Homily for August 25

The Narrow Gate

Homily for the Twenty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time
Scriptures for today's Mass

This is the last in our four-week message series we've called,
How To Vacation.

If you've been away on vacation while we've been looking at this
you can catch up on the New Roads website.

But for now, let me recap where we've been by asking some questions.

• When you go on vacation - do you pack too much or too little?
I'm a notorious over-packer!
There was a great article in the paper a few days ago
about how to pack for vacation
and the best piece of advice offered there was this:
Pack for who you are - not for who you wish you were!
I tend to pack for a social life I've never had
and probably never will have!

• Are you someone who plans a vacation very carefully?
Or do you just hit the road and see where it might bring you?

• Have all your vacations turned out just as you hoped they would?
Or, like most of us, have you found that a vacation
doesn't always deliver what you had hoped and planned for?

• Have all your vacations been trouble-free, peaceful and relaxing?
Or have car trouble, failed reservations - and family members! -
added just a little bit of drama to your time off?

• Have you ever felt like you needed another vacation
- just to recover from your regular vacation?

• Do you think of vacation time as compensation, just and due,
something you've earned and now own?
Or could we be persuaded to see vacation as a gift, even a gift from God,
a gift to be enjoyed, shared, and used well and wisely?

• One benefit of vacation is time to get to do some things
we really want to do and always mean to do -
but usually don't get around to doing, because, as they say,
"Life gets in the way…"

Sometimes "life gets in the way"
of our dealing with some of life’s biggest questions.
In our message series, we’ve suggested making some time on vacation
to do some of the things that really bring us peace,
things that truly satisfy us,
and to give some thought to some of those questions
that just don't go away until we give them the time they deserve.

• Vacation could be a real game-changer if we spent some of our time 
paying attention to what’s in our heart of hearts.

• Perhaps the biggest question we've asked in this message series is this:
Can we look at vacation as a time to grow? 
A time to grow rich in what brings us deep satisfaction…
A time to grow in what brings us peace - peace that lasts…
A time to grow in the things that really matter to us
- things that really matter - to God

 • Can vacation be a time for us to look at some of the big questions
that run through our minds?  that stir in our hearts?
questions that have been waiting for our attention
- maybe for a long time?

Well, there's one of those "big questions" in the gospel we just heard.
Someone in the crowd asked Jesus,
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?" (Luke 13:23)

Or we could pose the question in clearer terms,   
"Lord, will a lot of people get into heaven - or just a few?"
OR - we could make it really personal and ask,
"Lord, will I be saved?

And maybe we need to ask the very basic question,
“Just what does it mean to be saved? Saved from what?”
Those are really big questions, too.
A short answer would be this:
To be saved is to desire, to invite, to welcome God into my heart
-  God who is present and helping me every day of my life.

Being saved isn’t just about what happens at the end of our lives!
Being saved is learning to recognize how God is in my life TODAY,
whether I’m on vacation or off vacation:  24/7/365

And what do I need to be “saved from?”  I need to be saved from sin.
I need to be saved from
anything or anyone or any problem or any burden
that comes between me and the peace I want, 
the peace that GOD wants me to have in my life;

I need to be saved from anything or anyone
that keeps me from becoming the person I was created to be,
from loving the people entrusted to my care,
from making the most of my gifts and talents,
from becoming a person at peace with others, at peace with God
-- and at peace with myself.

Let’s go back to the question in the gospel,
"Lord, will only a few people be saved?" (Luke 13:23)
Well, the answer to that question is good news.

Think back to what Isaiah told us in the first reading:
that all peoples -not just the people of Israel-        
but all peoples will be invited to share in God's glory.

Now, keep in mind that Isaiah is speaking to people
who understand themselves as "the chosen" people
-- and now he's telling them that everyone will be chosen!

Truth be told, some folks who go to church regularly
think of themselves as the "chosen," those who will be saved.
But God has something more in mind.
"I will set a sign among them;
from them I will send fugitives to the nations...
to the distant coastlands,
that have never heard of my fame or seen my glory,
and they shall proclaim my glory among the nations." (Isaiah 66:18)

- fugitives who know nothing of Israel's God,
- fugitives who will be chosen as God's messengers -
and in fact, that it's these foreign fugitives
who will bring the chosen but unfaithful people - back to God.
And in the gospel, Jesus echoes the theme in Isaiah. Jesus says:
"People will come from the east and the west
and from the north and the south
and will recline at table in the Kingdom of God." (Isaiah 66:19)

One thing is certainly clear here:
God wants all of us to be with him
-and he doesn't want to leave anyone out.

So, maybe it’s starting to sound like, "Y'all come!"
Well, with God, the door IS wide open --  and everybody’s invited in!
But... then there is that business about “the narrow gate,”
the narrow door, the narrow entrance...
And this can be a little puzzling…

Everyone's invited - but - says Jesus:
"Strive to enter through the narrow gate,
for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter
but will not be strong enough." (Luke 13:24)

So, the gate is open but there's something
that narrows our admission, our passing through.
I wonder…
(and we might spend some time on vacation wondering…)
What might be the things in my life and yours
that narrow our passageway to God?

Maybe the answer to that is connected to what we learned last week:
 “where our treasure is, there will our hearts be.”
--maybe it's our attachment to our stuff, our money, our status
--maybe it's an unwillingness to give up control
--maybe it's habits that we know are no good
- but are so hard to break
--maybe it's the tyranny of the urgent:
the challenge of focusing on anything other than -
the emergency of the moment.

Maybe another way to ask this question could be: 
What gets in the way of our drawing closer to God? 
What gets in the way of our knowing God more fully
(today, tomorrow, this year  -- even on vacation?)

And Jesus encourages us to strive
to enter through the narrow gate.
Think of all the things in life in this world that people strive for.
Think of all the things in life that people in this town strive for.
Think of all the things that you spend time and energy
striving for  -  every single day.

The things we strive for
- are they helping us make our way through the narrow gate
or are they impeding our progress?

Imagine how different our lives would be,
how different our families, our town, our parish, our schools,
our workplaces,  our world would be
if we were really striving to find the path that leads us
through the narrow gate,
the path to real peace in our lives.

The narrow gate is plenty wide enough
for our hearts to pass right on through.
But maybe our hearts and our arms are full, burdened,
with all the "treasures" we've been collecting,
the shiny stuff, the bling,
Those things that don't bring us lasting peace or deep satisfaction
but instead just tend to burden us and weigh us down.

If that's the meaning of the narrow gate then we can't be satisfied
by waiting 'til the end of our lives to ask this question.
We need to be always striving to unburden ourselves
of whatever narrows our passageway to God
 and, instead, strive to fill our hearts with what really matters.

In the story Jesus tells in the gospel,
the master of the house turns away those knocking on his door
whom he doesn't recognize.

The point Jesus makes here is very clear:
get to know, strive to become friends with the gatekeeper, the doorman.
And that's Jesus!

You see, the point of the gospel here is not so much judgmental
 (You better be good
 or Santa won't come to your house on Christmas!).
No, this gospel is less judgmental and much more invitational.

Jesus does invite and welcome EVERYONE
to come through the narrow gate and live in his peace.
He does want to have a relationship with each one of us -
and wants each one of us to grow closer to him.

Vacation is a good time for us to ponder these realities.
A time to wonder about where our lives are leading us
and what in our lives is making narrower and narrower
the door, the gate, that opens to peace that lasts
and joy that never ends.

I know that at the end of my life,
I'll be forever grateful if I begin a vacation that lasts forever.

But now, today, is the time for me, and for you,
to be already living the peace of that vacation,  
now's the time for us to be working on
how our lives will lead us through the narrow gate;
now's the time for us to be packing - or better yet, un-packing,
unpacking all the excess baggage that narrows our passage to peace.

• Of course, it’s possible to miss the narrow gate altogether -
to walk right by it, thinking there’s a bigger, better gate down the road.

• Still other folks see the gate but just can't pass through
because they're not strong enough to be honest about who they are
and about what narrows their passage towards Jesus.

So, did we hear Jesus in the gospel today?
Do we see the gate?
Do we want to strive to be strong enough to pass through it,
    to pass through to the peace God wants for each of us in our lives?

Do we realize our weaknesses
and our need to let go, to unpack, unburden ourselves
of things that don’t really matter
AND - to grow rich in those things that truly make a difference,
a game-changing difference in our lives?

God wants this for every one of us.
God invites every one of us to enter through the narrow gate.
God desires this for every one of us
no matter how well we know God,
whether we know God at all - or not,
whether we see the gate or pass by it,
whether we’re strong or weak,
God desires this for every one of us
regardless of WHEREVER we might find ourselves
on our walk in life.

Let's hope, let’s pray that each of us will make some time
not just on vacation but in the rhythm of our day-to- day lives,
make some time to seek out the narrow gate and sit by it,
just sit by it for a while,
to ponder what it promises and where it leads,
and to do what we need to do
to let go what we need to let go, 
to welcome God inviting us 
to make our way through  
-  to the peace he wants for us all.


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