Enter in the Narrow Gate
A Homily for Trinity I
June 14, 2020
All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 7:13-29
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
"There are two ways, one of life and one of death, and there is a great difference between these two ways. Now, this is the way of life: First, you shall love God, who made you, Second, you shall love your neighbor as yourself…
"But the way of death is this: first of all, it is evil and completely cursed; murders, adulteries, lusts, sexual immoralities, thefts, idolatries, magic arts, sorceries, robberies, false testimonies, hypocrisies, duplicity, deceit, pride, malice, stubbornness, greed, abusive language, jealousy, audacity, arrogance, boastfulness. It is the way of the persecutors of good people, of those who hate truth, love a lie, do not know the reward of righteousness."
Quoted from The Didache, written sometime in the late first century, early second century.
The words we read of Jesus this morning are hard, but we learn that there are two gates and two ways, one of life and one of death. These words come from the tail end of the Sermon on the Mount. In it, Jesus tells us to live in the way that he has just spelled out; he tells us what it will look like to live a spirit-filled Christian life in the pursuit of goodness and holiness.
In the first several centuries of the church, Chapters 5 to 7 of the Gospel according to St. Matthew were amongst the most quoted portions of scripture. For here, the early church saw the way of life, saw that the outcome of being given a new heart by the grace of Christ was that our lives would better reflect these virtues.
As Christians, we are called to "enter by the narrow gate" and live in the way of Christ. In this call, Christ gives his disciples three distinct warnings: there will be those that will try to take you off the path by misleading you, there will be those who thought they followed the Lord but did not do the will of the Father, and there will be those who are prudent and those who are foolish. So, having been warned, we are called to follow the way of Christ, to pray that Christ would continually renew our heart, to be on guard against those things that would take us off the path.
Have you ever been starving? Like at the end of a day of fasting, or after a long hike? And you think, "there is not enough food in the world to satisfy me!" Perhaps you think you could eat a massive hamburger, a giant milkshake, and 10 pounds of fries. If you're like me, about halfway through that, you've realized you've made a terrible mistake and are eating altogether too much. There are times we think our physical hunger is insatiable, but soon we find out that we have a limit.
However, there are things in this world that are worthy of feeling insatiable towards – we should never have enough of the word of God. We should always desire more prayer. We should always desire to grow closer to Christ. Yet – when we earnestly pursue these things – God will satisfy us.
But this morning, Christ literally describes the false prophets as wolves who are ravenous – that they will be insatiable no matter how much flesh they destroy – no matter how much destruction crumbles down around them – no matter how miserable they make everyone else. No matter – how much they amass – for the false prophet – for the wolves of the world, it will never be enough.
And what makes the false prophets scarier – is they will be disguised. It could be said – that they will come looking like faithful children of our heavenly Father. But under their exterior disguise, they are vicious, deceitful people that care not for anyone else.
Think about the greatest evils that have been done in the world. It was not done by gangsters and strangers. It has been done by seemingly respectable leaders, or worse those we thought to be friends and family.
A professor of mine who has done a lot of work in the Congo, where horrible violence has lead to so much heartache, often talks about these horrors. Yet one of the most chilling photos he ever saw was that of a pornography mogul. What made this mogul so insidious was that he could walk in here and fit perfectly fine. However, this man had ruined thousands of women's lives, countless marriages, and wreaked havoc on the souls of men and women who ate up what he produced. And for all his wickedness - he got insane wealth.
"Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves."
Now, perhaps, you are also thinking, my goodness, this is alarming! How will we know who it is safe to listen to? How will we know if the person is a true and good teacher, a follower of Christ, or a wolf with bad intentions?
Christ gives us the answer – we will know them by their fruit, for a healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. But what is this fruit?
St. Paul wrote that the works of the flesh, compared to the works of the spirit are: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these.
Some of these we may not see much of, at least not in the church, but others come glaring out – in particular – jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, and envy. Any of these sins can demolish a Christian community. Instead of growing and learning to love one another – those who prefer the way of the flesh – grow to resent their brothers and sisters. They finally cut them off and only seek what is best for themselves.
So watch, quietly listen, and see the fruit of others, and guard yourself – least they pull you off the path towards the kingdom of heaven, least they try to entice you into the way of the death, the way of the world.
But take heart as well – having now heard such a description, we may wonder if there can possibly be hope. Christ does promise that justice will come. This is one of those great hopes that we have in this world – and in our faith in Christ. We have all heard stories of injustice – those who fought to be heard – and yet their voices went unheard, the world cared not for them.
These types of stories catch our imagination, and we cry out: That isn't fair! We want to fight for those who have been unheard, who have been hurt and never get justice. These instincts are good, and we should strive to be a voice for the voiceless, we should strive to seek civil justice for those who have been injured in this world.
Injustice in this world should also kindle in our heart another longing – a longing for the New Heavens and the New Earth – when Justice and Mercy will be perfectly administered. When justice doesn't come – when we see those who succeed at swindling, lying, doing awful things and never losing their position, we needn't grow hopeless. One day the king will return, and one day he will judge both the living and the dead.
The rotten trees will be cut down and tossed into the fire. And that longed for justice will come.
But this should also give us pause – we should ask the question – what kind of tree am I?
The first church I served was in rural Maine. One of the senior leaders in the church's name was Leroy, he was a salty but wise fisherman. I believe he's still, there, leading, pursuing Christ.
I became the clergy-in-charge after the priest died suddenly, and without warning. It was a heartbreaking moment. Sadly, some within the congregation had their own agenda. Instead of joining together to grieve, instead of focusing on it being a time of abiding richly in Christ, to seek His mercy and healing – they tried to push their agenda.
Finally, at one heated meeting, Leroy had enough. He pushed his point – questioning those who were being divisive to really examine their heart.
He said, "you know, sitting in a garage doesn't make you any more a car than sitting in a church makes you a Christian."
I'm relatively sure that this wasn't a Leroy original. Still, it makes the same point that Christ makes this morning in a refreshingly simple way. There will be those at the judgment who will say, "Lord, Lord!" and Christ will say, "I never knew you: depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." Here again, we get another one of those uncomfortable sayings of Jesus Christ. Still, it also challenges us to introspection: Are there things we need to repent of? Are there places we need to trust in the Lord?
So much of the Sermon on the Mount is about the conversion of a heart, the motives of our hearts. We see again and again, that ultimately when the outward actions are formed by the inward conscience, the fruit is better. Think again of the tree metaphor in verses 16-20 – a diseased tree cannot bear good fruit. Often times we the leaves or greenery on a diseased tree go brown. The wood of the tree itself looks fine, but then when we cut into it, it is rotten to the core.
The life of following Christ requires that our hearts be molded by Him. The life of following Christ requires that we are converted and healed on the inside first. It isn't about appearing good – but about allowing the Holy Spirit to nurture us and return us again and again to the narrow way. This can be hard, and the world will be right there, ready to tell you their way is better. It is spacious, it is easier, yet – we know the pain that comes from living in the world.
I have met people over the years that are tired – that are sore from living the world, and the heartache of it all becomes too much for them. You approach them, and they become snippy and angry and mean spirited. No matter how hard you try to please them – no matter how much love you show them – no matter what you do – there will always be something wrong, nothing is ever good enough.
My heart breaks for these people – yes, life can be painful – but there is healing in Jesus, there is love in Jesus – there is peace in Jesus.
My friends – we've all come here today with different feelings, different emotions, different experiences.
Some of you have had hard lives, and it just seems that you can't catch a break, and you have experienced pains that are deep and dark. But please know – you have friends that are here that are ready to walk with you, that love you. The burden you carry is hard – but Christ came – not merely to redeem – though he did redeem, he also came to heal. The church is a beacon of hope amidst so much trouble, and Christ has promised to give us a new heart.
A part of the incredible foreshadowing in the Old Testament and the completion of the new covenant in Christ is the promise of this new heart. This heart seeks love and forgiveness, it seeks humility and joy in Christ. It is this new heart that says, "yes, Lord, I long to do your will."
To know Christ means to have a converted heart, a heart that is being healed, it means to desire to do the will of the Father.
And what is the will of the Father? It is what we find spelled out in the Sermon on the Mount – but it starts with the attitude Christ describes at the beginning of the Sermon:
3 "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
5 "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
6 "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
7 "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
8 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
9 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.
10 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Let us faithfully pray for one another that we would have beatitude hearts – that we would long for what Christ longs for – that we would long to do the will of the Father and growing in faithfulness that we would be obedient to the Holy Spirit.
One of the things I miss most about where I lived in Maine was being so close to the water. There was something so inviting, and so peaceful about sitting in front of the water and thinking and praying. Living water provides an amazingly peaceful place to pause and to think. But water is also powerful.
Because where I lived was on the edge of a national park, thousands of tourists would come every year. I don't know whether it was ignorance, or foolishness, or a false sense of security, but people seem to forget the incredible power of water.
We know it here because every year, flash floods seem to catch people off guard, and terrible things happen. But, there too, a tourist, too often would be swept away because they'd forget how powerful the water is, or perhaps simply be unaware.
We can get lulled into a false sense of security. We can get lulled into thinking that everything is fine. We can get pulled into forgetting how powerful the forces of the world are and not take the necessary precautions. We forget to build our lives on the rock of Christ, or even have an adequate Christ-centered vision of the future.
I was talking to a dear friend and fellow Anglican clergyman some time ago – and he found himself frustrated with how things were going. He said, "you know the problem with the continuing Anglican Church (our loose grouping of Anglican denominations) is that they dream small."
And he's right – too often there's no vision or planning for the future, there's a temporary solution, and that seems to be enough. With that being said, one thing that I appreciate about our denomination and bishops is there is a plan and vision for the future. It's not always perfect, but it is better than a plan just to get through today.
If we want to continue to pursue Christ as a church, we need to be looking forward and laying the foundation for tomorrow. We need to be prudent. We need to build our church on the rock of Christ. We need to be prayerfully asking – how can we as a body of Christ best glorify God in our community?
This question and the answers we develop and work out – are what it means to be a Church in the world.
Christ tells us of a prudent and a stupid man – a wise and foolish man.
The wise man – or quite literally the prudent man builds his house on the rock. He builds his life and future upon the words of Christ, allowing Christ to form and shape his life. The wise man looks at the whole situation and asks, "how can I live in this time and place for the sake of Christ? How do Christ's words form my heart and my mind today?" These are the central questions we need to ask ourselves – we need to be diligent about allowing Christ to form our lives – to form our every decision.
But the foolish man heeds no thoughts beyond today, he thinks, "why spend the extra money building for tomorrow, when this will do for today?" He thinks, "why do this extra hard work today? My soul is fine enough."
I went for a hike with a friend a few weeks back, and we talked of all that transpired. I asked him of his family, and he made a good observation – he was thankful for the soul work he had done before landing in this chaotic season. Even now – I am noticing I'm more fragile than normal – more short-tempered – more apt to become frustrated with little inconsequential things. I would hate to think where I'd be today if I hadn't done the work on my soul leading up to this season.
If we don't take the time to draw near to Christ when things are good, when things are settled – when all is okay and the world is calm – we will notice how detrimental it is when it is not. We will be like the foolish man who built his house upon the sand and the wind, and the rain will come down, and it will wash us away.
My friends – take every opportunity to abide in Christ. Take every opportunity to rest in him. Take every opportunity to draw nearer to Him, for He is good and faithful. He will guide and direct you, he will put you on the right way.
If you find that you are feeling fragile, are feeling ill-tempered, are feeling far from Christ – don't be afraid to take a moment, take ten, take an hour and take a deep breath, pray, give all you're feeling to Christ and let Him refresh you.
Christ's words for those who do not heed his direction, who do not follow after what he has called them to are harsh and hard. He closes by saying the one who does not build on the rest of his Sermon is a foolish man, but it is literally so much harsher.
Earlier in the Sermon on the Mount he said the one who calls his brother a fool is liable to hellfire. Here he uses the same word – and so that you might understand how harsh this word is – it is the word which our English word moron comes from. His reuse of the word fool reminds us of two things – first – that the good life is the life built upon Christ and every word that he spoke.
But secondly – it is not our job to worry about the speck in a brother or sister's eye, it is not our job to fret over little sins – it is our job to tend to our hearts – and it is Christ's job to bring justice. For Christ alone knows the heart of the fool and the prudent.
It is in tending to our hearts – growing nearer to Christ – that we can then faithfully walk with our brothers and sisters when they struggle – faithfully build with them our faith upon the rock of Christ.
We end this morning by hearing how the crowd was in awe of Jesus' teaching, for he taught with authority.
Christ is the ultimate authority in our lives – let us live for Christ, let us seek out the narrow way, let us remember that He is the good shepherd of our souls.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost. Amen.