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Hoosier Musings on the Road to Emmaus

Sunday, August 22, 2004

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost

Proper 16C
Luke 13:22-30

“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.” You know, this doesn’t sound much like good news to me. Honestly, the last time I heard Jesus talking about doors sounded a lot nicer. A few weeks ago in the Episcopal lectionary, we read from the 11th chapter of Luke. There, Jesus says “Knock and it shall be opened to you... for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.” Much more comforting assurance, that.

Now, suddenly, two chapters later, we hear that “many... will try to enter and will not be able.” There’s the spectre of being thrown out, of not being recognized by God. Quite honestly, at first blush, it sounds mean. Scary. Spiteful. This doesn't sound like the same Jesus as before, at all.

This makes me uncomfortable, for a couple of reasons. First, because I know I’m far from perfect. I seldom measure up to my own daily goals, my own expectations, let alone approach the ongoing perfection it sounds to me like that “narrow door” requires.

Secondly, it stretches me-- challenges my faith, if you will. Do I believe-- do I even want to believe-- in the kind of God who stands at the door like a security guard for some gated community or country club, checking I.D.’s and denying entry to those who don’t have the proper credentials? Do you?

This is why we need to read the whole Bible, brothers and sisters. I think that belief in a narrow sort of God, and a credentialed Christianity, is only possible if we select bits and pieces of scripture, and don’t consider the broader picture that is portrayed throughout.

There’s the parable of the Good Shepherd, who leaves the flock of ninety-nine, and risks safety and security to find the one sheep that strayed. Or the other story of the king who prepared the wedding banquet; and when his original invited guests did not show, opened the feast to passers by on the street, good and bad alike.

Then think of Jesus’ instructions to his followers about forgiveness, that it is to be offered “seventy times seven,” if need be.

Remember that we are so precious in the eyes of God that the very hairs on our head are numbered.

Too many times, the Word reassures us-- there is no sin that cannot be forgiven, no wrong that cannot be made right, that all are welcome, that no one is beyond the loving reach of God’s care.

So then, how can we reconcile this apparent contradiction? Well, one possibility I’d like to suggest is that maybe, the “narrow door” that the Gospel speaks of is not made smaller or harder to enter by God’s limitations, but by our own. I think it is much harder for us to accept grace, and mercy, and love, from God, when we do not receive it from one another, or offer it to one another.

Remember the stories that came out of Abu Ghraib prison, in Baghdad? When human beings are abused and tortured in the name of freedom, the door narrows.

Or when a doctor is murdered, or a clinic is bombed, in the name of preserving life, the door narrows.

Last summer, several women being attacked in Lincoln Park neighborhood garnered significant media coverage, and calls for stepped-up police protection, and the activation of local counseling and support services. At the same time, a string of sexual assaults in Kenwood, on the south side, went unnoted and unnoticed. No mention in the papers, no additional patrols, no trained counselors came to the hospital. The only reason I know is that I was the chaplain on call for two of them.

When we show preference, or give value, by income, or class, or race, or gender, the door narrows.

On the other hand, we can widen the door, as well.

Even as military personnel were abusing Iraqi prisoners, it was also military personnel who broke the story-- who saw the abuse, and reported it, and investigated, and put a stop to it. When we repent-- apologize, and take responsibility, and try to change-- the door widens.

Instead of threatening harm, there are also those who try to support expectant mothers in caring for themselves and their babies-- or to provide a loving home for a child when parents can’t, or won’t. When we care for the least among as, the door widens.

I learned last summer that a rape victim in the State of Illinois is not, by law, billed for her medical treatment, regardless of income level. The exam, medications, and any followup treatment necessary are all provided free of charge. She will not have feel as though she has to pay for being assaulted, and will not be forced to relive the events when bills and statements come in the mail. When we respect the dignity of each human being as created in the image and likeness of God, and disregard the world’s standards for worth, the door widens.

No it's not an easy thing, trying to walk this road. In an article Tripp sent me last week, the Rev. Brian McClaren says it well.
...If this less-traveled fork in the road is chosen, it is not just to 'safety, certainty and enjoyment' in heaven, but rather to challenge, risk and mission on earth, including suffering and self-discipline... The call is, by grace, to leave the distructive path of the kingdoms of this world (including our individual 'me-ism' kingdoms), and instead, to seek God's kingdom, which is God's will being done on earth as in heaven.

So, here are questions to consider, as we break bread together: how do we find ourselves narrowing that door-- individually, as people, or collectively, as church and society? And how might we as disciples of Jesus Christ widen it, for ourselves, and for those around us?

5 Comments:

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

We will lay aside the issues of whether the door widened or narrowed when the US stopped Saddam Hussain’s daily torture sessions. We will also lay aside the issue of whether the door widens or narrows during Sudan’s genocide against Christians, while TEC courts the Islamic nations that encourage it. We will also lay aside the issue of whether it is really a clever idea to continue to insist on pushing the “social justice” button that doubtless earns A’s at Seabury Western from the pulpit at a time of church crisis.

But does the door widens when “rape victims” (read anybody who says “I was raped”) are provided with free abortions, and the morning after pill, regardless of age, regardless of the consent of the father, and regardless of the conscience of tax payers in the State of Illinois? If you are a teenager, and became pregnant through consensual intercourse, all you need do in the state of Illinois is go to the hospital and say “I was raped 7 months ago” to get a partial birth abortion at taxpayers expense and without the consent of either the baby’s father or your own parents.

http://www.aclu-il.org/legal/highschool/students/abortionrights.shtml

Because that is what those “medications” mean (the morning after pill, which is an abortifacient). And that is certainly what the “follow up” involves. Either a D&C removing the “bits of tissue” that Progressives feel are too unworthy to bear the image of Christ, or if it already too late for that, for a partial birth abortion evacuating those who apparently do not meet the new TEC standard for being “least among us”. Or at least I assume it is the new TEC standard, since the Episcopal woman folks marched for abortion a few months ago, and since it is apparently a cool thing for you to preach on the subject.

http://www.priestsforlife.org/resources/abortionimages/fetaldevelopment.htm

Perhaps you could look at these pictures (of normal healthy children aged 7 weeks to six months) and tell me if you feel that the “door” should be widened or narrowed for them.

Then perhaps you could explain what the position of the church that you presumably hope to swear obedience to is, on the subject of the unborn child, and how your sermons uphold the doctrines that you presumably agreed to uphold on this subject.

I might add, that if you examine the following picture (of a preborn baby aged at only 16 weeks gestation - just a bit of tissue for the taxpayer funded D&C, not even worthy of partial birth procedures) you will find that the hairs on our heads are indeed “numbered”.

http://www.priestsforlife.org/resources/abortionimages/fig14face4mos.jpg

Pax
Shari

August 23, 2004 6:00 PM  

Blogger Jane Ellen+ said...

Shari:

I hardly know where to begin.

Okay, first of all, "medication" may well include a abortifacent, at the woman's preference; but it is not limited to that. I don't remember the whole list; but I do recal that antibiotics, and other specifics against venereal diesase; as well as painkillers and anti-inflammatories, for physical injuries, are also included in the bag (a large ziploc) of meds that the patient is given.

Secondly, the abortion that you mention may, again, be part of the followup treatment;. But that treatment also may include removal of stitiches; setting and cast removal for broken bones; needed surgical repairs; and treatment rechecks related to the above. At the U of C, where I was working, it is also the policy of the Pastoral Care staff-- the chaplains-- to send a victim home with our contact info at the hospital, and they are welcome to come back, for prayer and conversation, at any time. Spiritual and emotional recovery often takes a lot longer than the physical. And if a woman came back and wanted to know my thoughts on a possible abortion, I would-- and as a matter of fact, did-- share some really valid reasons to consider alternatives.

Thirdly, you might be interested to learn that I am, by theology and inclination, pro-life. But that is a pretty all-inclusive label. I do not need to look at the pictures you reference to believe that the life of an unborn child is of incalculable value; but so are the lives of the doctors and employees at an abortion clinic, whether I agree with them or not, and regardless of how abhorrent I may think their actions are.

Fourthly, If you read my sermon again, you will note that I did not preach against those who oppose abortion, but only the violent actions of a virulent few. I then made a point of holding up those who take peaceful action, and, in God's name, do make every effort to provide for "the least of these," supporting a birth mother as she chooses life for her child-- either via enabling her to provide a home, or adopting the child when she can't or won't mother the baby herself.

Finally, and with due respect, I will say that I appreciate your passion on the subject; but I do not care to be adressed with the sarcasm that I hear in your words here. If you have something to say about what I write, then please do so, by all means; but I do ask that you (and anyone else who stops by) maintain a civil tone.

August 23, 2004 8:45 PM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

The problem of course is that you are preaching against the "virulent few" who attack abortion clinics (whom I also condemn) but not against the "virulent few" (including certain Episcopal priests who boast of doing so to Congress) who take teenagers accross state lines to get a partial birth abortion without parental consent.

It is illustrative as to which "virulent few" seems to get heavy hand in the Episcopal church. Pornographic humiliation of soldiers in Iraq get the attention of the church. (And it should). Sadaams genocide is not commended upon. If you are not willing to be even handed (AKA "Just") in your condemnation, of Social issues, perhaps you should consider not using the pulpit to push "Social Justice". That would seem only "Just" (in my humble opinion of course).

"Just" a passing thought.

Shari

August 23, 2004 9:27 PM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Jane wrote: "Okay, first of all, "medication" may well include a abortifacent, at the woman's preference; but it is not limited to that."

One might also note that thanks to this law "widening" the gate, ER physicians are no longer permitted to have a conscience in the State of Illinois. (One of the reasons I stopped moonlighting in ERs was the issue of the "morning after pill"). Pro-life or pro-choice physicians _must_ prescribe abortifacents "at the woman's preferance" and this violation of medical conscience is praised in your pulpit as an example of "widening the door".

There are almost no pro-life obstetricians any more. Have you noticed? And virtually none under 30. You can't pass the requirements for completing a residency withough participating in abortions in some fashion in most hospitals. That is new. Soon, thanks to the progressive gospel preached by yourself and others, there will be no pro-life emergency room physicians. They will find other work, of course...as hospitalists.. as urgent care physicians...whatever. They will go quietly. No need for a church like TEC to worry about the conscience of conservatives, whether in medicine or in religion. I understand that TEC is coming up with "rites" to celebrate abortions as a "pastoral gesture" that will make women who have such "procedures" feel more "welcomed" and "affirmed". I doubt that any "rites" are planned for physicians who leave specialties in order to keep their conscience intact.

I recently began work at a Catholic hospital in Arkansas. That choice was deliberate. As a neurologist I am spared the "duty" of providing abortifacents to women. It's not in my "job description". I know physicians who have not been so lucky. One, close to me was cut from a pediatrics residency for attepting to save a seven month fetus who was an "abortion born live". When she was prevented from trying to save the child by the obstetrician, she baptised the child, who was agonal, and who died minutes later. She was, of course, told that she would be leaving the program the next day.

There are many "gates" and some of them can be quite narrow for those who have a conscience. I think that is what Jesus meant when he spoke about "coming in through the narrow gate". He didn't say anything about making it wider so as to accomodate more people. What He said is that the gate was there. And it was narrow. And that a Christian should aim for it.

But I chose well. I usually do. I have a sixth sense for personal danger, and I skillfully sidestepped the abortion struggle. I do not believe I will be able to pull the same trick on the euthanasia struggle. In 10 years time, I anticipate that assisted suicide will be in place in the United States, and will be "saving medicaid and social security". It is, after all, as "logical" and "kindly" as is abortion. Healthy middle aged women have as great a need to be relieved of the burden of the old, as healthy young women have to be relieved of the burden of the young. It will come. Financially there are few politically viable alternatives, and most mainline Protestant churches will support it as a "pastoral response".

I believe that, protected by a Catholic hospital, I may be able to continue to work as a neurologist until retirement, without being expected to kill my patients (few of whom would last a year in the Netherlands). I will be discouraging my children from following me into medicine. I have loved medicine, and still do, however I don't think my children's souls will be safe in medicine in 30 years.

I could of course, earn rather more and work less hard in a different hospital. I turned down several very enticing offeres. But aiming for a "narrow gate" does mean making choices. That too is part of the Gospel message.

Your mileage may vary.

Shari

August 23, 2004 10:25 PM  

Blogger Clueless Christian said...

Actually I have been reflecting on this pericope a bit more, and enclose my own essay on the subject (that includes your thoughts, and those of some others).

http://cluelesschristian.blogspot.com/2004/08/divine-bouncers-narrow-gates-and.html

Shari

August 28, 2004 5:28 PM  

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