Ten

File:Holy Embers.jpg

Friday

Genesis 18:16-32

“For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

There are so many wonderful lines in the readings for Sunday. This is one of them. In the face of the terrible violence of Sodom and Gomorrah – a violence that will be revealed when the men of the town encircle Lot’s house and demand to have his visitors turned over to them that they might abuse, demean and rape them, a show of their dominance and power in the ancient world. In the face of that community renowned in the ancient world for its arrogance, wealth and power, God declares that if he finds ten “righteous”, ten people who show faithfulness to others, he will not destroy the city.

It’s a powerful indictment of the city that God could not find ten. But, more importantly, it is a powerful declaration of the power of goodness.

It is not hard to catalog the ills of our world. There have been some terrible examples of terroristic violence. Nice. Istanbul. Orlando. Brussels. Paris. Santa Bernardino. Thanks to the ubiquity of cell phones, we have all become witnesses of police violence. What these communities have always known is now visible to all. And we have also become witnesses to revenge killings in Dallas and Baton Rouge. David Duke feels emboldened by the times to run for senate. The upcoming games in Rio have revealed some of what is being dumped into the seas. Flint reminds us of the terrible consequences of our neglect of the poor. The noble art of governance is reduced to name-calling.

The news coverage tries to “balance” all this distress with an occasional feel-good story of individual triumph or kindness, but those stories don’t offset the litany of woes that begin the hour.

But then comes this simple line: “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.”

Ten good people living ordinary lives is enough to save a city. Ten.

We often feel helpless before the onslaught of the news. But God declares that ten good people is enough. Such is the power of mercy, compassion, kindness, generosity, courage, hope. Ten will save a city. Our small acts of kindness are not lost. They are lights in the darkness. Contagious lights. Inextinguishable lights. Lighted by the one who is the light that enlightens all the world, the one who embodied God’s mercy, the one who showed God’s faithfulness, the one who shines like the sun.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHoly_Embers.jpg By Eric Vernier from France (Holy Embers) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

How shall we pray?

Thursday

Genesis 18:16-32

16“Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?”

File:AbrahamIcon.JPGThe assigned reading from the Old Testament for Sunday omits these first two verses, but they are the verses upon which the whole story pivots:

16Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. 17The Lord said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? 19No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice; so that the Lord may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”

The visitors have come. Abraham has feted them properly. They have spoken the promise that by next year Sarah will have a son. And Sarah has laughed. This is, after all, quite preposterous, given their age and the truths of biology. But, asks God, “Is anything too hard for the LORD?” And that question haunts the story to come.

So Abraham escorts the three visitors (God and two angels?) on their way and God pauses to tell Abraham that he is on his way to discern the truth of the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah. The implication is that, if true, God will execute his judgment. But in light of the wondrous grace of God that gives to withered Abraham and Sarah a future, a son, Abraham asks whether grace is not also possible for Sodom.

We do not pray easily for the wicked. We are children of vengeance. No one grieves for the man who drove the truck in Nice, or the shooters in Paris, Dallas or Orlando. We do not even count them among the dead. No tears are lost on suicide bombers.

But the truth is a human life was lost long before they armed themselves and decided to kill. A soul perished. A human with the capacity for love and kindness and joy and generosity was extinguished by ideology or poverty or violence or rage. No one defends their actions. But do we pray for their destruction? Is this the god we serve, a god who smites?

The story of Abraham isn’t about whether God is a god who smites. It is about whether Abraham will live up to his calling to be an agent of blessing in the world. Will Abraham who is blessed by God’s grace do grace? Will we who live by grace live grace?

It is a haunting question, knowing as we do our capacity for righteous indignation and wrath. But we stand before the one who saved Noah from the flood and forgave his executioners. We live in the knowledge of the mystery that “while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son.”

So, God stands with us on the hill looking down over the wicked city, the wounds on his hands visible in the breaking of the bread, and how shall we pray?

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAbrahamIcon.JPG See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Lord, teach us to pray

File:Saint Margaret of York Catholic Church (Loveland, Ohio) - stained glass, Holy Spirit.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 24, 2016

Year C

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 12 / Lectionary 17

Sunday we read of the disciples coming to Jesus and asking him to teach them to pray. Prayer was a part of every day for the descendants of Abraham. It is not as though they had not learned the prayers for the blessing of bread and fields and the dead. It is not as though they did not know the prayers said on entering or leaving the house, or the Sabbath prayers as the family gathered at table. They knew the forms of prayer, the words, the spirit of prayer. They are asking Jesus for a prayer that marks them as his followers – “as John taught his disciples.”

Jesus gives them what we now call the Lord’s Prayer. It hasn’t yet settled into the fixed and somewhat richer form that will be used in worship and among the faithful for generations to come, but its core is there: “Your kingdom come.” The prayer Jesus teaches is a prayer for God to come and rule in our hearts and in our world. It is a prayer for God’s name to be regarded as holy as it will be in that day when all things are made new. It is a prayer for God’s will to be done as it will in that day when the lion and the lamb lie down together. It is a prayer for the bread of that day to be given us now as it will be when all are gathered to God’s banquet on Mt. Zion. It is a prayer for forgiveness to reign in us and for us to be delivered in the great tribulation, the birth pangs of the new creation when the world rises up against God’s dawning grace and truth. It is a prayer for God’s tomorrow to come, God’s new day. Today. Here. In us.

Every religious tradition has prayers for the god or gods to grant some favor or protection or to ward off some evil or enemy. There are prayers for healing, for rain, for the fields and the harvest. There are prayers for childbirth and marriage and the time of death. They all seek to garner some favor, some benefit, some mercy from the heavens for the petitioner. But the prayer Jesus teaches is for God’s healing of the world to come. It connects with my worries and needs; but it is bigger than them. It is mindful of the needs of the world. It is a prayer for the whole fabric of our existence to be changed, for the imperishable day to dawn. So, in the way Christ teaches us to pray, when we pray for some specific need – a healing, for example – we are asking for a share of the healing that awaits all creation to come now into the life of the one for whom we pray. A taste today of the bread of tomorrow.

It is this quality that make’s the Lord’s Prayer so enduring, so transcendent, so sacred. It asks for what we would not think to ask, as focused as we are on our selves and our needs. The prayer itself changes us. Recreates us. Heals and transforms us. The prayer carries us into the presence of God and into the truth proclaimed by the cross and empty tomb.   The prayer brings God’s reign of peace and life.

So Sunday Jesus will talk not just about God’s eagerness to hear and answer our prayer, but God’s eagerness to answer with the Holy Spirit (God’s spirit reigning in us). And we will hear the psalmist’s joy at answered prayer and ponder the great wonder and example of Abraham who dared to challenge the Almighty by interceding on behalf of Sodom and Gomorrah. And we will hear the author of Colossians remind us to live our lives in Christ in whom we are raised to newness of life.

The Prayer for July 24, 2016

Faithful God,
you teach us to call upon you in every time of need,
as a child speaking to a dear father,
and promise to answer us with the gift of your Spirit.
Give us confidence in prayer
and hearts that seek for your kingdom to come
and your will to be done
in our lives and in our world;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 24, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 18:16-32 (appointed: 18:20-32)
“Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” –
Abraham has hosted the three visitors and now, as he escorts them on their way, God informs Abraham of his intention to discern the truth of Sodom and Gomorrah. Abraham intercedes on their behalf, urging God to save the cities for the sake of the righteous who dwell there.

Psalmody: Psalm 138
“On the day I called, you answered me” – The poet praises God for answering his prayer.

Second Reading: Colossians 2:6-19
“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit.” –
The author moves to a central theme of the letter, urging the community in Colossae not to be led astray by teachings other than the message of Christ they received.

Gospel: Luke 11:1-13
“One of his disciples said to him, ‘Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.’”
– Jesus teaches his followers about the content of prayer, giving them what we know as the Lord’s Prayer. Then he urges them to faithfulness in prayer assuring them of God’s eagerness to respond to their cries with the gift of God’s Holy Spirit.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASaint_Margaret_of_York_Catholic_Church_(Loveland%2C_Ohio)_-_stained_glass%2C_Holy_Spirit.jpg By Nheyob (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

 

A holy revolution

File:US Marshals with Young Ruby Bridges on School Steps.jpg

Ruby Bridges being escorted by U. S. Marshals to and from school.

Watching for the Morning of July 17, 2016

Year C

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 11 / Lectionary 16

Sunday we have before us the story of Mary and Martha – Martha, the older sister, hosting Jesus, working to prepare the meal, and Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to the teacher.

It’s hard for us to appreciate the drama of this narrative. The family dynamics are too familiar: one overachieving, hyper-responsible sibling and one willing to go along for the ride. And so we hear a tale of family tension in which Jesus tries to calm Martha down. “Take a deep breath, Martha. The dinner doesn’t have to be perfect. Come enjoy the company.” Only it’s not that. It’s something far more profound. Imagine this is taking place in Pakistan where Malala Yousafzai – while riding a school bus – is shot by the Taliban for saying that girls should be able to go to school.

Sitting at Jesus’ feet means placing herself in the role of a disciple, a student. There is a reason we imagine the Jesus traveling the countryside with twelve men. They were acting in the public sphere. Women ruled in the private sphere, in the home, behind the walls, beneath a veil. But Mary has taken a seat.

She is Ruby Bridges with Barbara Henry, the only teacher at William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana willing to teach a black child. She is James Meredith enrolling at the University of Mississippi. She is Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed, and Melba Pattillo Beals walking into Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas.

She doesn’t know her place. Tell her, Jesus. Tell her to go back to her place.

But Jesus tells her she has chosen the good thing.

What is happening in Jesus is the dawning of God’s kingdom, the profound transformation of human existence. As we read in Colossians last week, He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.

The age to come is invading this old age, breaking down the walls, tearing down the barriers, transforming relationships, healing wounds, reconciling all people, recreating the world.

The world about us continues to shoot and kill and rant and rave. The world continues to drop barrel bombs and plunder the poor. But the form of this world is passing away. A new kingdom is coming. A new reign. A new reality. A new creation.

And we are its first fruits.

And we are its witnesses.

And we are its students. All of us.

As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

And so we listen this Sunday to the story of Mary and Martha. And we hear Colossians exult in the work of Christ. And we sing the psalm that asks who is worthy to enter the temple – and then talks not about purity but justice and compassion. And behind it all is the promise to Abraham and Sarah of a son – a promise beyond all hope – a promise that makes Sarah laugh – but a promise that is fulfilled nevertheless.

We are witnesses. We are guests at the banquet. We are participants into the new creation. We are sitting at the feet of Jesus.

The Prayer for July 17, 2016

Gracious God,
with courage and boldness
Mary dared to sit at Jesus’ feet as a disciple
and he defended her choice.
Give us hearts that yearn to hear your word
and, amid all the distractions of life,
help us see what is needful
and follow in your paths;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 17, 2016

First Reading: Genesis 18:1-15 (appointed: 1-10a)
“The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day.”
– At the Oaks of Mamre, Abraham and Sarah host three visitors, and God announces that the time for the fulfillment of the promise of a son is at hand.

Psalmody: Psalm 15
“O Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may dwell on your holy hill?” – The poet speaks of the qualities required of those who enter the sacred precincts to offer their sacrifices.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:15-28
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.” – The opening section of the letter continues, acclaiming Christ as the source and goal of all things

Gospel: Luke 10:38-42
“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”
– Invited to dine at the home of Martha, Jesus defends her sister Mary’s decision to sit at his feet as a disciple.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AUS_Marshals_with_Young_Ruby_Bridges_on_School_Steps.jpg By Uncredited DOJ photographer (Via [1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The way of life

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Once more on last Sunday

Luke 10:25-37

25Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he said, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

I am not ready to leave behind the texts for last Sunday, but I have trouble pulling just a single thread from the thoughts and emotions that swirl around within me.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage where an expert in the interpretation and application of the law rises to a showdown with Jesus. Jesus trumps him with a story we all know as “the Good Samaritan”. But it is never just a smackdown with Jesus. Jesus wants to summon even this lawyer into the way of the kingdom.

The whole of Biblical faith is here in this passage – or, at least, Christian Faith. Here we see the transformative hand of Jesus upon the tradition he inherited. In a world where tribalism reigns, Jesus summons us to live as those who regard all people as members of our tribe, our kinship group, our family. Brothers and sisters. The outcast, the unclean, the Gentiles, even enemies – we are to love them all.

Show fidelity to God with all your heart and all your soul and all your strength and all your mind and show fidelity to your neighbor as to yourself. Allegiance not to tribe but to the God who is creator of all. Allegiance to the God who opens prison doors and blind eyes and gathers all creation to one table. Allegiance to the God who empties the grave to set us all free from our habitation in the realm of death.

The shooter in Dallas became a victim of death. Even as his body lived, death held his mind and heart in its grasp. It promised him relief in killing. In killing cops, in killing white people. It gave him the illusion of power, the illusion that he could affect the world. But it gave him no life, no wholeness, no healing, no liberation, only a bomb attached to the arm of a robot and a name no one wants to remember.

But there is before us another way, a path of life. A way that heals and makes whole. A way that rescues and redeems. A way that is joy and light.

And here is the deep, deep mystery in the parable. We are the fallen wounded. And Christ is the Samaritan who comes to us, who binds up our wounds, who carries us to safety, who pays the price for our healing. For the living. For the dead. For the whole creation.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASamariter.JPG By Mraz (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Live the mercy

 

Thursday

Deuteronomy 30:1-14

File:Musée du Petit Palais Petit Palais n09.jpg1When all these things have happened to you, the blessings and the curses that I have set before you, if you call them to mind among all the nations where the Lord your God has driven you, 2and return to the Lord your God, and you and your children obey him with all your heart and with all your soul, just as I am commanding you today, 3then the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you. 4Even if you are exiled to the ends of the world, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will bring you back.

These words are not part of the assigned text for the first reading on Sunday, but they should be. They set the context for the promise of prosperity and for the declaration that “Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you.”

The story starts in exile. The exhortation begins in mercy. This is a word of hope. When all is lost, there is yet a future. If we turn back, God will restore. And what God asks is “not too hard” for us. It is not esoteric. The life God wants for us is within our reach.

Justice and mercy are simple things. We may not want to give them, but they are simple and straightforward. God’s commands are not like the tax code. You do not need a legal expert to make them intelligible. You do not need a hero to discern them. God’s commands are really pretty modest: He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

At first glance, Jesus seems to make the commands tougher: You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times…but I say to you… But what Jesus is asking is that we keep the spirit of God’s law not simply its outward form. There is a lust of the heart not just of the body, and an anger that rends the human community though it does not murder.

God has commanded us to love our neighbor. Jesus just wants us to stop limiting mercy. Mercy is not hard. Compassion is not hard. It is our hearts that can be hard.

There are a thousand reasons not to stop and help the wounded man. The priest will be defiled and have to return to Jerusalem to undergo purification. The Levite, too, is surely on some important business and has good cause not to get involved. But this is not a situation that calls for nuanced interpretation of legal obligations; this is a situation that calls for us to live the mercy of God. Pretty simple: Live the mercy of God.

11Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. 12It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 13Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” 14No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMus%C3%A9e_du_Petit_Palais_Petit_Palais_n09.jpg By jean-louis Zimmermann from Moulins, FRANCE [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A holy revolution

File:Paris - Jardin des Tuileries - PA00085992 - 106.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 10, 2016

Year C

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 10 / Lectionary 15

Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns things around. He turns us around. And if we don’t like the political associations of that word, the “religious” synonym is repentance. Only Biblical repentance isn’t about moral regret. It is about changing directions. Turning around. Jesus is a revolutionary, bent on turning us around, bent on turning the world around.

The encounter with Jesus in this reading for Sunday starts as an attack by an expert in the interpretation and application of God’s law. Maybe it’s a personal attempt to make himself look good in the eyes of the crowd by upstaging this peasant healer. Maybe he wants to tear Jesus down as a potential threat to the established order. Either way, his question is intended to show that Jesus doesn’t know the scriptures or understand the tradition. But Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns the tables on the expert, showing that this “expert” knows all the right words and nothing of their significance.

The story Jesus tells is full of shock and awe. The Samaritan is an unexpected character in the story and he behaves in a startling way. Since the wounded man is stripped and beaten, the Samaritan cannot know whether he is “one of ours” or “one of theirs”. The touch of a Samaritan, his wine and oil, are all unclean to a Judean, as likely to elicit rage as gratitude.

The expert knows the answer to the question “Who is my neighbor?” A neighbor is a fellow Israelite. This expert is not looking for information; he is scrambling to save face, hoping still to show Jesus as ignorant. But Jesus is a revolutionary; he turns the question around from “Who is my neighbor?” to “Who showed himself to be a neighbor?” Now we are not talking about who the other person is, but “Who am I?”

What does it mean to be God’s people? What does it mean to be a citizen of God’s reign? What does it mean to be a human being, created in the image of God?

A Samaritan! A hated Samaritan is the example of our true humanity! Our divine calling! Just like the Roman Centurion was an example of true faith! This Jesus who welcomes sinners…he is a revolutionary, bent on turning us all around.

So Sunday we will be confronted again by Jesus telling this familiar but challenging story. And we will hear the preaching of Deuteronomy call us to fidelity. And the psalmist will pray for God to teach us his paths. And the author of Colossians will pray that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord – reminding us that God has “rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son.”  A holy revolution.

The Prayer for July 10, 2016

Lord of mercy,
who gathers up a broken world in the arms of your grace,
teach us to live as you live,
to love as your love,
and to see all people as members of a single human family;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 10, 2016

First Reading: Deuteronomy 30:1-14 (appointed: 9-14)
“Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you” –
To a people who have experienced the trauma of exile comes the promise of restoration and renewal and the exhortation to “turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.”

Psalmody: Psalm 25:1-10
“Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths” – A prayer of faith for God’s continuing mercy, protection and guidance.

Second Reading: Colossians 1:1-14
“We have not ceased praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, as you bear fruit in every good work and as you grow in the knowledge of God.” – The salutation and blessing at the beginning of the letter to the Colossians that anticipate the central concerns of the letter.

Gospel: Luke 10:25-37
“But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’”
– Jesus answers a lawyer’s challenge with the story we know as the parable of the Good Samaritan.

 

Photo: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AParis_-_Jardin_des_Tuileries_-_PA00085992_-_106.jpg By Thesupermat (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Doing the good

File:Maximilien Luce - Le bon samaritain.jpg

Thursday

Galatians 6:1-16

9So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

I don’t know why this translation chose “doing what is right” instead of “doing the good”. Yes the word can mean what is right and proper and good, but the phrase “doing what is right” tends to make me think about rules, whereas “doing the good” makes me think about people and relationships. “Doing what is right” is about social and ethical norms. “Doing the good” is about being a gracious and healing presence in the world.

Paul has spent his whole letter arguing against the a definition of righteousness based on the observance of social and legal norms. He has argued fiercely that it is fidelity to the mercy of God and a life governed by the Spirit to which we are called. In this very passage he declares that “neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything!”  Social customs and laws belong to the tribe of Israel. Fidelity to the God of Mercy and Life belongs to us all.

It’s very important that we not get confused about what God seeks. Even the Mosaic Law is more a collection of examples and precedents for the just and faithful life than a legal code. Legal codes invite us to parse and define them. So we read that we are to love our neighbor and set off on a discussion about who, exactly, falls in that category of neighbor. Are people from the next village neighbor? Are the elite families in Jerusalem neighbor? Are the Romans neighbor? Are the Samaritans neighbor? And we know how Jesus answers this question – or rather steps beyond it. He tells the story of the Good Samaritan and simply asks who showed himself a neighbor.

The translation “doing what is right” is grammatically acceptable – maybe even grammatically proper. But it is theologically misleading. Our responsibility as human beings is not to be right, but to be good.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaximilien_Luce_-_Le_bon_samaritain.jpg  Maximilien Luce [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Stirred not shaken

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The Seventy

Watching for the Morning of July 3, 2016

Year C

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 9 / Lectionary 14

I watched a James Bond move last week and learned that the designation ‘00’ was given to agents after two kills – when they have proved their hardness of heart. Maybe we need a designation for agents who have brought God’s healing to two lives and proved their tenderness of heart. Stirred, not shaken.

Sunday centers on Luke’s account of the sending of the seventy. Earlier, Luke had recorded Jesus sending the twelve ahead of him to heal and proclaim the reign of God. Now Jesus sends “seventy others.” The reading contains Jesus’ familiar phrase that “the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few, and the injunction that they are sent “like lambs into the midst of wolves.” The mission is urgent (don’t pack a bag) but God will provide through the hospitality of those who are “sons [and daughters] of peace.” Where they are welcomed, they should heal the sick and say, “The kingdom of God has come near you.” And where they are not welcomed, they should “shake off the dust” as a warning of God’s judgment for “Whoever listens to you listens to me, and whoever rejects you rejects me.”

As a new king coming to claim the land sends out representatives to prepare for his arrival, dispensing his benefactions and warning those who resist – so the followers of Jesus are sent. And they return with joy. The realm of Satan was falling.

Our other readings on Sunday pick up the themes of deliverance and joy. The text from Isaiah contains a promise of that day when Jerusalem is restored and the world brought to peace. The psalmist sings God’s praise for his work of deliverance in the exodus from Egypt. And our reading in Galatians comes to its final chapter where Paul urges the community to remember that we will reap what we sow – urging them to sow to the Spirit (the new creation, the reign of God) and not to our “flesh” (the passions and desires of our fallen nature).

The mission of the seventy is not just for the seventy. It is the mission of the church, of the people, of each and all of us. Having gifts that differ we are sent as heralds of the kingdom, bearing the gifts of the kingdom. There are plenty of contentious, divisive, and angry voices rending lives and the body politic. But Christ has his agents, bringing healing and life.

The Prayer for July 3, 2016

Eternal Father,
whose heart is ever searching
to gather your world to yourself,
help us dwell in your mercy
and make us faithful in our calling to bear witness to your love;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 3, 2016

First Reading: Isaiah 66:10-14
“As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you” –
A song of Salvation containing the promise that the nation, broken by war and exile, will be restored.

Psalmody: Psalm 66:1-8
“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth” – a song of joy at God’s deliverance, recalling the exodus from Egypt.

Second Reading: Galatians 6:1-16
“Whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all.” – Exhortations from the closing section of Paul’s letter contrasting those things “sown to the flesh” (our “fallen” nature, our innate self-centeredness) with what is sown to the Spirit.

Gospel: Luke 10:1-11, 16-20
“”The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.”
– Jesus sends out seventy as heralds of the reign of God and instructs them about their mission.

 

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ASeventy_Disciples.jpg  By anonimus ([1]) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cost of Discipleship

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Sunday Evening

Psalm 16

4 Those who choose another god
multiply their sorrows.

When I was 17, I found a book in a local bookstore entitled The Cost of Discipleship. I hadn’t yet heard of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I didn’t know anything of his context in Germany before and during the Nazi era. I didn’t know about his work teaching catechism in the inner city. I didn’t know about his ecumenical work. I didn’t yet know about the underground seminary in which he taught when the Nazi’s took over the state church. I didn’t know that he consciously chose to leave the United States in 1939 and return to Germany to suffer with his nation the woes that were upon them. I didn’t yet know he had been martyred by the Nazis. I was simply gripped by the title and content of the book. Its thesis was pretty simple: Jesus meant what he said.

Bonhoeffer contrasted “cheap grace” and “costly grace”. Cheap grace was a love that asked nothing in return, it asked no sacrifice, no commitment, no discipleship. Cheap grace allowed us to return home unchanged. It was a pointed critique of most church life. It had a dramatic effect on my young life.

I had been raised in a context that tended to look upon the teaching of Jesus as a noble ideal rather than a real expectation. It was good to forgive those who sin against you, but God would forgive us if we didn’t. It was good not to judge, but God would still love us if we did. It was good to share the love of God, but we had an evangelism committee and the pastor for that purpose.

The Christianity I experienced as an adolescent was about comfort in our struggles and encouragement to be nice. And then I read Bonhoeffer: “When Christ calls a man he bids him come and die.” Radical discipleship. It was thrilling and challenging to think about taking Jesus seriously.

Since then I have met people whose allegiance to Jesus caused them to be tortured – beatings, cigarette burns, electric shocks, the whole deal. What infuriated their captors most was they could not turn their victims to hate. I have known others who were missionaries in places where becoming a Christian was a crime. There is something about great sacrifice that seems noble and heroic to a young man. Later on in life, it looses its romance. But I also came to understand that the cost of discipleship is not the one, big, heroic thing; it is the many small heroic things – acts of kindness, generosity, sacrifice, service. It is shoveling the snow from the sidewalk of a neighbor whose mobility is limited. It is showing up with food in time of grief. It is choosing to silence gossip, or reaching out to those on the margins. It is choosing to put the best construction on the words and deeds of others and to hold one’s tongue rather than vent one’s anger. It is the courage to acknowledge ones faults rather than justify one’s actions. It is the commitment to make amends and to choose reconciliation. All of which sounds like “nice” – but is, in fact, far more than nice. It is the choice to live the reign of God rather than the way of the world.

There are people I knew who came to clean the church bathrooms when we could not afford a janitor. It is not something pleasurable or intrinsically rewarding; it is something one gives for the sake of others. Bonhoeffer will always be something of a hero to me – but so are the people who made some eighty sandwiches every Wednesday and took them to the street people on Cass Avenue in downtown Detroit. So is the couple who opened their home for a weekly Sunday night Bible Study – who saw their home as a tool for Gods purpose rather than a private sanctuary for themselves (or an investment for their future). So are the people who lived gracefully in pain rather than inflicting it on others. So is the woman who brought a remarkable cheerfulness to her nursing home when she could not longer stay in her home.

The cost of discipleship is not only seen the in the family who quit their jobs, sold their home, and became missionaries to Papua New Guinea. It is seen in the guy you could always find washing dishes after a church event, or the one who showed up to fix whatever he heard was broken. Or the guys who took a troubled teen under their wing and showed him what a good man could be. Or those who gave up their Saturday morning to prepare the altar for Sunday. All of which looks a lot like “nice”, but is in fact a choice to be a healing and life-giving presence in the world, to be a witness to the love of God, to show allegiance to this Jesus who told us to love our neighbor as ourselves.

And what I know of most of these – including the man who was tortured – is that they didn’t consider their discipleship a cost but a privilege from which they received far more than they gave. But it was a choice. A choice to follow this Jesus. A decision to choose the kingdom because of the one who chose them.

And so we come back to the verse from our psalm this morning: “Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows.”

There is a cost to worshipping other gods. It is a cost in sorrows. There is a price to pay to serve money, wealth or power. The gods of beauty and fame exact terrible sacrifices. And they do not give back. Their rewards are fickle and fleeting and perish in the grave. But the life God gives is eternal – both now and in the age to come.

 

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