In a recent sermon on the theme of 'growing with God' I referred in passing to the Pauline metaphors of baby food (or milk) and grown up food (meat), and the need to grapple with dififcult or uncomfortable texts as part of that growth.
When I was planning my November series, having looked at the lectionary and the various 'special' Sundays that arise, I opted to work with a broad theme of 'hope' and will begin this week with a service for All Saints and All Souls with the title 'Sure and Certain Hope'. In preparation for this, I spent a lot of time last week reading around Pauline (and other biblical) hints of universalism, because I thought my 'I'm not a universalist but I hope God is' theology was a bit too woolly and needed a bit more 'chewing'. I have always been of the 'all can be saved' persuasion but not the 'all will be saved' because (i) where does that leave free will and (ii) what do I do with all those unpallatable predestination writings? Anyway, last week's work was helpful, I felt I could see and understand the universalism in bits of Paul's writing and, without denying other views, a way to craft a pastorally sensitive (I hope!) sermon emphasising the 'all' (universal in every sense of the word) as the scope of salvation.
So far so good.
Then today PAYG gave me Luke 13:22-30...
Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, ‘Lord, will only a few be saved?’ He said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, “Lord, open to us”, then in reply he will say to you, “I do not know where you come from.” Then you will begin to say, “We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.” But he will say, “I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!” There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God. Indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.’ (NRSV)
Whilst Jesus does not set a limit on how many can be saved, there is a sense that some may find themselves excluded from the eschatological banquet. Oh dear. Two steps 'forward' and one step 'back' (or is it the converse? That probably depends on your theological standpoint, gentle reader). So I end up pretty much back where I began, unable to be a signed up universalist and still hoping that God is. Lots to chew on and chew over - this a topic I will need to return to time and again until the day that either Christ returns or I pass through the gateway called death, because I'm not sure that until then I will ever quite find myself ready to 'swallow' an answer. If the Lukan Jesus is correct, I just hope that everyone finds their way through that narrow gate after all, and that those of us entrusted to help others do just that will prove worthy of that call.
Why, God, did you inspire people to collect a set of writings that seem to suggest
Universalism and predestination?
That there may be an 'elect' and that Christ died for 'all'?
That somehow, in you, all things hold together?
Why do you not make it unequivocally clear
Who, or how many, or what may be, or will be, saved?
Why do devout Christians of every generation
Squabble and divide, citing Calvin or Armenius
As the final word (as though the Word made flesh was not final enough)?
Why do you make it hard for us to know for sure
What or how to believe?
Child, these are mysteries beyond human understanding
And all attempts to explain reveal only the bias of human hearts
The finitude of human understanding
The sinfulness within human structures and institutions
Remember, child, that God is love
That perfect love drives out fear
And, in the end,
At the eschaton
And all will be well
And all will be well
And all manner of things will be well
Stupid comment facility doing its usual nonsense... this from Julie by email:
God always says yes and we can always say no in all eternity...but how could you when you see God in reality?
Yup, this is helpful and hopeful (in an eschatological sense!)