Homily from August 26, 2007

Luke 13: 22-30

What did you think of that gospel?  I don’t know about you, but I like my gospels to be reassuring and comforting… to give me hope.

My family and I had a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity this summer to visit some of the great Western U.S. national parks.  They are spectacular and we feel very fortunate to have been able to see them.  The scenery, the wildlife and the hiking were… simply amazing.  Speaking of wildlife, we were in the Tongass National Forest and came across a sign that read: “Beware of bears.  Never startle a bear.  If you see one approaching, walk away slowly, backwards.”  In Olympic National Park, we were near a restaurant and saw a sign that read: “Do not take an open container of food outside.  Cougars may be attracted to it.”  I like wildlife, but, truth be told, when I’m at Bird Park and a squirrel gets real close to me, I get a little unhinged.  So you can pretty much forget a startled bear or a cougar that wants to attack me because of the pretzel I’m holding.

And the hiking is spectacular there in the parks.  On our trip, we’d stop at the visitor center, grab a map and hit the trails.  But, we typically like to hike in flip flops and in places where you can get four bars on your cell phone and are never more than a mile away from a Starbucks.  I was impressed whenever I saw folks head out into the wilderness with huge backpacks and carrying things like tents and rope and harnesses.

I loved the national parks, but camping out in the wilderness in a small tent and fending off bears and cougars for your life is definitely outside of my comfort zone.

We all have comfort zones.  Places where we feel at ease, relaxed, confident… correct… and maybe even powerful.  What are your comfort zones?  What does it feel like to be shoved outside of them?

For some, having to speak in public is a shove outside of a comfort zone.  For others, it’s conflict or big looming deadlines.  For some it’s being proven wrong.

I’ll tell you about another one of mine.  I like to talk to you right up here, standing behind this ambo.  And I like to have some notes in front of me just in case I need them.  It makes me feel more comfortable.  Fr. Mike, on the other hand, stands right out there in front without a scrap of notes and, frankly, I don’t know how he does it.  I can tell you that you’ll never catch me doing that.

So… what are your comfort zones?  And what does it feel like to be push outside of them?

In our gospel today, Jesus pushes us outside of our comfort zone.  And, of course, it wouldn’t be the first time.  Do you remember what happened in last Sunday’s gospel?  In that gospel, he told us that he came here to set the earth on fire.  To create division.  To set a father and a son against each other.  I love my son.  The very last thing I want is for Jesus to create any kind of problem between us.

In today’s gospel, he is asked a simple question: “… will only a few people be saved?”  In typical fashion, Jesus didn’t address the question directly.  Instead, he tells us a story about entering through a narrow gate.

And here’s the hard part.  He describes a master standing behind a locked door, telling those who are outside that they cannot enter.  The ones outside plead with him.  They tell him that they dined together, they worshipped together, they were friends.  But they were turned away.  Furthermore, Jesus states that those coming in from the east and the west… foreigners… strangers… would be let inside where they will be greeted warmly, recline at table and be in the kingdom of God.

What exactly is Jesus telling us here?  He was merely asked: “will only a few be saved?”  But he doesn’t say whether few or many will be saved.  What he does say is that you should prepare to be surprised when you come to that doorway.  He tells us that those who count themselves among the saved might not be.  And those others, you know, the ones who we’re all quite certain will not be saved, might actually be.

This can be a giant shove outside of our comfort zone.  But you know, sometimes it’s good to be shoved outside of your comfort zone.

<<< leave ambo, walk to front >>>

We have the playbook.  We follow the rules.  Then we get saved, right?  Isn’t it enough to come here on Sundays, receive all the sacraments we’re supposed to, work hard to follow Jesus, listen to our leaders in the Church, pray every day?  Isn’t that enough?  And what about all those who don’t do any of these things?  What about those who believe in God in a different way?  Or who don’t believe in God at all?  What about those who are cynical or critical about our faith… or who mock it?  What about those who we know absolutely will not be saved?  Cannot be saved?

Jesus tells us that we should be prepared to come to the doorway… the narrow gate… and look inside and see some who we did not expect would be there.  And though we might feel good about our chances, Jesus is also telling us that the master might lock the door on us and not let us in.

This is, I believe, a call to humility.  A call to be less certain.  It’s absolutely not a call to abandon the message of Christ or to ignore the playbook, but it is a lesson in making sure we don’t cast a divide between us and them because you never can be sure whether we’ll end up being an us… or a them.

In short, we should not judge.  This is said to us by a man who had many opportunities to judge, including a golden one… but who instead scribbled in the sand and then muttered some words about casting the first stone.

Being shoved outside of our respective comfort zones can make us feel not very powerful, not very correct, not very comfortable, not very great.  But the greatest one of all time… the most powerful ever… the most correct to ever walk among us did what is depicted in the profound symbol just up behind me.  He emptied himself.  He took on the form of a slave.  He came forward, with immense love, and he humbled himself.  And though it could be uncomfortable, he asks us to follow him there.

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