Does Church Bore You?
9/5/04Times New RomanArial
I can't tell you how many times over the years I've heard that Church bores someone. There's a person like that in our text. Jesus is heading to Jerusalem where He knows He will suffer and die. On the way, Jesus is teaching that He is the Way, the Truth, the Life; that now is the time for repentance; that now is the day of salvation. In the face of the radical, soul-searching, eternally important teaching of Jesus, someone asks, "Are only a few people going to be saved?" He doesn't ask about Jesus'suffering and death or about his own sins and forgiveness. He wants to know about other people. That's more exciting. Is this how it is for you? Is the plain preaching of Jesus boring you? Do you want more interesting things? If so, don't start with the question how many will be saved but ask if you will be!
To those of you bored with Christianity, Jesus says, "Agonize about your salvation." To those of you who can't pay attention, can't stay awake, can't get interested in His teachings Jesus says, "Agonize about whether you are saved." The translation, "Make every effort" is literally the Greek word agonizesthe from which comes "agonize." Originally, it meant to contend for a prize in the public games, to be an Olympian. The noun agonia is used for Christ's hellish struggle in Gethsemane. So if you're bored, if you want more stimulation and excitation in your religion, start agonizing, start struggling with your sin and unbelief like Christ did in Gethsemane.
A bored person sees no reason to struggle. Entering heaven is easy, too easy to them. But what does Jesus say? Many will try to enter heaven and will not be literally "strong enough." It's not easy at all. It's the heavenly Olympics, and only a few win medals in the Olympics you know. Most don't. And does pleading and promising to do better help? Do athletes in the Olympics get a second chance? No one is foolish enough to think they do, yet many foolishly believe there is more than one chance to enter heaven. Is there?
Jesus says, "If you don't make it into heaven before the door is shut, knocking and pleading will do you no good." The scene Jesus depicts brings to mind Noah's ark. Once Noah and company entered the ark the Bible says the Lord closed the door; not another person got into the ark. They pleaded, wept and pounded on the ark's door, but God didn't open it again. The water swirled around their knees; then it was to their chests, and finally it was to their chins. They were frantic to get into that ark. There wasn't a bored one among them then, was there? No one thought entering the ark was too easy then.
You want excitement? You want thrills? Then think what happens to those who don't have the strength to make it through the narrow door, who don't make it in before the door is shut. All that is left to them, says Jesus, is weeping and gnashing of teeth. There's no crying like this weeping and no grinding of teeth like this gnashing. Jesus says what's left to those on the other side of the door of salvation is the weeping and the gnashing. This weeping and gnashing is only known by the damned. If you're bored, why not think about what sort of pain, what sort of misery, what sort of desperation could lead people to nonstop wailing and gnashing?
If you're bored with the things of Christ, the worshiping, the communing, the preaching, the teaching, it's because you don't see these as absolutely necessary for your salvation. You make the fatal assumption that since you are with those being saved you of course are saved. You assume that Christ saves by proximity. You've ate and drank in His presence. You've been to church dinners, dinner tables, and this Table all in Jesus' name. How could you not be saved? What's more, you've been around the preaching and teaching of Jesus' words your whole life. Surely, you're in.
But Jesus doesn't save by proximity. He plainly tells us in Matthew 24 that 2 people can be in the same field, doing the same work, living essentially the same life, but one will be saved and the other lost. It even gets down to families. Last week's Gospel told us that Jesus divides families. Some are saved others are lost. In Matthew 24, Jesus says that even with husband and wife, as close as you can get in this life, one can be saved the other lost.
Getting into heaven is not at all what you're thinking. You who are bored, you who find the things of Church and Christ, of Word and Sacraments unfulfilling, think you have it all figured out. Christ will come and look at who's name is on the church rolls and take them to heaven. Or He is going to return and check a naughty and nice list. The nice get saved; the naughty get damned. You think those who come in first in your estimation will be saved and those who come in last will be damned.
Jesus says, "Think again." There are some you think are in first place, yet they're going to be damned. There are some you consider to be in last, yet they're going to be saved. This ought to jolt you out of your boredom. This ought to slap you out of your freewheeling wondering about how many are being saved. This ought to cause you to ask the question you need to, "Am I being saved or will heaven's door be slammed in my face and I'll be outside crying buckets of tears and grinding my teeth to the gums?"
This is exactly what you need to be told if you're bored with the things of Christ, if your mind strays to things Christ hasn't revealed in His Word, if your concerned about other people's salvation rather than your own. But this is not what you need to hear if you're weak and heavy laden because of your sins or troubled about your salvation. The message you need to hear then is rejoice salvation is yours.
It's true; there is only one door by which a person can enter and be saved. And this door is narrow in that it is the only one. Every single soul that will be saved has to fit through this one door. But dear friends, this door is Jesus. He says clearly in John 10, "I am the door. If anyone enters through Me, he shall be saved." The Door is Jesus who spread His arms wide: to die for all sinners, to welcome little children, and to receive disgusting, smelly prodigal sons and daughters. The Door is Jesus who invites, urges, welcomes all people to come, to follow, to enter and be saved.
Jesus is the Door and this Door is not shut now but stands wide open and only Jesus can shut it. Your sins don't shut the door. Your boredom doesn't shut the door. Your looks, income, race, worries, or fears can't shut this door. This Door stands open wide enough for all people in all 4 corners of the world, east, west, north and south to come streaming in.
This Door is open to people you would never think could enter. Isaiah describes the "openness" of the Door in terms that the OT Church would understand. He says this Door is open wide enough to let in people from such pagan lands as Tarshish and Libya. This door is so wide open that people outside of Israel from places like Tubal and Greece can fit in. We would say that Jesus the Door is open wide enough to let in gang bangers, drug dealers, pimps and prostitutes. People we might have a hard time opening our Church to, Jesus invites into heaven thereby assuring us that the door is most certainly open wide enough for us.
And we've been brought through the Door by our Baptism. Through the waters of Baptism the holiness of Jesus was placed over our unholiness; the sweet odor of Jesus was placed over our foul smell and we were brought into Paradise. Our certainty of being here is not that we ate and drank with Jesus but that we eat and drink Jesus in Communion. Our boast is not that Jesus taught in our streets but that He has taught us. In Sunday School, Bible class, confirmation, and sermons, it is His Word teaching us.
This salvation we can rejoice in; this salvation we can be excited about. Our God feeds us with His Body and Blood, our God speaks holy, eternally true words into our ears. This is not normal. This is better than anybody could dream or imagine. Our God is not far away from us but in our mouths and in our ears. Our God feeds us with Food that even angels can't eat. He tells us things that even angels desire to look into. O I know how it appears. I know that Communion looks like plain bread and wine and that His Words sound like ordinary ones, but our Lord tells us that's not how it is. This is the Meal to get excited about; these are words to rejoice over.
We don't enjoy these things of Christ by ourselves either. We enjoy them with the fellowship of the saints and the friendship of the angels. We do this not soon but now. Not for awhile but for an eternity. Look at the Epistle. Hebrews tells us, "You have come (We're already there.) to thousand of angels in joyful assembly, to the Church of the firstborn whose names are written in heaven." Every Sunday we praise the Lord, not just with the small number of people here, but "with angels and archangels and with all the company of heaven."
Friends, we rub elbows with the prophets, apostles, the saints of old and with all our deceased loved ones in Christ. In the Communion service their songs of praise mingle with ours as the Church in heaven gathers with the Church on earth around Jesus as He makes Himself known in Bread and Wine. The closest any of us get to heaven on earth isn't in nature or around a family dinner table. The closest we get to heaven on earth is around this Table. Here is Jesus whose Body and Blood connect this world that ends to the world without end. Here is where those being saved constantly gather to be pointed to Jesus the Door and to be given the strength to go through that Door. Here is where we taste the feast of the kingdom of God by dining on the Body and Blood of the King Himself. Here we don't wonder in boredom about how many are being saved; here we rejoice in excitement that we have been saved. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Pentecost XIV (September 2, 2004), Luke 13:22-30