I've Got Good News, Bad News, and ...
The first recorded use of the phrase, "I've got good news and bad news," is 1898. The first a set up for joke is 1966 (http:// english.stackexchange.com). You probably hear it most as a choice. "I've got good and bad news; which do you want first?" And you're probably consistent in wishing to hear one or the other first. Well, I have good news, bad new, and And I'm not giving you a choice.
First the good news. According to God incarnate there is a feast going on in the kingdom of God. Well the word feast' isn't actually there. It's the word "recline" and it refers to reclining at a table, eating from a couch shaped like a chaise lounge with its back up to the table. This wasn't the position for normal eating; that was sitting. This was the position for feasting.
You know what that means? You can stop thinking about heaven as something very different from your experience. You can stop trying to think how you'll like floating around on a cloud all day playing a harp. You can stop thinking about it as one very long church service. It's a festival meal with lots and lots of people who all like each other.
There's a party going on in heaven; it's not somber sacred silence, but feasting leisurely at table and the good news is the attendees are not just the heroes of the faith. You know how the good ol' boy will say, "If I walk into church the ceiling would fall on me?" That's how some Christians think of heaven. Yes, the big guns, the famous ones, they're certainly there, but who knows about the not so famous guns, the struggling ones.
To the Old Testament Church, the big guns were Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob: the patriarchs of whom Yahweh proclaimed repeatedly He was the God of. Now Yahweh in the flesh tells the stunned crowds that not only these will be there but people from east, west, north, and south will be. This is a theme of Revelation. People of every tribe, nation, tongue, and dialect will be in the heaven, famous and ordinary. Not just the saints of the Bible, not just those who've given their life for the faith, not just missionaries and pastors, but ordinary, everyday people like you.
I've got good news! There is a feast going on in heaven, not only the heroes of the faith are there but people from all walks of life are, and there is a door into that feast. Surely you've had the experience of trying to get into a building and not being able to find the door. It's frustrating if it's a place you want to get into; it's panicking if it's a place you have to get into. As the flight attendant says in the preflight safety talk: Keep in mind the closet door may be behind you.
Yes, keep in mind that there is a Door to this wonderful, festival meal and it' very close but you may be missing it. One, the Door is not an it, but a He. Jesus is the Door to the Kingdom of God. Not only can no one come to the Father but through Him, but everyone can come. Yes, as we sing in the hymn, He's the ever open Door. Through His Flesh and Blood, all flesh and blood men have access to the grace, mercy, and peace of God.
That's the good news, and you would like to leave it at that, but I can't. You didn't call me to tell you only the good news but the whole counsel of God and that includes the bad. And the first bit of bad news I have is, most don't make it into the feast. Many try to enter through the open Door and are not able to. And do you see how personal Jesus makes this? He doesn't leave it at the abstract many' but brings it home to sit heavy on their souls, damn heavy. He says, and therefore I must say, "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth and that a designation for hell - when you see all the people in the feast of God's kingdom but you yourselves thrown out."
People elbow and nudge to be first in line to eat, to board a plane, to get into an entertainment venue, or a door-buster sale. By God's grace such urgency to get into the feast of God's kingdom is seen in a few people, a very few. That is until the door to the feast is shut. See how the people in the text, and by now you should realize that this is you and I; see how we have an urgency to get through the Door into God's kingdom only once it's shut?
Although Scripture doesn't show this, this has to be what happened when God shut the door of the ark and the rains began to fall and fall. Surely people went for that big enclosed space that was starting to float in the water. Surely they pounded on the door till their fists bled, but nothing. This was the judgment of their world. The judgment Noah had preached was coming which they were to repent in the face of before it got there. They were to repent and turn to the open door of the ark, but they went on eating and drinking, buying and selling, celebrating this life and furthering it. Now they know how foolish they were and they are pounding and pounding on that closed door as if their lives depended on it, and they did.
We had the text a couple of weeks ago where Jesus commands ask, seek, knock, and promises you'll be answered; you'll find, and it will be opened unto you. How many of you heard it and forgot it as one more useless religious datum? How many of you went home and asked, sought, or knocked even once? There comes a time when asking, seeking, or knocking is useless. In the text see them seeking the Door; hear them knocking; and hear them asking, "Lord open the door for us." But nothing.
No, there is something. From behind the closed door the Lord says, "I don't know you or where you come from! Away from Me all you evildoers." Even though they ate and drank with Him on earth, the Lord doesn't know them as guests at His heavenly table; even though He taught in their streets, Jesus didn't know them then or now. The bad news is that some who think they are known by God aren't and never have been.
Luther said that this text was to frighten the greatest saints (Buls Notes, C, After Pentecost, 46). Frightened yet? Not in the horror movie, fun house, sort of way where the fright is fun. No frightened in the sense of sinking stomach, sweating palms, heart in throat and a scream about to be. Well if you're not, these last bits of bad news about the Door should send you over the edge. First, the Door is narrow. You can't get through with your ideas, opinions, pet sins, pride, personal religion, or prejudices. Second, you never know when it will be shut. I've no idea whether people who die suddenly at, amusement parks, while hiking, vacationing, or doing any other fun thing get through Jesus the Door, but I do know if they haven't, in that split-second the Door is slammed shut to themforever.
Doesn't the good news usually off-set the bad news? Could it be because I gave the good news first that it has been washed out by the bad? No, it's because the good news I gave wasn't really the Good News, as in Gospel, it was good news about the Gospel, but that is no match for the Law which was the real deal. So thanks be to God that I have got not just good news and bad news but some really Good News.
The Door Jesus isn't closed to any of you. No matter where you've been; no matter how many times you walked past this open Door, no matter how many times you pretended to enter but didn't, the Door Jesus is still wide open to you. There is not a one of you that Jesus didn't keep the law in your place. To be sure, the Devil can always find this or that Law you broke today or yesterday, and so can your conscience and others. But God knows of no Law, no requirement, no obligation, that Jesus didn't keep in your place. As often as your conscience, someone else, or the Devil himself says, "What about this one?" Jesus says, "I did that one for him too."
And the Hell that you deserve for all the laws you broke, all the people you hurt or let down, that was suffered in full by Jesus. He was a Man of sorrows, acquainted with grief all His days because He suffered as the sinner you and I are. He paid in full the pain, shame, grief, death, and eternal torment our sins and sinfulness deserve. This props the Door to heaven's feast wide-open. What about it being narrow? Sure it's narrow. The Door is only One Person, but never once has anyone failed to get through while confessing their sins and pleading Jesus' blood and righteousness.
But the really Good News is not what you know but being known by Jesus. What keeps the Door from opening to sinners begging to enter till their throats are hoarse and knocking till their knuckles bleed is not what they know or don't know, but not ever being known by Jesus. If you've been baptized into Jesus, I can tell you that Jesus has known you from before the world was created. If you've been absolved by Jesus, and I did that this morning, then Jesus knows you and doesn't know your sins. If you eat His Body and drink His Blood, then Jesus knows you as well as He does His own Flesh and Blood. Sunday after Sunday Jesus puts into the ears of every sinner that is here the certainty that, "I know you; I've always known you."
The last verse tends to stick in people's craw. Jesus says, "There are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." This is the specific part of the text Luther said was to frighten the greatest saints. True, but like the crucifixion, the same thing that can frighten can comfort even more. Don't see your place in the kingdom based on where you think you are in relation to others. How dare we do that! No you find your place where Jesus says it is. And read carefully. He says what He does about first and last in relation to those taking their places in the feast of heaven. Who cares if your first or last there? The really good news is that you're in the feast. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost (20160821); Luke 13: 22-30