Grace, mercy and peace be unto you from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen.
The text for this morning comes from the Gospel reading about entering the narrow door.
On any given Sunday, there are more Lutherans worshipping in the country of Africa than there are in the United States and Europe combined. Did not say numbers of people on the rolls, I said numbers of those in worship. There are more Lutherans in worship in the country of Africa than there are in Europe and the America combined.
We love to think of Lutheranism as white, Nordic or Scandinavian and Germanic historical roots and no longer is that so. Oh, the numbers, like I said, on the rolls are there, but it’s changed. In some ways, our region of the world is becoming like what Europe has already become where Christianity is more of a cultural heritage, rather than a faith that is believed and trusted in. That’s the remarkable change that has happened over the last 60 years.
Now this change that we’re able to kind of look at and see and assess implies that there are other people to be brought into the kingdom of God, other than what we’ve been used to in this country. In fact, the Old Testament reading talks about that, that there will be those who come from the north, south, east and west, from the other nations that will hear My glory and see My glory. Hear My fame and see My glory, says God, these people from all others, which implies that there already were people at that time, meaning the Israelites, who had been hearing God’s fame and seeing His glory, who no longer will hear His fame or see His glory. Just as it happened to the people of Israel, so what happened to the people of Europe, so it is happening to the people of our country.
Five hundred years ago, Luther wrote about this and he said the Gospel has its course and runs from one city to another. Today, it is here, tomorrow in another place. Just as a downpour, as it passes, now it rains here, and now in another place. It makes the land there moist and fruitful.
The world, sadly, will not be helped. It does not believe. I am almost weary of it, but on my account and on account of a few godly people, it must be preached. Otherwise it’s in vain. Christ, God’s Son Himself, sent Himself and sent His apostles and warned them, but they would not believe. So also Germany and other countries as well must go on and learn this truth by experience and receive the consequences. Thus it will come upon us and nothing will do. We won’t learn this truth by experience, either.
This has always been the way of God. He works in an area for a time, and then moves like a cloud of rain to another area to bring moisture and life. And then move to another area and sometimes simultaneously in different parts of the world at the same time. But there never is one place that it stays, and stays, and stays because of the heart of man, not because of the message.
It seems as if the rain of God’s Gospel is just scattered in this nation. No longer is it consistent and that the downpour is occurring elsewhere. That’s why our Lord said in the Gospel reading, “Strive to enter the narrow door.” It’s why the writer to the Hebrews wrote this the very last words of the text this morning, “Therefore, let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe where our God is a consuming fire.”
So what does it mean to strive to enter the narrow door? Repent. It means to repent, to receive that which God has given and worked for you. We’ve been given this truth and we believe this truth. Use this truth. Let it be what is upon your heart and mind as you lie down and as you get up, as you walk among this dead and dying world, as one who lives, as one who will not die, but live.
There will come a time when the door will be shut. He says it very clearly in this morning’s reading. There will come a time when there will no longer be an opportunity to enter through that door. Either God removes that good and pure Gospel from a group of people, or worse yet, He actually then allows the people to hear that Gospel and their hearts are hardened toward its freedom that it proclaims.
Interesting, isn’t it? The very first question that comes out of the lips of this crowd, do you remember? “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” Why even ask that question? Are you hedging your bets? Are you trying to figure out whether or not it will apply to you or not? Notice that this crowd does not say, “How can I be saved?” like the crowd that heard the sermon from Peter on Pentecost, “What shall we do to be saved?” They don’t ask that question. They just asked, “Will there be a few who are saved?” thinking that somehow they can squeak in.
And notice what excuses that they give. They are almost indignant that they should be on the outside looking in because their excuses and their reasoning behind it speak complete indignancy. Notice they say, “We ate and drank in company with you.” Oh, I mean, sorry, “We ate and drank in your presence.” They did not say, “We ate and drank with you,” as in oneness. “We just did it in your presence.”
The second one is even more telling, “You talk in our streets,” as if somehow that was good enough. They did not say, “You taught us” and made it personal. It was always on the outside, wasn’t it? They always live their life outside and now they live their eternity outside.
Everything is outside and not believed so as the Epistle writer said, “Be grateful for receiving a kingdom.” Indeed, marvel that we have been brought in through the narrow door and that every time we gather here to use God’s gifts to us, we enter the narrow door again. He’s called you to approach this very feast and receive in that very feast His flesh and blood with the bread and wine and enter the narrow door.
Remember what we spoke about at the beginning? That on any given Sunday there are actually more Lutherans in worship in a country that has hardly any running water and electricity and so on, like all that we have and Europe has combined? Luther reminded us again, 500 years ago, nothing has changed. He says the very advantage we enjoy, the pure word and sacraments, the very advantage that we enjoy really is a warning to us to repent.
Why? Not because we have these glorious means shall we be saved. Not because we’re simply in the midst of these means shall we be saved. But only because we faithfully use these means that we trust in the promises nestled in those means will we be saved. And as he said, some will be saved, and not many. Come, enter the narrow door again, inviting those to come with you, encouraging them to come with you and be filled with His feast in the name of Jesus, amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting, amen.