A Sermon for Series C Proper 16 – 2016 “You Can’t Get There from Here”

Old Testament Lesson  Isaiah 66:18-23

Second Lesson  Hebrews 12:4-24

Gospel Lesson  Luke 12:22-30

Grace, mercy, and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.  The text for our meditation this day is the Gospel lesson just read.  [Luke 13:22-30]

Have you ever asked for directions from someone and heard the reply, “You can’t get there from here.”?  Once upon a time, when Patricia and I were moving from Virginia to Connecticut, back in the summer of 1975, I made a ‘spontaneous’ decision as we were crossing the George Washington bridge from New Jersey to New York.

I decided to take the first exit after the bridge; and I let Patricia know my plans just as we passed mid-span on the bridge.  Before she could object, we were on the exit ramp.  The plan was to circumnavigate Manhattan and then get back on I-95 headed north into Connecticut.  It was going to be a great, carefree, and easy way to see Manhattan.  So off we went on an adventure.

We got less than a quarter of a mile on this adventure when we came to a grinding halt.  We were in traffic, and the traffic was creeping along … some of the time.  Most of the time it was standing still.  Now I turned on the radio.  Do you remember what happened in New York City in the summer of 1975?  They went broke.  On the radio, I learned that construction workers had barricaded the Brooklyn Bridge, near the south end of Manhattan, in protest for not being paid; and we were sitting in a traffic jam that extended the entire length of the island.

To make matters worse, there was a four alarm fire engulfing the telephone company building in flames … in downtown Manhattan.  … I made another spontaneous decision and took the next exit we came to, figuring we’d cut across the north end of Manhattan and reconnect with I-95 on the other side.  But, when we got to the other side, there was no clear way to get back on the interstate.

After two hours of trying to find our way … I finally gave up and asked for directions.  That’s when I heard it.  “You can’t get there from here.”  “You can’t get on the cross Bronx Thru-way heading north from here.  But if you get on it going south and go about a mile, you’ll find an exit and an overpass that will get you headed north again.

So there was a way to get there from here.  It just wasn’t my way; and it just wasn’t easy.  It was a bit of a struggle, but it was possible to get there.  I just had to be led.  And that’s the way with our salvation.  We have to be led.

In the earliest days of the Christian church, before they were even called the Christian church, they were called ‘The Way’; and in those days, life was looked at as a long journey that either ended up in eternal death or eternal life.  So, there was a way of life and a way of death.  And the Christians proclaimed to the world that Christ was the Way to salvation; and we needed to follow that Way.

The writer to the Hebrews urged us to follow that way in the Epistle lesson today; to accept God’s discipline and chastening as he molds us and leads us through life. It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.  …. Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.  Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.

That was the Way.  Follow Christ and accept his chastening, his discipline as a good son or daughter.  But this life, this way, of chastening and discipline wasn’t done to produce salvation; it was the product of salvation already delivered to us.  Our good works are used by God to extend the kingdom, not as means to save us.  The way of our salvation comes apart from us.  It comes through God’s gift of faith to us, faith in Christ alone, apart from any works of ours.

Listen again to Jesus’ words in the Gospel lesson today: he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.”  If we come to that narrow door carrying our good works, like trophies and awards of our discipleship, we won’t get through.  The door is too narrow for us to bring our personal baggage with us.

This is the door of salvation; opened by Jesus as he lived the perfect life for us, ending in his suffering and death for us.  This is the door of salvation.  The door that Jesus opened by making himself last so that we could be seen as first.  And this is the door that Jesus opened for us as he rose the third day; no longer last but now the first to live the resurrected life so that we might follow him in this risen life for all eternity.

Getting through that door isn’t easy; and it isn’t something we can do on our own.  We don’t earn the ability to walk through that door.  With all the baggage we carry around with ourselves, we aren’t worthy to walk through it; but the Holy Spirit comes to us and prepares us to go through that narrow, open, door.

He shows us the baggage we carry; the sins we try so hard to ignore, pretending they aren’t really there; the self-righteous attitudes we carry like trophies, trying to convince ourselves how good and worthy we are; and we like our baggage. We want to keep it; so the Spirit struggles with us, strives with us, until he brings us to repentance. … Strive to enter through the narrow door.

And once he brings us to repentance, the struggle is over and he leads us to that narrow door, where now, in repentance, we fit!  He grabs our hand and extends it through that door where we feel the strong grasp of our Savior as he pulls us through and shows us our place at the banquet table.

This is the way of salvation.  Not our work, not our doing; but totally and completely the work and the gift of God.  The way of salvation is through Christ alone.  He opened the door between heaven and earth.  His Holy Spirit does all the work; using God’s holy Word to prepare unbelievers to be believers by showing them their sins and their self-righteous view of life; and then stripping them of their trophies and awards as they struggle with him; dragging them to repentance where they’re finally able to fit through that narrow door.

We and all believers fit because of the unrelenting, steadfast, patient work of God.  Christ Jesus said that people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God; and because God loves you so much that he willingly sacrificed his only Son, those ‘people from east and west, and from north and south’ includes you.  You and me and all believers will sit at the marriage feast of the Lamb in His kingdom, which has no end; and we even get a foretaste of that feast right now!

So struggle, strive, but don’t strive on your own.  Strive with the Spirit; because the Spirit alone knows the way; and on your own, you can’t get there from here.

In Christ’s service,

Pastor Huelle