politician. In fact politically speaking his earthly mission was a complete failure. He died alone, the death of a criminal, most of his followers scattered other than his mother and one or two of the closest disciples. He had his moments. The Palm Sunday procession into Jerusalem was quite a rally, but his popularity was fleeting. Bottom line, it is not an easy message the gospel. Following Jesus requires everything: "take up your cross and follow me."
Croatian theologian, Miroslav Volf, tells the story of a visit to his homeland when he went in search of a sausage — not just any sausage but a kulen, a specialty from Slavonia in Northeastern Croatia (Against the Tide, pp. 79-81):
You can't buy the best ones in any store, of course. To get it you've got to have friends in high places — in backwater villages of Slavonia where people raise their own pigs and prepare kulen according to recipes passed on in families for generations.
Volf and a friend drove for miles in search of kulen and finally arrived in a small village at the house of "Grandpa" Gjordje.
His was one of those nondescript houses on a nondescript village street with ditches dug along the road as a sewage system. On his house there was no TV antenna, let alone a satellite dish — otherwise ubiquitous in many Croatian towns. As we entered the kitchen, which also functioned as the living room, I saw on the table an open Bible. He was obviously reading it before we came in. As he sat down after welcoming us, he placed his right hand on the table next to the Bible. It was a rough farmer's hand .... After he offered us wine — his product too — we started talking. Not about kulen, though he knew why we'd come, but about Christian life.
"Always choose a more difficult path," [Grandpa] Gjordje offered as a nugget of wisdom at one point in the conversation. "What do you mean?" responded a neighbour who happened to be there. "If I want to dig a hole in the ground, should I use a dull shovel rather than a sharp one?" "I didn't mean it that way," said [Grandpa] Gjordje, irritated a bit that his neighbour didn't get what he was after. "It's easier for us to be served than to serve and to take than to give. Serving is the harder path, giving is the harder path. Because we are selfish, the path of love is always more difficult."
Next month is Stewardship Month at St Peter's, when we will focus particularly on this path of love, the narrow way, the path of giving. It will be about money — yes — St Peter's would cease to exist without your planned giving and regular donations, and we will be asking you to renew your financial commitment to the church. But giving is about so much more than just money, important as that is. Next Sunday is New Guinea Martyrs Day, when our focus will be on giving through mission, and Fr Samuel will share with us something of his recent pilgrimage to PNG. On September 15th we will be celebrating lay ministry in the parish, the giving of time and energy that so many of you offer. And finally, on September 29th, as well as celebrating Michaelmas, we will observe Social Services Sunday and the importance of giving to the most needy in our society.
Someone asked him, "Lord, will only a few be saved?" Jesus said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.
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St Peter's Eastern Hill, Melbourne Australia.