A cup of water

File:Small Cup LACMA AC1997.253.17.jpg

Watching for the Morning of July 2, 2017

Year A

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

A cup of cold water. That’s all it takes to be remembered in heaven: a cup of cold water. The simplest gesture of hospitality to the ambassadors of heaven’s reign will be rewarded.

After all that Jesus has said to his followers about their mission, after the instructions to give freely, to take no provisions, to carry no beggar’s bag, to stay with whomever will receive them; after the warnings that they are going out like sheep among wolves and will be dragged before the authorities; after the warnings that they will be betrayed even by members of their own family and hated by all because of Jesus name – they should expect, after all, no different treatment than their master received – after the declaration that those who will not take up the cross are not worthy of him comes this sweet and simple promise that “whoever welcomes you welcomes me.”

We are emissaries of the new kingship that is come to the world. We go out as runners to announce that the old empire is falling and a new empire marching towards them – an ‘empire’, a dominion, that heals the sick and raises the dead and gathers the outcast and sets free the oppressed.

The world of greed and violence and slaveries will not surrender easily; but a new dominion marches through the land, and all who show welcome to that reign shall stand forever in the king’s radiance.

We don’t live in the world of rival claimants to the throne waging war and summoning every town and village to declare their allegiance, but we know enough about the dark side of politics and international affairs to understand. There is risk in siding with the insurrection. And risk should you choose wrongly. The inertia is with what is known not what might be. But we are called to be children of what might be. We are called to be emissaries of the one who heals and blesses and gathers and forgives. We are sent as agents of compassion and mercy and truth. We are sent to be healers and reconcilers in a world of death and division.

And though the old regime will not surrender easily, the war is decided. The grave is empty. What might be, will be. And the simplest hospitality to the messengers of that kingdom will be remembered and rewarded.

The Prayer for July 2, 2017

Almighty God,
you send your followers into the world
to proclaim your justice and mercy,
promising that every act of kindness shown to them
will be honored in heaven.
Grant us courage to go forth as your faithful people
bearing witness to your light and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for July 2, 2017

First Reading: Jeremiah 28:1-9 (appointed: 5-9)
“As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” –
Jeremiah confronts the prophet Hananiah who has declared that God is about to set Judah free from the hand of Babylon – a message in conflict with the warnings God has spoken through his prophets in the past.

Psalmody: Psalm 89:1-4, 15 (appointed: 1-4, 15-18)
“I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.” – In a prayer that will cry out to God in distress over the loss of the Davidic kingship, the poet here sings of God’s faithfulness and his promise to David.

Second Reading: Romans 6:8-23 (appointed: 12-23)
“Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.”
– Countering the objection that justification by faith (restoration to a right relationship with God by trust in and fidelity to God’s work and promise) leads to lawlessness, Paul argues that if we have come under the reign of God in baptism, it makes no sense that we should continue to yield ourselves in service to the dominion of sin and death. The “wages” for serving sin is ultimately death (death came into the world because of Adam’s sin); whereas the “wages” of serving God is the free gift of the life of the age to come.

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” – Jesus concludes his instructions to his followers on their mission as heralds of the reign of God by affirming that they go as his emissaries. Christ is present to the world in and through their witness, and no gesture of hospitality shown to them shall go unrewarded.

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Small_Cup_LACMA_AC1997.253.17.jpg, public domain.
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A fire in the bones

File:Charbon - charcoal burning (3106924114).jpg

Watching for the Morning of June 25, 2017

Year A

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

The prophet cries out against God, accusing God of having duped him, called him to his ministry on false premises. He was sent out to declare the word of the LORD, but no one has listened. Indeed, he is met with scorn and derision. In an era of prosperity, all he sees is the bitterness of God’s pending judgment. The sins of the nation are ever before him, its folly abundantly clear – they are on a path to destruction while the leadership of the nation imagines only glory.

The prophet’s preaching has achieved nothing. But every attempt to hold his peace ends with a burning passion:

If I say, “I will not mention him,
or speak any more in his name,”
then within me there is something like a burning fire
shut up in my bones;
I am weary with holding it in,
and I cannot.

The word demands to be spoken.

Jesus doesn’t hide anything from his followers. He tells them that their message will face opposition. “If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household!” It’s not really the best strategy for recruiting followers. We rather prefer the message of the American prosperity Gospel: God wants you to be successful and wealthy. But the healing and redeeming work of Jesus leaves scars on his hands. And we are sent to carry on that work.

We are sent, as we heard last week, to proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’We are sent to “cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons.” We have “received without payment” and we are to “give without payment.” We are to dispense the gifts of God, to scatter abroad the benefactions of the new governance dawning among us. The reign of heaven, the dominion of God, the rule of the Spirit, the new creation – this is the gift we carry to the world.

But the world rather likes its bloodletting and grasping, and not everyone will rejoice at the dawning of grace and faithfulness.

So we are sheep amidst wolves. We are bearers of the cross. The message will heal and it will anger. It will unite and also divide. There will be hostility, mockery, even violence. But the God who is mindful of even the sparrows is mindful of every hair on our heads. And “Everyone therefore who acknowledges me before others, I also will acknowledge before my Father in heaven.”

The fields are ripe for the harvest. The world is ready for grace to reign.

The Prayer for June 25, 2017

Gracious God, Your word divides as well as heals;
it closes ears as well as opens hearts.
Grant us courage to be faithful in our witness
and diligent in our service
that, with boldness and joy in your promise,
your grace and mercy may be revealed to all people;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 25, 2017

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution. And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10, 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality. We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one. The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3ACharbon_-_charcoal_burning_(3106924114).jpg By Serge Melki from Indianapolis, USA (Charbon – charcoal burning) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

A priestly people

File:Harvest (13429504924).jpg

“Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.””

Watching for the Morning of June 18, 2017

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 6 / Lectionary 11

The First Lesson on Sunday declares that if Israel abides by God’s teaching, they shall be a priestly people. In the Gospel reading, Jesus sends his followers out as heralds and agents of God’s reign. Though the language is different, the substance is the same: a priest mediates the connection between people and God. In the Old Testament this was about the reconciliation (forgiveness) and fellowship with God established through the sacrificial system. In the New Testament it is mediated through allegiance to Christ and participation in the Spirit/reign of God.   In both you are restored to a community bound together in praise and service of God. And in both there is a word spoken that announces the reality of reconciliation and fellowship – a priestly/prophetic word, spoken on God’s behalf, that the sacrifice has been accepted, that reconciliation is at hand, that the hearer now abides in the grace and life of God. “The grace in which we stand”, says Paul in the reading from Romans for Sunday. The debt has been forgiven. Reconciliation has occurred. Peace that has been established. This is our calling. This is our identity. We are a priestly people – or, at least, meant to be a priestly people reconnecting the world with the source and goal of life. Every cup of cold water. Every healing hand. Every kind word. Every confession heard. Every kindness lived.

It is a great honor to be a priestly people. In a world where so much is torn and divided, we have the privilege of joining the realm of heaven with the realm of earth.

Preaching Series: Abram

The narrative of the flood last Sunday set before us the mystery that though the earth is filled with violencebecause of human beings, God suffers for his world and delivers it. But the people that get off the ark are no different than those who got on. And now we will hear how humanity’s rebellion continues in the building of the tower of Babel. But then come the first notes of a new mystery that follows the line of Seth down to Abram. It is a line that seems to dead end with Sarai’s barrenness – but God speaks a strange and wonderful promise that, from the line of Abraham, God will bring blessing to the world.

The Prayer for June 18, 2017

Gracious God,
you bid us pray for laborers to be sent into your harvest,
to a world in need of your healing and life.
Help us to fulfill our calling as intercessors for your world
and bearers of your grace;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 18, 2017

First Reading: Exodus 19:2-8a
“If you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” – Brought out of Egypt and now before God at Mt. Sinai, the people hear and accept God’s covenant: “Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.”

Psalmody: Psalm 100
“Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his.” – A hymn of praise as the community enters into the temple courts and are summoned to acknowledge and serve God.

Second Reading: Romans 5:1-8
“God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.” –
having established that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” and that God justifies all by faith – by their trust in God’s promise – Paul declares that “we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Gospel: Matthew 9:35 – 10:8 [9-23]
“The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore ask the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.” – The twelve are appointed for the first mission: to be heralds of the dawning reign of God in the towns and villages of Israel. “As you go, proclaim the good news, ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without payment; give without payment.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AHarvest_(13429504924).jpg By U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters (Harvest) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0) or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

An indescribable and glorious joy

File:Porto Covo July 2011-6.jpg

Friday

1 Peter 1:3-9

8Although you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and rejoice with an indescribable and glorious joy, 9for you are receiving the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

This is a wonderful verse. But there are so many words in it that we hear differently in our time. This word ‘soul’ for example, is the Greek word ‘psyche’. For most of us, I suspect, the word ‘soul’ refers to the substance of the self that occupies the body such that, when the body dies, the soul continues. However we imagine this, the concept is that the me that is me continues somehow.

It’s not easy to pin down the meaning of this Greek word. It means, on the one hand, our life, our physical existence. In Matthew 2:2, when Jesus had been taken to Egypt for safety, the angel speaks of those “who were trying to take the child’s life.” It would sound weird to us to say they were trying to take the child’s soul. The same is true in Matthew 20:28 where Jesus says the Son of Man came to “give his life as a ransom for many.” It wouldn’t make sense to us to say he gave his soul.

But this ‘life’ is something more than biological existence. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus talks about those who can kill the body but not kill the ‘soul’. You can kill my body, but you cannot destroy my ‘life’. Or in 10:39, “Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” There is something in the word ‘psyche’ that is more than biological life. There is something that speaks of the mind, the heart, the spirit – yes, the ‘soul’ – of a person: their character, their being, their identity, their story – “who they are”.

What is being saved? I am being saved. Not my ‘soul’, but me. Me, who likes the color blue and chocolate chip ice cream. Me, who started in math but turned to medieval history in college. Me, who loved being father to my daughters. Me, who learned so much at my parish in Detroit. Me, who loves the woods and the high desert and good coffee. Me, who grieves my brother and my daughter and aches with all those with whom I have walked through the shadow of the valley of death. Me, who stands with open hands at the communion table and treasures the wonder of the gift given.

I am being saved.

And this word saved – it means to heal, to rescue, to make whole. I am being saved. I am being healed. I am being made whole. I am promised a place at the table when all things are made new and death is slain and all creation feasts in God’s abundance.

Whatever exactly all those metaphors mean of a banquet on Mt. Zion, a New Jerusalem, swords beaten into plowshares and the lion lying down with the lamb, they point to a making-whole of all life. They point to an end to fears and release from regrets. And this must, in some way, mean a healing of relationships and a restored bond to my brother and daughter and to the whole fabric of the human community.

And all of this is not just awaiting me in the future, but this healing, this saving, this making whole is begun even now. Even now as I hold out my hands at the table, and as I sing the songs of the angels, and as I hold those who are dear to me, and as I welcome those who are new to me – as I breathe the breath of the Spirit. All this is both then and now, future and present, promise and reality, “an indescribable and glorious joy.”

Image: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3APorto_Covo_July_2011-6.jpg By Alvesgaspar (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me”

Watching for the morning of June 29

Year A

The Third Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 8 / Lectionary 13

File:Belozersk icon.jpg

13th Century Icon of Sts. Peter and Paul from Belozersk

June 29th is also the feast day of Sts. Peter and Paul, but we are just getting back to reading through Matthew’s Gospel, so we will continue with the texts for the Sunday rather than the festival.

We picked up in Matthew last Sunday in the middle of the “missionary discourse”, and this Sunday we will hear the sobering promise with which that discourse ends: “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” We go forth into the world as emissaries of Jesus the emissary of God. The hospitality shown to a king’s messengers is hospitality shown to the king – hospitality every earthly king rewards. Just so, God will “reward” those who receive the messengers of heaven’s realm.

The issue here, of course, isn’t whether God deals with the world by a system of rewards; this is a parable drawn from the experience of the world: kings remember how their servants are treated. God will see and remember and respond in kind, for we are God’s servant/messengers.

We are often seduced into thinking that the goal of faith is our own happiness and peace of mind, perhaps our salvation, perhaps the prosperity and success of a Spirit led life or a life of obedience or devotion. But the goal of our allegiance to Christ Jesus is that Christ may reign in the world, that the justice, mercy, compassion and grace of God may exercise a true and liberating dominion over all.

So we are the citizen soldiers at Bunker Hill; we are the often unpaid and ill clad troops under Washington’s command. We are the visionaries and witnesses to a new world. We are the runners who go forth from the battlefield to announce Cornwallis’ defeat. The war may not yet be over, but the new day is at hand.

So villagers that pour out to welcome such messengers are a source of joy and pride to the new regime. And villages that shut their doors will be remembered as well.

“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” It is a joyful promise – but sobering – sobering because it defines us first and foremost as messengers.

And so we find our way back to Sts. Peter and Paul, the iconic witnesses of the dawning reign of life.

The Prayer for June 29, 2014

Almighty God,
you send forth your people into the world
to proclaim your justice and mercy,
promising that every act of kindness shown to them
will be honored in heaven.
Grant us courage to go forth as your faithful people
bearing witness to your light and life;
through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Texts for June 29, 2014

First Reading: Jeremiah 28:5-9
“As for the prophet who prophesies peace, when the word of that prophet comes true, then it will be known that the Lord has truly sent the prophet.” – Jeremiah confronts the prophet Hananiah who has declared that God is about to set Judah free from the hand of Babylon – a message in conflict with the warnings God has spoken through his prophets in the past.

Psalmody: Psalm 89:1-4, 15-18
“I will sing of your steadfast love, O Lord, forever; with my mouth I will proclaim your faithfulness to all generations.” – In a prayer that will cry out to God in distress over the loss of the Davidic kingship, the poet here sings of God’s faithfulness and his promise to David.

Second Reading: Romans 6:12-23
“Do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.”
– Countering the objection that justification by faith (restoration to a right relationship with God by trust in God’s work and promise) leads to lawlessness, Paul argues that if we have come under the reign of God in baptism, it makes no sense that we should continue to yield ourselves in service to the dominion of sin and death. The “wages” for serving sin is ultimately death (death came into the world because of Adam’s sin); whereas the “wages” of serving God is the free gift of the life of the age to come.

Gospel: Matthew 10:40-42
“Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.” – Jesus concludes his instructions to his followers on their mission as heralds of the reign of God by affirming that they go as his emissaries. Christ is present to the world in and through their witness.

“A man against his father…”

Sunday Evening

Matthew 10

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A man with his grandson in East New Britain, Papua New Guinea, by Taro Taylor

35I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36and one’s foes will be members of one’s own household.

It’s worth noting, in passing, that the father / son-in-law relationship is not mentioned. In the world of Jesus, a woman comes to live in the family home of the man. The new wife takes orders from her mother-in-law and the husband’s first allegiance is to his family. It is why the mother-son relationship is so crucial in the ancient near east, for a son not only raises the wife’s honor within the family; he is her security and her primary ally in the family network.

Even still, to rend any relationships within a family, to set a man against his father or a daughter against her mother, is a scandalous thought. Remember that the killing of the fatted calf by the prodigal father is an effort to appease the community and prevent violence against the rebel son for his heinous affront to social values. For Jesus to suggest, as he does here, that he has come to rend these most fundamental social bonds is shocking.

Pastors don’t get away with shocking. I was criticized by the senior pastor in my first parish for using the word ‘whore’ in a sermon – it was too crude. Jesus may love prostitutes, but loving whores sounds too shocking. Except it was shocking. Eating with tax collectors is familiar to us, but Jesus went into the homes and shared table fellowship with filthy (ritually unclean), thieving, collaborators in service of the occupying army. He crossed boundaries (healing the Canaanite woman, talking with the Samaritan woman at the well). He broke the Sabbath traditions. He “made himself equal to God” by forgiving sins. He wandered the countryside when good moral people stayed home. He told some outrageous stories, did some outrageous things – and suffered a disgraceful end.

But it’s not that Jesus was being provocative for the perverse pleasure of it. He was trying to right the ship, to call the community back to its radical God. A God who set slaves free and set rules to protect the poor. Who said bread should be shared and neighbors loved. All neighbors. Even enemy neighbors, in provocative and challenging ways like volunteering to carry his pack an extra mile.

So don’t be surprised, says Jesus, when you go out to spread the word about the reign of God and people reject you – when even your family rejects you. We shouldn’t live in fear of people; but fear of God. Ultimately, God’s opinion is the only one that matters.

Like most pastors, I don’t want to be shocking. We all hope for the respect and affection of our congregations. But I do want people to be able to recognize how shocking is Jesus. How daring the life he lived. How courageous his path. And to understand that his daring little band of followers, seeking to live the reign of God, outlasted Rome and every other human empire.

In many places in our world people take great risks – and risk the favor of their families – to show allegiance to this Jesus and his reign of grace. We should be wise, but we shouldn’t fear. We may be sheep among wolves, but the hairs of are head are counted.

The field waits for harvest

Watching for the morning of June 22

Year A

The Second Sunday after Pentecost:
Proper 7 / Lectionary 12

File:Alentejo oak on wheat field.jpg

By Faísca from Lisboa, Portugal

With this Sunday we pick up again in the main body of Matthew’s Gospel. Unfortunately, because of the odd choices of the Common Lectionary, we have skipped over much of Matthew’s Gospel. Before the seasons of Lent and Easter we were reading in the Sermon on the Mount. Now we have jumped from chapter 5 to chapter 10, into the middle of what is referred to as the “missionary discourse.”

Matthew has arranged the teaching of Jesus into five large blocks of material, evoking the five books of the Torah (the first five books, Genesis through Deuteronomy, ascribed to Moses.) The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) is the first of these blocks of teaching; the missionary discourse, (Matthew 10) is the second.

What we have skipped in Matthew is the conclusion of the Sermon on the Mount, stressing the importance of following Jesus’ teaching (the narrow and wide gates, the fools who build on sand v. those wise who build on rock, and the declaration: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (7:21)

Chapters 8-9 show Jesus healing and stilling the storm at sea and the storm within the possessed men (whose demons went into the pigs). He forgives and heals the paralyzed man, calls Matthew the tax gatherer to follow, heals the slowly hemorrhaging woman and raises the dead daughter of a ‘ruler’. He opens the eyes of the blind, frees a possessed man to speak, and laments that the people are “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” In the face of this great need (“The harvest is plentiful”), Jesus urges us to pray for God to send workers out to bear God’s healing and grace into the world.

This Sunday we take up the middle portion of Jesus’ instructions to his followers whom he sends into the world to announce the reign of God and make it visible by healing the sick and releasing people from bondage. Having warned the disciples of the hostility and persecution that will encounter, he now urges them (and us) not to be afraid, nor to turn back. In Matthew’s Gospel, we have heard Jesus’ call to live the reign of God, and seen the fruit of God’s dawning governance in the healing and rescue of the people. Now we are sent to participate in that mission. Like workers standing in a field ripe for harvest, there is opportunity to be agents of God’s grace and mercy wherever we turn. But when we face resistance and rejection we should not be surprised, for we know how the rulers of this world treated our teacher – nor should we fear, for we know God’s faithfulness.

The Prayer for June 22, 2014

Gracious God,
you have sent us into the world
to bear witness to your way and your promise.
Grant us courage to be faithful in our witness
and to stand confidently in your promise
that though the world may reject you, you will not turn from us,
but have declared your lordship even over the hairs of our head

The Texts for June 22, 2014

First Reading: Jeremiah 20:7-13
“O Lord, you have enticed me, and I was enticed.” – The prophet raises a lament towards God for assigning him a message of judgment and destruction that has resulted in nothing but hostility and persecution. And when he tries to be silent, God’s message burns like a fire within him.

Psalmody: Psalm 69:7-10 [11-15] 16-18
“Zeal for your house that has consumed me; the insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.” – The poet cries out to God in the midst of persecution and trouble.

Second Reading: Romans 6:1b-11
“Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!”
– In the course of setting forth his message that all are justified (in a right relationship with God) by grace (God’s merciful action) through faith (trusting God’s promise), Paul anticipates the objections of his opponents that if our sin shows how great is God’s mercy, why not continue to sin? Such a notion is rejected because joined with Christ in baptism we have entered into a new reality. We have come under Christ’s dominion, being transferred from the realm of sin and death and living now in the realm of grace and life.

Gospel: Matthew 10:24-39
“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth; I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” – the path of discipleship is not an easy one. The world will resist God’s claim on life, but the followers of Jesus are sent as agents of God’s transforming justice and mercy.