Shut the Front Door

Well darn. (Historic Christ Church, Philadelphia for those wondering)

After hearing yesterday’s Gospel, which included Jesus’ imperative to, Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able (Luke 13:24), I bumped into a correlation in the ever scary (for clergy) Matthew 23,

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in (v. 13).

The anti-Semite can avoid the warning with, Wow, those Rabbis were awful. Glad Jesus has US on his side! But as I said above, Matthew 23 should strike fear in “religious” people of any tradition, and clergy in particular.

The clergy, and by extension the institutions to which they belong, can be concertina wire across a narrow entrance that already inflicts agony.

How do we do this? Mainly by failing to strive for the door ourselves, by serving an earth bound institutional life and personal satisfactions instead of keeping our passion toward God’s kingdom.

This takes too many shapes to list here, but I imagine that you have no trouble listing some in your head. They’re not things unique to clergy, but the collusions with sin that all human beings practice. But when they corrupt clergy, there’s a terrible ripple effect into the people they reach, as Jesus goes on to warn,

For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when you make him a proselyte, he becomes twice as much a child of hell as yourselves (Mt. 23:15)

Being among the retired clergy, I have painful episodes recounting failures and compromises of over 30 years of ordained ministry. For me, that’s part of the agonizing that goes into entering by the narrow door.

I was chatting with a clergy friend who is weighing retirement from parish work. This is someone who has had a vital and, IMO, kingdom-oriented ministry. S/he was bouncing between exhaustion with the wider church corruption that Jesus calls out and fear of losing identity without a congregation to lead.

What I replied without much thought (I think by a prompting from the Holy Spirit) was,

The finding of identity apart from a congregation is an opportunity. God gets a chance at some deferred maintenance on one that He loves.

Maybe the Lord gave that insight as a comfort to me as much as an insight for my friend.

Anyway, I need to get going. We are still dealing with a family medical situation. It’s progressing but we are not out of the woods. Thank you for the prayers and kindnesses expressed here and on other media platforms. God bless you – and keep you strong in your striving for the narrow door.

3 responses to “Shut the Front Door”

  1. A life less cloistered and more in the hut of a hermit. Out of the limelight into a more intense and introspective One on one. Instead of walking in the ranks of open glory and leadership, more walking in the digs of a trench. Instead of out in the open field, more the confines a of a narrow path among trees or overgrowth. Strength and healing; may they make themselves manifest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This triggered a lot of thoughts, in no particular order except for the first: It’s good to hear you are making progress on the family medical situation, and you’ll remain in my prayers.

    On your clergy friend: I mildly point out that if s/he is in fact a she, she’s been filling a position which the Lord didn’t really call her to fill. One doesn’t need to be a hard-core biblical literalist to see that a great deal of the troubles in the churches comes from deciding that not only are women equal in worth in God’s eyes as men (true), but that we are THE SAME as men (not true). I pray that your friend, if retiring from active ministry, will be filled with God’s enduring love and healing. Whoever this is, and whatever your friend’s identity and dedication, no clergy person anywhere ever does a perfectly faithful job. Humility and faith in God’s constant presence should help a lot. Even in situations which you, or your friend, find fault with yourselves, you might find, if you were able to see into other hearts, that you did God’s work perhaps even in spite of yourselves. You weren’t doing this alone.

    Lastly, a random theological thought. Perhaps I am a heretic. If so, I pray God’s forgiveness. Given Jesus’s frequent statements about not dispensing with any part of the Jewish law, I have a very hard time thinking of a faithful Jew such as, say, Dennis Prager, as condemned by God even though not Christian. For the Jew who follows the law to the extent possible, in both its letter and more especially in its spirit, as Jesus said, I think that such people lack, not God’s love and acceptance, but the sure and certain knowledge of it which are available through Christ. For Jewish hypocrites or Christian hypocrites the outlook is much worse.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. caregivingstinks Avatar

      Thanks for the thoughts! There is great reassurance in knowing that we don’t go it alone – that the one who calls us to any good work is there to see it through to the glory of the Father. I think that my testimony after 30 years is better now than ever, because I truly appreciate the grace of God and know much more of what it is to be forgiven in a more than generically theological sense.

      Prayers for the medical situation are so appreciated. We are in a healing process that will take several weeks.


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