Sermons at St. Nicholas:
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen. Glory to Jesus Christ!
When we read the Gospels, when we read the words of our Lord, we find tremendous comfort in the words. When God tells us of his promises and he tells us of saving us from sin and death, when he tells us about the promises of eternal life and how glorious his kingdom will be, and we come to church worshiping and thanking him for that and thinking in anticipation of the Kingdom of God and foretasting that, even in the Liturgy where we’re receiving by the gift of the Holy Spirit that foretaste of the riches of his kingdom.
And we like that. We like that ability to feel good about God and to feel good about our Christian life and to feel uplifted. I’ve often said that those mornings—Sunday mornings—it even happens to priests, believe it or not, when you don’t feel like really getting up and getting moving but you do anyway. And by the end of the Liturgy you feel uplifted and you feel really, receiving those gifts of God. You feel so full of life and joy in the Holy Spirit.
But there is this aspect of the Gospel that I think we very clearly reject. And I’ll be honest with you, some people will say, “Gee, you know, Fr. Tom is so negative sometime.” And the fact of the matter is—and we have to be honest about this—and I think when we say these comments, we talk about negativity and we talk about criticism or whatever, we say this and we think this out of ignorance of the Gospel. Certainly, not all of Jesus’ words were soft and warm and fuzzy and comforting. Some of them were very hard-hitting. And when we come to church, we cannot expect that every word that we hear is somehow going to give us a warm hug and make us feel good. There are words—and especially in today’s Gospel—and I’m going to point out a few more in the Gospels—that are very difficult to hear. At the end of this Gospel reading today where this man was confronted with the reality of the spiritual life that is demanded of us, it said, “He went away sorrowful because he had great riches.” And everybody else asked, “Hey! Who can do this? If this is the cost of the Gospel, who can be saved?” And Jesus says, “With men this is impossible but with God, all things are possible.”
And we have to wrap our head and our mind around the idea that there is this side of the Gospel that is difficult. And the Lord Jesus Christ actually uses those exact words. He uses the word “difficult” in describing the Gospel. For instance, if we take Matthew chapter 7, these are Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount:
Enter by the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life. And there are few who find it.
There are few who find it.
We got into a discussion on the radio this past Friday. They called me in to ask me to discuss the issue about solitude and we started to talk about monasticism. And you know we have Sister Helene who is up at the monastery. We have, if you remember, Jim Mancini, he’s a monk on Mt. Athos, now, Fr. Nephon. We have people who seek out this narrow way, this very difficult road of the Gospel. And we say, “Well, that’s not me because the Lord Jesus Christ said, ‘There are eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.’” And that’s true. There are certain people that seek out this very difficult road. But what Jesus says is the road for all of us, no matter who we are, whether we’re young parents or whether we’re retired, or whether we’re an executive or whether we—I don’t know—you know, work cleaning streets or whether we’re a stay-at-home mom. The way to life will always be for us difficult because we have to make choices.
Our life is always moving toward comfort, and it’s always moving toward the sort of the sweet things of this life and the softness of this life and there are times with that is provided for us. But there are also times when we have to look at our life and we have to see what’s important to us, and in this particular Gospel reading, Jesus looks at this one man—and the man defends himself, he says “I’ve kept all the commandments from my youth, I don’t do this, I don’t do that. I love God with all my whole heart, soul and strength. That’s the commandment.” And Jesus knew the heart of this man. And he looked inside of him. He knows him better than he knows himself. And he said, “There’s one thing that you lack. There’s one thing that’s really keeping you from fully embracing the power of being a follower of Christ, to experience it in all its fullness and all its power” and he says, “Sell everything you have and then come and follow me. Because it’s keeping you from me. It’s keeping you from experiencing me fully.”
And there’s certainly a lesson in this about money for us, but the broader lesson is we have to look into our heart and we can’t accept the Gospel on our terms. We have to hear the fullness of the Gospel in all of its ramifications in everything that is said. So whether it’s the simplest thing, the simplest things like coming to church or whether it’s the much more difficult things like making moral choices when no one else is looking, those are the hard choices of the Gospel. That’s the difficult road of the Gospel.
And I’ll read just maybe one more passage, this also from the Gospel of Luke, because in Luke we have a sort of a similar approach to this idea of the difficulty of the Gospel.
Then one said to him, “Lord, are there few who are saved?” You see, it’s the same question that happened at the end of today’s Gospel reading. He says, “Who could be saved?” So somebody else asked Jesus, “Are there few who can be saved?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow gate for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house is risen up and shut the door and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door saying, “Lord, Lord, open for us” and he will answer and say to you, “I do not know you.”
Can you imagine? So the idea is, we have to know God and we have to know his word in all of its ramifications and understand the will of God for our life. And if we dare—I don’t say this with any malice at all, I say this with all of the love in my heart and I beg you to understand—that if we dare to presume on God and to say that somehow the Gospel is reduced, being of a lesser importance in our life, then we have received a false gospel. We have received something that is not true.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, here’s the bottom line with this. The bottom line is, we have to be able to fully experience the Gospel by fully giving our lives over to Christ, in every aspect, every word, every thought, every deed, every motion, every action is given fully to God. That’s when we fully understand what it is to be a follower of Christ, and a follower of his life and his way of life. This is the narrow way.
The Gospel today talks about the broad way, the broad way that leads to destruction, that leads to death. It’s the way that everybody wants to go. They want the easy way. And he says, “Narrow is the way that leads to life and few are there who find it.” Let us be among the few. Let us be among the chosen who decide “I’m going to make this choice. I’m going to make this decision, with God’s help. I can’t do it on my own.” The Gospel says this today. It says, “With men, this is impossible.” You can’t do it by yourself. You can’t do it in your strength. It’s only by the power of the Holy Spirit, which we receive in baptism, which we receive in the Sacraments, which we receive in the Eucharist. That is the way in which we are empowered to lead this life of faith.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ let us eschew every broad way. Let us reject every gospel and every thought which says, “I don’t need to do that.” Let us accept with open hearts and with open arms, the narrow way of Christ, the difficult way because it is the difficult way that leads to life. Let us be among the few who will find it.
To him who is our life, with the Father and the Spirit be glory, honor and majesty always now and ever and unto to ages of ages. Amen.
Glory to Jesus Christ!