On one of our many trips into Manhattan during our years at Yale, Melissa and I decided to visit the famous or perhaps infamous Limelight Club. Located on 6th Avenue right around 20th Street, the Limelight Club was housed in what was once a quite beautiful church. The club was famous in those days as a hip and happening place for cutting edge new wave music. I have to admit we weren’t so interested in the music or the club scene but as seminarians we were drawn like rubberneckers to a car wreck to see what happens when popular culture takes over what was once sacred space.
From the outside you couldn’t tell it was anything but a church. On the inside, what had once been the chancel was now the stage, the nave was the dance floor, and the balconies the hang out spots where young men and women dressed all in black leaned over the rails smoking cigarettes and drinking beer. I remember how eerie it was to see the strobe lights bouncing off the stained glass windows. While we didn’t stay long, I was amused to discover that it took us quite a long time to actually get into the Limelight. I remember waiting outside in a long line with several hundred other people. I couldn’t help but laugh at the fact that this was the only church I had ever seen where there was a line of people eager to pay money to get inside. I was equally amused by the fact that while a couple hundred of us waited to be let in there were certain groups of especially attractive, uniquely dressed men and women who didn’t have to wait in line. In fact, they ignored the line, walked straight up to the bouncer and were let inside. We ended up waiting a long time. I don’t think it helped that I was wearing loafers, kakis and a Brooks Brothers buttoned down blue shirt. But I will always remember standing there looking at the entrance to the Limelight and laughing at the crazy irony of the whole experience, hearing Jesus words in my head – Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able.
What does it take to enter through the narrow door? Jesus doesn’t tell us. He says lots of folks will try enter but will not be able to and some folks we wouldn’t expect to be let in will in fact get in before many others. That night at the Limelight, if Melissa and I had wanted to be on the fast track, if we had wanted to avoid the line and get in like those special patrons, I don’t think we would have known what to do. No part of my body is pierced and I don’t really own any black clothes outside of my clergy shirts. In the same way, do we know what Jesus would require of us in order to enter through his narrow door? The great mystery of our Gospel for today is that Jesus doesn’t tell us how to get in, he only tells us we ought to try and get in.
What does it take to enter the narrow door? I think we can find the answer in this morning’s lesson from Genesis. What does it take to enter the narrow door – it takes faith, more specifically it takes faith as trust. It takes faith as the kind of wide open, complete and total trust showed by Abraham. I love the story of Abraham and Sarah. At 75 years old they are called by God to pick up and move leaving behind Haran and everything they know for some land they have never seen. They are childless senior citizens but they follow God holding onto nothing but the promise that they will be the parents of a great nation. God says go and they go. God says trust and they trust. God says it will be alright and they believe it, all of it, even though much of it seems absurd.
Maybe it takes this kind of trusting faith to get in through that narrow door. Genesis says that Abraham believed God, trusted God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. St. Paul says that just as Abraham’s faith was reckoned to him as righteousness so our faith in Jesus will be reckoned to us as the same kind of righteousness. I hope so, because if I have to be able to walk the straight and narrow in order to enter that narrow door – then I might be in deep trouble. I don’t know about you, but my journey through life is not always straight. I make mistakes. I fall short of the glory of God. I am a sinner. If you know the story of Genesis then you know that Abraham was himself quite a sinner. At least twice he betrayed his wife. At least twice he allowed Sarah to be taken by powerful men in order to save himself. What distinguished Abraham even though he was far from perfect was that he never let go of God. He never let go of his trust in the God who had called him into the wilderness. And no matter how far he strayed from the path he always found his way back – he kept right on following his God.
I think many people confuse faith with belief. For many people, to have faith means to believe certain things. If you believe that Jesus is the Christ, if you believe in the resurrection, if you can say the Nicene Creed without crossing your fingers then you have faith. But that isn’t faith, its belief. Faith isn’t simply believing in God, it requires trusting in God. Trusting that God holds your life in the palm of his hand and regardless of what happens God will never let you go and never let you perish. I am sure Abraham and Sarah always believed in God but it took much more than belief to pack up everything and leave Haran. It took much more than belief for them to hold onto God’s promise that they would be the parents of a great nation when they were already in their 70’s and still had no children of their own. They trusted that in spite of all appearances to the contrary God would somehow honor his promises. They trusted so much that they staked their lives on these promises.
I think Lent is the perfect time for you and me to reflect on what we believe in as compared to what we have faith in. Belief is important but by itself it isn’t enough. As someone once said, God does not want us to believe in him – God already knows he exists. What God wants is our trust, our willingness to let him lead, our willingness to stake our lives on his promises, the promises found in Jesus Christ. The faith to trust that love is more important than success. The faith to trust that service and sacrifice hold a greater reward than the search for power and prestige. The faith to trust that it is better to give our lives for others than it is to amass wealth for ourselves. In the end I think it’s this kind of faith that opens the narrow door, it’s this kind of faith that makes us righteous in the eyes of God. Amen.