Preaching camp has begun and the 8 minute sermons 4 of the next 5 days will all be on the Sermon on the Mount.
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life and there are few who find it.”
In the world as we know it the wide gates and easy roads are numerous. Many of us in this room are familiar with these wide and easy roads. The roads that mothers and fathers, brothers and sisters have taken. The roads that lead to artificial happiness, short term fixes, and a long life of masking pain and hurt. These roads are quick fixes and too often they seem very appealing, even to the eyes of someone traveling through the narrow gate, and on the hard road. Sometimes they are especially appealing to those who are journeying and feel alone. Who feel abandoned because everyone else is traveling on the easy roads and through the wide gates.
I grew up right here in the south end of Louisville, my high school is less than 10 minutes from here and my immediate family all live right here off Dixie Highway. My brothers have chosen easy roads and wide gates into drinking, drugs, and settling for the easy way out. Neither of them continued their education, one of them did not even graduate high school. Most of my graduating class is right along side them. Settling for getting by, for giving in, most of them when asked say they do not have a choice. They had to get married, they had to start a family, they had to settle for a job, they do not have time for friends, they do not have time for serving others, they do not have time for church, they have to take care of themselves. The road is easy that way, that is when we look out for ourselves. The gate is wide when you are not carrying someone else through it.
This passage is near the end of Jesus’ sermon. By this point those disciples who had gone up the mountain and had listened to him had heard many teachings about living with one another. Lessons on not judging, or worrying, or how to pray, how to treat one another, about oaths and divorce, retaliation, and love. These same lessons we are studying now and as I read them I realize we are called to take the road that is counter-cultural. The road is hard and the gate is narrow because we can’t travel it alone. As Christians we are called to bear with one another. Being a Christian does not work when one lives on their own and when we are working for reconciliation between us and God and each other we have to get dirty.
My first year at Hanover I decided to go with a group of upperclassmen on a night hike. It was a full moon and clear skies and there was a group of seven of us. One of the seniors said I know the trail we will be fine, and so we headed off down the bluff and into the creek bed, there was one flashlight that we had just in case we needed it but we never got a chance to use it because I lost it. As we hiked down the creek bed two members of the group informed us they had donated blood that day and were feeling week. Only a couple of us had water and so we shared what little we had left as we were a good hour and a half into the hike. As we continued on the path we ran out of water and the two who had generously given their blood became weaker. Finally I spoke up and asked if we were close to the final ascent of the trail? Our fearless leader said, as a matter of fact I can’t find it and we should have been heading up by now. Eventually we had to make a decision to start climbing up the bluff to get back on campus. As we climbed the two who had donated blood became weaker until we had to carry them. It was dark, we were climbing up steep hills, and we were all pitching in to get these two up the hill and to safety. We started the hike around 11:00pm and finally made it to campus at 3:00am. The road was not easy and the path was quite narrow. We had to work together with one another so that all of us could safely ascend to the top, so that we could have life.
As we journey through life we are called to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to refrain from judging our brothers and sisters. We are told not to be angry with others, and to treat others the way that we want to be treated. These are narrow gates and hard roads because they are counter cultural in that we have to put others before ourselves. We cannot walk alone and do what is asked of us.
The road is hard when we have to stand up for our brothers and sisters in the coal mines instead of demanding that our electric bills be lower.
The road is hard when we have to choose to give up the luxury of a chocolate treat while taking a stand against slavery.
The gate is narrow when are called out of our comfort zones to go and preach, to go and serve in communities where no one wants else dares to go.
The gate is narrow when our families and friends turn their backs and we must journey on moving into a new place, a new call, a new life.
The road is hard when domestic violence and drugs are running a community, your community into the ground and you must stand up, when you must reach out to youth, and when you must stand against popular culture in this time and this place.
There are many roads we have to choose from. The ones we are called to take are hard. They are steep, they are rocky, and they are rarely traveled but they lead to life. Not just for you but for humanity.
In Deuteronomy 30 we find these words: See I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity (and it continues later) I call heaven and earth to witness against you today that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying him and holding fast to him; for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the LORD swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob.
Choose life, choose the road less traveled. Choose the hard road with narrow gates. Reconcile yourself to God and one another. Choose to live in a world that is counter cultural because it can make a difference. The road may be hard and under traveled but God in Christ has called us to travel for the sake of the world. So that our descendants may live, so that this world will be a better and more loving place from generation to generation. And may it be so for the sake of Christ.