June 21, 2020

The Narrow Gate
Pentecost 3, Proper 7, Year A
Becky Robbins-Penniman

Who here wants to go through that narrow gate? For all of my young life, I most assuredly did NOT want to go through it. If the gates at Disneyland – yes, LAND; for 3 years as a young girl I lived very close to the park in southern California, aka La-La-Land – if the gates at Disneyland lead to the happiest place on earth, the opposite had to be through that narrow gate.

The long shadow of puritanism still looms over American religion. (You know what H.L. Mencken said, that Puritanism: [is the] haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.) This ethic insists that to get through those gates you must wear the right clothes, believe the right things, have the right name, be around only the right people, and follow the rules your betters make for you, which generally resulted in having no fun.

One of my ancestors is the formidable puritan minister, Cotton Mather, who thundered that every step taken while dancing was a step nearer to hell. Anyone who broke the rules was shamed and shunned for life – Scarlet letters and all that. In short, getting into heaven meant being an opinionated, judgmental killjoy.

I’ve got good news, and bad news. The good news: My ancestor, Cotton Mather, had it wrong. Grim propriety is not what the narrow gate is about at all. The bad news: the road to and through that narrow gate is even more difficult than what the Puritans taught, and truly, in today’s world, it means breaking many of our culture’s rules.

The narrow gate that Jesus Christ calls us to travel toward is the gate that leads to life. What life? Life with God. Life with God is the life of the Eternal One. In this life, God’s will is done, on earth, in heaven, in all Creation. And what is God’s will?

Let’s take look at the descriptions from our lessons today: In Chronicles, we learn that our glorious God is the one who establishes justice with faithful love. In the psalm, the voice of God speaks peace, mercy, truth, and righteousness (the same Hebrew word, קֶ דֶצ ,is translated as “justice”) A reminder of what “justice” and “righteousness” mean in Hebrew: things are right, things are just, when all Creation is as God created it to be, without human sinfulness devastating it. James and Jesus both insist that God delights in giving good gifts to humanity, nourishing and delicious gifts, including Creation itself.

What does human sinfulness look like? I remind you of what our presiding bishop, Michael Curry, teaches, that the best synonym for sin is selfishness, when we put our own self-interest, self-preservation, self-indulgence, ahead of the justice, peace, mercy, truth, and faithful love that serve all people equally. Sin, James tells us, begins with refusing to listen to others, talking at them, and getting angry – and aren’t we ANGRY right now? – all of which lead to moral filth and wickedness.

The opposite of sin is the way life and the will of God taught by scripture, all the law and all the prophets, which Jesus sums up with words we all know: Therefore, you should treat people in the same way that you want people to treat you…

Read the full sermon text HERE.

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