“…or are you just going to sit there?”

Our weekly devotion from the sainted Rev. Earl Feddersen:

Isaiah 66:18-23
Hebrews 12:18-24
Luke 13:22-30

“One cannot mount a camel that has not yet arrived, nor one that has already departed.” This old Arab proverb has a simple moral. The same idea is reflected in the Jewish Proverb, “Four things come not back: the spoken word, the sped arrow, time past and the neglected opportunity.” In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus said, “When once the master of the house has risen to lock the door and you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘Sir, open for us,’ he will say in reply, ‘I do not know where you come from.'”

The time to mount the camel is when it’s there, not before or after. The time to answer is when opportunity knocks. The time to enter is when the door is open. Proverbs and stories make the point in a more interesting manner than the preceding three very simple sentences, but neither eloquence nor simplicity seems to cause the needed effect on some people. Like couch potatoes vegetating in the glow of their televisions, they prefer to watch others make believe at life—a superficial excitement at best. Their idea of “grabbing the gusto” is to wrap a hand around another beer from the refrigerator.

Jesus told His story about the master closing the door in answer to the question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” Jesus chose not to enter any kind of lottery or numbers game. He also avoided any kind of barstool discussion. Cutting right through the irrelevancy, He told the questioner to concern himself with his own salvation. “Make every effort to come through the narrow door,” Jesus said, “because many, I tell you, will try to enter and be unable.”

Jesus’ frequent message, “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand,” is not unlike the old Arab prophet saying, “The camel is here–get on!” At an orchard and nursery in London, Ontario, Canada a huge sign reads, “THE BEST TIME TO PLANT A TREE WAS 25 YEARS AGO.” We are all aware that trees take a long time to mature. I have read that oaks are 60 years old before they bear any acorns. The Canadians did not stop their message with just one sentence. The sign continues: “THE SECOND BEST TIME IS TODAY.” Jesus’ message contains a similar second half–the door is still open and the time to enter is now!

In preparing for this devotion, I noticed that two interpreters inferred very different meanings from the original question posed to Jesus. One seemed to think that the question was sort of hypothetical–a theoretical or theological pastime. The other thought that the questioner was genuinely concerned about his own salvation and was looking for some reassurance. I found it interesting that both

authors felt that the questioner thought he was among the saved. Either he was cocky about it, asking how few of us will be saved, or he was having some doubts and wanted to be told that it wouldn’t be so few as to exclude him.

How about you? Are you among the few who will enter the narrow door before it is shut? Once upon a time, I attended a banquet. Names were posted before seats at the head table, but nowhere else. I had some preliminary responsibilities at the affair and was the first person to arrive other than the caterer and servers. I folded some place mats and scribbled the word “reserved” on each of them. The guests respected these less-than-professional looking notices. My wife, our friends and I had seats together. We had no particular claim to fame for reserved seating. They were not seats of honor, but those papers, scrawled with a few primitive letters, made them ours.

Christians believe that there are places at the heavenly banquet reserved just for them. We believe in Jesus and we trust His statement that whoever believes in Him will be saved. We cannot possibly afford the tickets and we have no claim on those seats. They certainly do not honor us, but they are places of honor nonetheless. They were bought with the very lifeblood of the Son of God. He has forgiven us and shared His own place with us. Salvation is God’s free gift–a present purchased in the past–we rejoice in it now and forever!

It is not, therefore, a reason for us to become cocky and conceited. It is not something about which we muse in abstract argument, nor is it something we doubt and question as if it were our own feeble doing. It is a source and force of action in our lives. James Russell Lowell reminds us: “All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.” Thomas Carlyle put it this way: “Our main business is not to see what lies dimly at a distance, but to do what lies clearly at hand.”

An infamous poacher and legendary fisherman in Louisiana was approached at his cabin on the bayou by a stranger who wanted to go fishing. As they got into the boat, the stranger noticed that the famous fisherman had no rod or reel–only an old rusty tackle box and a net.

After a while, they entered an isolated cove, surrounded by massive oaks draped with Spanish moss. The stranger watched with interest as the fisherman reached down into the tackle box, pulled out a stick of dynamite, lit the fuse and threw it into the water. There was a muffled explosion followed by the surfacing of a number of stunned or dead fish, which the fisherman proceeded to scoop up with his net. Suddenly, the stranger reached into his coat, pulled out a large badge and announced, “I caught you! I’m the new game warden, and you are under arrest.”

The notorious poacher didn’t bat an eye. He calmly reached into his tackle box, pulled out another stick of dynamite, lit the fuse, tossed it to the game warden and asked, “Are you gonna fish or are you just gonna sit there?”

We are Jesus’ disciples. He has made us fishers of people, and He asks with similar urgency, “Are you gonna fish or are you just gonna sit there?”

The door is open. No philosophizing about how many or how few will enter, who should or should not, why some and why not others, no dithering about in the abstract, no postponing or procrastination will get us through. Soon it will be closed and the master from Jesus’ ancient parable will make the surprisingly contemporary comment, “I don’t know where you’re coming from.”

The people in the parable who are shut out and looking in complain to the master, “We ate and drank in your company. You taught in our streets.” Apparently they think that hobnobbing with the Holy One and rubbing elbows with Him is the same as faith. There is no such thing as salvation by association.

We have a full-grown Labrador Retriever. Once upon a time, he was a 50-pound puppy. Size notwithstanding, a puppy is a puppy. When the door was opened to him in the evening, he entered with the wide-eyed and open-mouthed exuberance of an insatiably curious child. Add to that the caged energy of an atom bomb and you can picture the black streak examining at break-neck speed every corner of the house and every person in it.

You could not close a door because he was pushing it open. Every drawer you opened suddenly had a black head looking into it. Anything lying loose on the floor was carried to the next similar object where it was dropped in favor of the newest discovery. If you picked something up, he was certain that it was the most valuable treasure of all time, or perhaps some snack or treat. He would pester you to death to let him see or smell it. Depending on your mood or attitude, the scene could be one of joy, delight and laughter, or a moment of insanity and aggravation.

I think that Jesus had in mind that His followers would have that kind of exuberant response to His open door of grace, love and salvation. Can you imagine this world with the Christians running around like that, trying to find some way to serve Him and telling the Good News about Jesus to everyone? How it must sadden God to see the great lengths to which His children will go in order to avoid serving and telling.

I believe that the church’s greatest and most time-consuming job ought to be trying to find opportunities for all the volunteers who are crying out for ways to serve. I believe that LCMS World Mission’s ongoing financial problem ought to be finding new mission opportunities on which to spend all the money. I believe that when a pastor in Christ’s church begins a sentence about the problem of attendance, the second half should be about how many services to have and when or where to have them.

Someone has said, “You never know when and where your opportunity will come.” That person is wrong! It is [August 21, 2016], at a church near you. Come and learn. Go and tell.

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