Tuesday, August 23, 2016

HOMILY – 21st Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C

By Deacon Jerry Franzen – Cathedral  8/21/16
Isaiah 66:18-21           Hebrews12:5-7, 11-13         Luke 13:22-30

Praised Be Jesus Christ!   Good Morning!
In today’s Gospel,
Jesus spoke about the difficult path to salvation.
The entrance to salvation seems to be a narrow,
difficult passage that will require strength.
When asked for further details
Jesus said that there would be some
who would come to that door to salvation
and be told that  they could not enter,
because they were not known,
they were strangers.
Even though they had eaten and drunk with him
and heard his teachings,
some would still be like strangers.
Listening while you are eating and drinking is pretty easy,
nothing difficult about that, nothing requiring strength.
It would be like watching TV with a soft drink and some chips
or attending a movie with a drink
and a barrel of popcorn.
That would make for an easy path to salvation.
But Jesus spoke of a narrow gate to salvation,
one requiring more than table fellowship and listening.


One of the more famous attractions in Wisconsin
is an area known as the Wisconsin Dells,
an area along the Wisconsin River.
In this area, rock formations rise steeply
along the banks of the river.
In some places the formations rise up
right in the middle of the river.
These formations resulted from layers of sediment
that were deposited by the glaciers
that once traversed this area.
The differently colored layers of rock can be clearly seen
as the formations extend above the waterline.
I understand that the word “Dells” comes from a French word     “dalles” which means layers.
On a boat trip along the river one can see the rock up close.
At some places on the trip,
the boat will pull into a cove in the rock,
and people can disembark and literally walk back
into the rock formation along a narrow                                                       pathway in a vertical crevice.
The crevice is only 2-3 feet wide at some points on the path;
the rock walls along the crevice rise 30 to 50 feet high.
Of course, there is gift shop at the end of the path.
For me walking this path brought into clear focus
Jesus’ command to
             “Strive to enter through the narrow gate.”


In the 11th, 12th and, this, the 13th chapter of Luke’s Gospel,
people bring questions to Jesus
as he is on his journey to Jerusalem.
In response to these questions, Jesus taught the people about
what was necessary
to enter into the kingdom of heaven.
He taught them how to pray.
He taught them about true blessedness –
hearing God’s word and acting upon it.
He taught them to beware
of the leaven of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.
He taught them how to be faithful and prudent stewards.
He taught them about the dangers of storing up riches.
He taught about repentance, forgiveness, and reconciliation.
He used parables to teach about the kingdom of God,
All in the course of three chapters.
And now in today’s reading in Chapter 13 Jesus is asked,
          “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”
          “With all of these instructions you have given us,
           how can we do it; how can we enter into the kingdom?”

And Jesus’ response is that the gate is truly narrow;
Yes, he said that many will not be able to enter.
And the people’s response was:
          “Why won’t God let us in?
           We have been taught by you, the Messiah;
           we have eaten meals with you, the very Son of God.”
And Jesus replied that the master will say
 that he doesn’t know where some of them came from.

Twice we heard: “I do not know where you are from.”
Not that he didn’t know them,
but that he did not know where they came from.
Those words about where I came from have haunted me.
How do I make it so that God knows where I am from?
What does this mean?

The gate to salvation is narrow.
The path of a follower of Jesus is long and very restricting.
A narrow passage indicates a passage that would restrict
what the person is carrying.
A narrow gate can’t accommodate a person
who carries a lot of baggage.
If I had tried to carry a large backpack and a big suitcase
through that crevice in the rock at the Dells,
I would not have made it.
I would have been stuck at the narrowest points.
Imagine attempting to follow the path of Jesus
and carrying along a lot of worldly baggage like:
         Greed: How can I get more and more money;
         more pleasure?
Are there no limits to my need for gratification.
         Excess baggage like hunger for power.
How can I lord it over as many people as I can?
         And what about vengeance?
When will I get revenge for being wronged;
         And hate.
Greed, hunger for power,
seeking vengeance and hate are some elements
of worldly baggage
that will impede us in our journey to salvation.
If we have become so inflated with our own self image,
so taken by ourselves at the expense of our neighbor,
we won’t fit through that narrow gate.
But Jesus says that we must strive to enter.
Jesus was implying that we can do it,
if we have the strength.
This reminded me of the Romanian Gymnastic coach
and what he said to Mary Lou Retten in the Olympics of the past:
"You can do it!  You can do it! 

Maybe I could have been strong enough
to lift my hypothetical suitcase or backpack over my head
and to somehow squeeze through the rocks.
But Jesus is not talking about physical strength,
he is talking about spiritual strength,
the strength of will to make the commitment
to untie that worldly baggage,
to let loose of it and leave it behind.
It’s the strength by which we know
that we can make it in this life, and into eternal life.                 

In a sense, it’s the strength by which we seek to become weak.
Jesus has said:
                “Unless you become like little children, …”
Little children can get through the narrow gate easily;
they haven’t developed the baggage.
Just being taught by Jesus
and eating with him were not enough.
God has to know where you are from.
Just coming here today and being taught by the Word
and being nourished with the Eucharist at the table
are not enough for our salvation.
When we come to the final accounting,
it will be a matter
of whether God knows where we came from.
It’s a matter of knowing as humans know.
We really get to know someone by how they act,
by what they do on a regular basis,
and by what they do in special situations.
How one acts is based on one’s mindset,
one’s principles and values and one’s upbringing.
We say, “I know where you are coming from.”
It’s not the number of classes, workshops, retreats
or Bible studies we have attended,
not the number of festivals, committee meetings
or celebrations one has attended.
It’s how we have shed the baggage of ourselves and our sin,
how we have trimmed away
those things we think we need
so that we have the strength to walk the narrow path
that leads to that narrow gate.
God will know us by how we have walked that path,
about where we are from,
by the path we have taken.

We are taught by the Word and fed at his table each Sunday.
May we all today resolve to begin again that journey,
to leave here today on this week’s segment of the path,
resolved to trim our worldly baggage
to act in such a way that God will say:
“I know you,

your actions show that you are one of my disciples.”