This is a message that will be offered on Wednesday at the Rescue Mission here in Roanoke. Please, pray for me and all in attendance. Thank you.
New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition
The Narrow Gate
‘Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it.
1 John 4:18
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love.
We all have choices. They may not seem like choices, but we have choices. For me sometimes they have felt like being, between a rock and a hard place. For Alan Ralston, he literally was in such a place for 127 hours, after a fall on a hike through some canyons. In those dramatic events, his life of continual motion up until that moment, came to a screeching halt. During those 127 hours, Aron fought with the choices that laid in front of him and learned what was important to him.
The tricky thing with choices, is that attention to one, can distract us from the other. And vice versa. We can even become crippled with choices, an experience that has a term called “decision fatigue”. I have suffered from it multiple times before, once while standing in a store I was unable to decide which eggs to buy. There were so many decisions to be made about this or that, that I could not make a decision from thinking through all the choices. Did I want the free range or the cage free, brown, white or green eggs, did I want large or medium? In the end, that kept me from what I needed to fix breakfast. It really was too much, which is a lot like life and how we are asked to not distract ourselves with human things, that keeping us busy from our spiritual homes and practices.
There are also choices others make for us that might leave us feeling crippled. In those times we can be left feeling so beaten down that we are not even able to see any choices. These choices however are often different, because they might be from someone in authority, which give the simple choice of following or not. Then maybe the question is whether or not this person has my best interest at heart. To not forget the times, we have been told we do not have choices or that we are not “whatever” enough. The choice then is, if we believe that we are not enough to walk the way of Jesus, by believing what Jesus told we all have to do is to begin walking another way. There are no special bells, hoops or whistles needed, he just lay down our nets and follow Jesus.
That is faith in action, when we know we do not have to control everything to know there are other options and often better options. It is not always easy to know if the choice we made is the best choice for us, especially when there is a lot of the unknown that may lay ahead and if it feels like it is changing a part of us. This takes me to where Matthew writes, “For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it”(Matthew 16:25). This is not meaning to literally take a life, but to be open to changing how life is right now at this very moment.
I will not lie, life can be hard. While some days are hard, there are others that can feel like an unending line of obstacles are in the way. There might be literal things blocking a path, but in my own experiences it most often is ourselves that get in the way of moving forward. It is easy to sit to wait for the perfect time or the right sign of how to take action. He quickly ran out of food and recirculating the only liquid that remained within a small range of space. In that space, Aron waited and screamed for help, hoping to be rescued, because he had not yet looked inside of himself for what other options he had other than making it from one second to the next. Those seconds turned into minutes, then minutes turned into 127 hours that Aron was barely surviving and maintaining control.
The choices we have are if we want to continue to be controlled by our unconscious habits of survival or to move to learn how to live from a place of faith with Jesus. This takes our survival skills to a new place. The gate is narrow, because so few of us, are free from the daily human created distractions or we have so little that giving up control is the last thing that we have. For the disciples, Jesus asked them to leave everything behind. Not to take anything with them, not to tell anyone, but to trust him and to follow his way toward an opportunity of life. Jesus asks us to let go of what we are trying to control, to chose to walk through the narrow gate that holds hope. Think of Jesus standing right there, asking each of us right now, to leave everything and to follow this path to a new way of life.
Hopefully choosing to let go of control for us will be a little different than it was for Aron. That control unfolded for Aron while he spent 127 hours recording video footage saying goodbye to his family and friends, because the initial choices he could see to free his arm, were to move a rock wall or a wedged 75 pound boulder, with one arm. For Aron, his choice was to keep running from being himself while looking for the next adventure or to stop running from living life. To take time to use the inner strength Aron had for survival to build a more fruitful life. For 127 hours Aron did not see any way out, he wanted everything to remain unchanged.
On his 28th birthday Aron returned with the ashes of his arm that was cremated, saying it belonged there and not with him. Aron chose to walk through the arrow gate into faith by amputating his own arm, in order to live. Although a bit more dramatic than many of our choices, he literally made the choice to live, while still uncertain he would. First Aron had to step into the disorder of the unknown, letting go of control to know there are other choices. Letting go of control looks and feels different for each of us.
The hardest part about giving up our control is to remember our faith and that God gives abundant and unending grace, if we allow it. In some cases, it is connecting to that inner knowing after years of people telling us there is something wrong with us or we are not enough. To begin outwardly believing that we are strong enough, we are smart enough and we are enough to walk with Jesus.
Following Jesus, is full of choices. These choices often involve pausing, to experience which will feel like we are stretching out with relief accepting the water that will quench our every thirst or the choice that can leave us in constricting dryness. We make a choice, even if it does not feel like a choice. The choice in our faith, is to live from a place of fear or the choice to live from a place of love, “for God so loved the world” we were given an example of how to live through Jesus.