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Sunday 21st August 2016

Gospel Luke 13:22-30

Through towns and villages Jesus went teaching, making his way to Jerusalem. Someone said to him, ‘Sir, will there be only a few saved?’ He said to them, ‘Try your best to enter by the narrow door, because, I tell you, many will try to enter and will not succeed.

‘Once the master of the house has got up and locked the door, you may find yourself knocking on the door, saying, “Lord, open to us” but he will answer, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will find yourself saying, “We once ate and drank in your company; you taught in our streets” but he will reply, “I do not know where you come from. Away from me, all you wicked men!”

‘Then there will be weeping and grinding of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves turned outside. And men from east and west, from north and south, will come to take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God.

‘Yes, there are those now last who will be first, and those now first who will be last.’

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The question of whether we might be saved; who will be saved, or how many might be saved used to exercise the minds of many believers. Saved from what? people might now ask. In past times it was quite clear that death and suffering held us in their power. Life could be brutal, nasty and short and it still is for many of the people of the earth. It certainly was for most people who ever lived.

People wished to be saved, saved from the finality of death; saved from death’s power to annihilate them and to rob them of everything and everybody they loved. They wished to be redeemed, freed from the burden of accumulated sin, freed from the claims and chains of death, freed from the grasp of the grave.

The language of being saved, of redemption has lost its power. Life is so secure or at least seems so secure that people lose their sense of vulnerability. Many believe that they are headed for a long life, good health, enough of life’s luxuries to live comfortably and that they are beyond the touch of death. We have learnt to feel invincible because of the security that material wealth and good health care gives us. We have abandoned the great questions of life and death in favour of living for the moment.

Christ, in answer to the disciples’ questions, gives them a few startling answers. He reminds them that there are no reserved seats in the kingdom. He tells them that the order of this world will be reversed in the next. He reminds them that those who are last and least in this world will be first in the kingdom. He tells them that they may enter only by the narrow door, that they must journey the road less travelled. He reminds them that there will be many who will take the wrong direction and road, many who will knock on the wrong door, many destined to be rejected, even though they claim the most privileges. He tells them that a great sadness, a great anger will descend on those who have chosen to separate themselves from God by their behaviour or lifestyle and by their neglect of the great questions and dilemmas of life. He reminds them that the kingdom belongs to those whose lives were marked by faith, by those who over the course of their lifetimes were changed, converted, re-directed to the ways of God. The kingdom belongs to no other group, to no other sectional interest.

The great questions of life haven’t gone away. They may simply have been put on hold. Salvation or redemption is as necessary as ever.  Death and the grave are as powerful as ever. Mankind is as vulnerable as ever. The road is seldom taken, the door is narrow; the time is now.