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Sunday, September 25, 2016

Do You See Me Now?

Luke 16:19-31
            What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the dead? What changes in our lives when the realization strikes that Jesus came as one of us, and that he was crucified, died, and rose again?
            I saw a video on the internet the other day. It showed this incident I’m about to describe to you, which took place on the street of a city – it could have been Baltimore, D.C., Wilmington – it could have been any city – even Easton.
            A man is lying on the sidewalk in the doorway of what appears to be a vacant store. Right next door there are classy shops and an upscale restaurant. The man appears to be homeless. He’s dirty, his hair is long and stringy. He’s wearing long pants but he’s barefoot, and has no shirt.
            People walk by and cars pass through the scene. The homeless man is trying to sleep, there on the sidewalk, under the small amount of protection provided by the fa├žade of the building. Another man enters the scene.
            At first he might be going to pass by, too. But then he hesitates.  He stops and looks down. He speaks to the man who is lying there, asks if he is okay. Then he reaches into a plastic bag and pulls out a pair of brand new socks. He hands these to the man.  
            The homeless man looks confused at first, then begins to reject this gift. But the Good Samaritan insists and soon, the homeless man is pulling on his new pair of socks, while the guy tells him there is another pair right here, and he’s putting them in the sack pack he is carrying, along with some other items, then he gives the man the sack pack and a pair of canvas shoes as well.
            Finally, the homeless man stands up, new socks and shoes covering his worn feet, thanking his benefactor for his kindness, when his new friend takes off the t-shirt he is wearing and insists on his neighbor putting the shirt on, too. “It smells good!” the recipient declares, after pulling the shirt over his head and slips the sack pack over his shoulder. The two men embrace and the giver of these gifts ask the man if he can pray with him.  
            What difference does it make in our lives to confess that we are not only followers but disciples of Christ?  Through the parable in our Gospel text this morning, we see what difference it could make.   
            You might have gotten the idea by now, from the various accounts and stories in the gospel of Luke, that Jesus didn’t have much use for money.  The wealthy in this gospel are often depicted in negative ways, and it makes us uncomfortable.
Jesus is definitely not neutral in his attitude about money – and we who, even if we are living paycheck-to-paycheck, are still among the wealthiest people in the world today, find this offensive. What is wrong with having money?
Here we have another parable about how wealth cannot save you, and about how what we do in life tells a story about where our greatest allegiance lies.  This isn’t a story designed to point to the after-life, as much as to highlight that how we live in the here and now reflects the nature of our relationship with Jesus, and that the choices we make matter.
            The main character is “dressed in purple and fine linen and feasted sumptuously every day.” Linen cloth was very expensive in the first century world of Judea. And purple was a color reserved for royalty or for the very well-connected.
So right off the bat we see that this man is not just comfortable/rich, but might be called one of the “one percent”.
            On the other hand, the second character in the parable is someone people would want to avoid. He lies at the gate, day and night. He is covered with sores. He is the man in the doorway.
Needing to depend upon the kindness of others – even if it would simply come in the form of cast-off left-overs from the richly laden tables of the rich man, he is denied even that.
People pass him by every day. Every single day, coming and going from his estate, the rich man passes him, too. Yet he never acknowledges him, never lends him a hand, never extends a kindness. It is as if he is invisible.
Yet, the dogs notice him; they at least lick at his sores. This poor man, whose name we later learn is Lazarus –  was so hungry, that he would have been happy for the scraps that fell off the rich man’s table, which those dogs scrambled to consume.
To add insult to injury, imagine him lying there, starving, yet as those dogs come around to lick his wounds, he is able to smell the lingering scent of the food scraps he would die for - on the dogs’ breath.
Ultimately, the poor man, Lazarus, dies and he finds himself in the benevolent company of the patriarch, Abraham. His agony is turned to bliss as he is welcomed, comforted, embraced, and fed with heavenly food.
The rich man also dies, but his outcome is not nearly as good. In fact, it diverges as far as possible from that of the formerly pathetic cripple Lazarus he ignored all that time.
While in life he enjoyed all the comforts, status, food, drink, fancy clothes, and rings for his fingers that he could possibly desire, in death he is stripped of every good thing and finds himself in agony.
Rather than humbled by this turn in fortune, the rich man still sees himself as superior, still sees himself as deserving the ministrations of a person like Lazarus. But death is the great equalizer. It comes to all of us and none of the wealth, goods or status we have amassed in life, can follow us to the grave.
When the rich man spots Lazarus in the company of Abraham he fails to comprehend his own true predicament. He fails to fully understand the great impenetrable chasm that separates him from Lazarus.
What we learn from his exchange with Abraham is that the rich man’s money and his status did not exactly blind him to the need of Lazarus. His use of Lazarus’ name reveals the truth; he knows who Lazarus is, which means he saw Lazarus’ plight all along. He could have helped him. He could have eased his suffering. But he chose not to. He did nothing to relieve his thirst or the ache in his belly.
Even now the rich man still acts like a king, ordering Abraham to tell Lazarus to serve him. He just doesn’t get it. Even now, on the other side of the curtain between life and death, the rich man clings to his pretentions.
            When Abraham shows him the error in his thinking and the finality that death brings, the rich man demonstrates no remorse – still expecting preferential treatment for the sake of his brothers who are still living. Tell them, he says, tell them what they must do so that they don’t end up like me.
            Abraham replies, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them. If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”
            What difference does it make that Jesus rose from the dead? What changes in our lives because we know this Jesus, who came as one of us, and was crucified, died, and rose again?
            Jesus changes everything, because in love and mercy for the whole world, Jesus does take sides.  We are the ones who have the law and the prophets and have now seen God’s compassion embodied in the life of Jesus.
Throughout the gospel Jesus tells us to look out with the same compassion - for our neighbor, whomever that might be; the homeless, the destitute, the lonely, the refugee, the outcast, the addict, the migrant worker, the blind, the lame, the needful, acting-out child or teen, the barely-hanging on ex-con; just as Jesus consistently looked out for the marginalized, the downtrodden, the cast-away sinners.
Jesus holds us to what is at the heart of the Law that God, through Moses, brings: love of neighbor; unrelenting care for the poor, the widow, the foreigner.
Jesus reminds us that what was expected of the rich man, what is expected from us, is not new.  It reveals the fundamental character of God, enacted in Jesus, demanded of the disciples, that there be no invisible downtrodden.
We are to seek out, see, and respond to those in need, share the love of God and God’s preferential care for those who are powerless and vulnerable. We are to use our resources for their sake and for the sake of the world.
Each week as we gather here, we celebrate around the table Jesus’ victory over the grave.  Nourished in the Spirit we are sent from here to make choices which are shaped by the compassion, love, forgiveness, and mercy of God through Jesus Christ.
What difference does it make in our lives to confess that we are not only followers but disciples of Christ?
It makes all the difference in the world. As followers of the crucified and Risen Lord, we live our lives as disciples of Christ by doing what Jesus did. Doing like the man in the video did.
We share our resources. We operate out of gratitude for the abundant life God has given us in Jesus Christ; we are freed to be alert to the need around us. We see the man asleep in the doorway. Rather than judge why he is there, we respond in Christ-like love to his need.
We do not do this alone. We do this as members of a community, the body of Christ, God’s hands and feet in the world. Disciples live in response to the love, care, and wealth with which Jesus blesses us for the sake of the world.
We might not consider ourselves rich, but in that case we are not looking very closely in the mirror. Our perception may be warped by the powers and principalities around us that skew our vision and self-understanding. The truth is that for each of us in this place this morning, we have opportunities and access, we have choices and resources. And that is simply not true for everyone.
The great chasm that existed between the rich man and Lazarus in death might have been impenetrable, but the deep chasm between the rich and the poor today is penetrable. There is a dichotomy in a world where many of us have multiple cars, the latest smartphones, ginormous TVs, perhaps more than one, nice houses with park-like lawns to care for, yet where, in January 2015, 564,708 people were homeless on any given night in our country alone, and 206,286 of those were families; 83,170 were considered chronically homeless.
Lazarus lives today in our neighbors right here and far away. And we have the ability and the responsibility to see them, to embrace them, to give them warm socks and shoes for their feet, sometimes even the shirt off our backs, a hug and a prayer.
The glory of the gospel of Jesus Christ blesses us with abundant life that comes from seeing those around us as God’s beloved children hungering and thirsting for our compassion, care and fellowship. The blessing of the gospel enables us, in love, to risk taking off our shirts to fill the need in our brother’s and sister’s life. The hope and assurance of the gospel is that we will all, one day, be welcomed, comforted, and blessed in the afterlife as was Lazarus himself not because of what we have done, but because of what Christ has done in and for us.   

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

How Jesus Calls Us to Disappoint

Luke 16:1-3
          We are in that place in the gospel of Luke, where we are awash in the parables of Jesus.
You might remember that the thing about parables is that they frequently begin with every day, recognizable situations for the people of Jesus’ time. They begin with life as they -or we- know it, and end with visions of life as God intends it to be, the life that is, even now, coming to fruition through Jesus. But due to their peculiar nature, parables can be challenging to interpret and understand.
Such is the case with the Parable of the Unjust Steward, known as the most difficult parable to understand. I’m sure you can see why. 
The parable begins with a common scene in the world of Jesus and his friends. There is a manager who works for a rich man. This manager, or steward, is responsible for managing the affairs of the rich man.
Somehow, justified or not, charges have been made that this manager is not only not doing a good job but that he is in fact “squandering” the rich man’s property. Squandering means not making the most of the resources; it sometimes involves failing to either protect or grow the value of the investment.
The rich man, who does care about his investment, lets the guy know he’s going to sack him. “You need to turn over the books and leave.”
There are a couple of things to remember about the social world of Jesus’ time. The first is that by and large there are two classes. There are the very rich and there are the very poor.
The second thing to know is that this is an honor/shame society, meaning that a hierarchy existed that undergirded all of life, and within this hierarchy, honor was the currency of the time. Honor was as real a commodity as gold or silver or the most valuable spice, and was treasured at least as much. The higher the status you had, the more honor and therefore the more power you held.
A system of patronage operated, where people of higher status, like landowners and merchants, could act as “patrons” to those lower down the ladder of status, like craftsmen, by hiring them to provide goods and services; they could choose to act charitably on those on the lower rungs, thus earning both honor and favor. Everybody owed somebody something and a delicate balance of favor and reciprocity was maintained.That's an important point to remember: everybody owed somebody something.
In his role as manager, the main character in this parable has benefited from this hierarchy. But that is all about to change. “What will I do now that my master is taking the position away from me?”
This isn’t a simple, “will I be able to collect unemployment?” kind of question.
It’s more like a kind of, “how will I live?” kind of question.
Because there is no aid for the unemployed, there is no subsidy, there is no cushion. He is about to fall, and fall fast.
So, he thinks to himself, "I'm not about to do manual labor!" And he sure as heck doesn’t see himself begging. He knows that with the loss of his job and therefore his status, there go his “friends.” How will he live? What future will he have?
So of course, he develops this scheme to mark down the amounts owed by his boss’ debtors. This serves him in several important ways – he avoids the shameful options, like needing to beg; he maintains status - he transfers the debtors’ gratitude and favor to himself; he develops a system of reciprocal hospitality between himself and the merchants, and finally, unbelievably, he wins the approval of his master who sees his shrewdness and approves his ability to assess his situation and act on it to preserve his future.
Jesus tells us this story and we are confused, because he seems to hold the actions of this man as being of some kind of twisted example of virtue.
As I was thinking about this puzzling story and why Jesus would a) tell it; and b) approve what the manager has done, it came to me. It makes perfect sense. The reason that Jesus “likes” this story of the unjust steward who many of us see as a crook, is that at the heart of it all, Jesus is a crook!    
I’m not being irreverent or disrespectful here. The truth of the matter is that our controversial, subversive, scandalous Lord Jesus is, himself, a crook! He consistently disappoints our expectations by revealing that those things we value most have absolutely no value in the kingdom of God.
Robert Capon writes, “The unjust steward is nothing less than the Christ-figure in this parable, a dead-ringer for Jesus himself. First of all, he dies and rises like Jesus. Second, by his death and resurrection, he raises others, like Jesus. But third and most important of all, the unjust steward is the Christ-figure because he is a crook, just like Jesus.” [1]
This parable is offensive, and it tells us what the life of Jesus showed us. Jesus was scandalous, not respectable;
·        he frequently acted counter to secular, cultural or religious Law and mores.
o   he broke the Sabbath
o   he robbed us of our expectations, coming as a helpless, vulnerable baby, and not a sword-an-power-wielding king.
Further, Jesus demonstrated his criminality when, like Robin Hood he reversed the fortunes of the people.
At the very beginning of Luke’s gospel, Mary warns of the reversal God is about to bring: “he has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”
Jesus robs the status quo when he promised that the “last would be first and the first would be last.” Further,  
·        Jesus took away our right to judge others when he normalized eating and consorting with sinners
·        Jesus took away the power of demons and
·        he defeated Satan

Jesus the crook has confounded our expectations time and again as he has turned our worldly expectations upside down through his words, by his actions, with his love and mercy toward all, and finally, at the cross.
Jesus was a crook.
·        He died a criminal crucified between two other criminals.
·        But he stole power away from the cross by making it the instrument of his glory
·        He stole away the sting from Death.
·        Through the resurrection he robbed death of its power to hold us
·        And just a minor thing after all of that – but, in the ascension, Jesus even robbed earth’s gravity the ability to hold onto him.
The dishonest manager cleverly took in the larger picture. He understood what he wanted for his future – security – and he used what was entrusted to him to serve this larger goal. He understood that in order to be where he wanted to in the future, what he did today mattered.
King Solomon wrote in his proverbs: “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” (Pr.29:18)
Jesus understood the larger vision of salvation he was committed to. He did what he had to do to secure it. In commending the actions of the steward, Jesus invites us to think about the vision for the kingdom of God, and to use the resources God gives us in faithful service to the same. This is scary. It is unsettling. It’s just like a crook to lay this on us.
Helen Montgomery Debevoise writes, “We are not only entrusted with a vision of the Kingdom of heaven; we are given the treasures of the King! Even in the present age, with the imperfect treasures of this world, we are stewards of God. However we use what we have before us, we should use these gifts in light of our eternal relationship with God.
“The parable warns that the children [of the light] have lost that eternal perspective of who God is and who we are in relationship to God. Too easily we separate life as it is now from life in the future kingdom. Not long ago we shouted, “He is alive!” but already we are whispering our faith because we do not quite believe it anymore.
“Somewhere in our journey we stopped living for Christ. We stopped believing that Jesus died and was resurrected and that life was made new. Somewhere along the way it became easy to serve all those pressing demands: of people, of schedule, of money. Somewhere along the way, the vision for God’s call became cloudy and muddled. We stopped hearing God’s voice and joined the crazy survivor-takes-all mentality….This is the crisis Jesus addresses in his parable. The children of light have lost the vision of God. It is easy to grow complacent about responsibilities God gives us. The parable is a call to reclaim who we are and to renew our vision today of the kingdom of God beyond us and among us.”[2]
Jesus became a crook so that the kingdom of God would be formed in the image that God intended, a kingdom where God’s mercy, grace and love are known by all people. Jesus became a crook so that he might take away the sin of the world.
No doubt this parable will still make us uncomfortable. You may even be peeved that I called Jesus a crook. But, when you think about it, it’s true. Jesus became a crook for the sake of the world.
With this parable in mind, we ask ourselves: how might God be calling us to creative, shrewd use of the gifts and talents God has entrusted to us? God owes us nothing, but we owe our very lives and our salvation to God. How will we respond? What difference does it make to our lives and to the world to understand the depths to which God went to bring about this subversive, scandalous, kingdom, ruled by Christ the crook of all creation?

O Lord, you call us to kingdom work in a world that belongs not to us, but to you. Grant us the vision and the wisdom to see this kingdom as you see it, not as the children of this age tell us it should be. Inspire us to participate in the scandalous story of the cross and to careful stewardship of all you have given us to use, for the sake of Jesus, our marvelously crooked savior and Lord. Amen.

[1] -Robert Farrar Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus, (Eerdmans, 2002) pp 307-309.

[2] [2] Helen Montgomery Debevoise, contributor, Feasting on the Word, Year C, Volume 4, p. 96. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, editors. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press), 2010

Friday, September 16, 2016

We Are Lost and Found People

Luke 15:1-10
            So, I have to confess what anyone who spends much time around me already knows; I lose things. A lot.
I am simply forever misplacing things. Actually, it is not so much that I mis-place them as that I mis-remember where I put stuff from time to time.  The other thing is, and can’t emphasize this enough - I swear this is true sometimes, some things – my glasses, my keys, a certain paper that I need to locate, the left shoe of the pair I intended to wear today – will sprout legs and walk away when I am not looking, losing themselves – truly - but making me look really bad in the process. Perhaps some of you have had similar experiences. If so, my condolences.
When it happens that I cannot locate that missing thing, it leads to what becomes a sometimes long and involved search, hunting expedition, or even a quest to find what has gone missing.
Even when the cost in time and energy of the search itself far exceeds the value of the lost item, I simply can’t let go of the challenge of finding it. And when I find it, no matter how small a thing it is, I am nearly always giddy with relief, and happy to have found the missing item. Finding what is lost somehow makes me feel happy, complete, and maybe a little vindicated.
Even if you aren’t a habitual lost-and-found player in your everyday life like me, you probably have that story, the one that sticks out for you, of the time when you lost something – large or small, animate or inanimate.
So, think about an experience that sticks out the most in your memory of a time when you lost something. It could be animate or inanimate, large or small, something of monetary value or not.   What was that like for you? – what did you lose? What did it feel like to be missing the thing you valued, and how did it feel to find it?
Our gospel today begins with the Pharisees grumbling because Jesus is spending time with those people – the undesirable kind – the lost kind. So Jesus shares with them a couple of parables, lost-and-found stories, that begin with life as they know it and end with visions of life as God intends it to be, the life that is, even now, coming to fruition through Jesus.
The thing about parables is that they frequently begin with every day, recognizable situations for the people of Jesus’ time: a shepherd loses one of a flock of sheep; a woman loses one of her ten silver coins.
In the case of these parables, what unfolds is a depiction of absolute commitment to restore what was lost.
Jesus begins with a story about a lost sheep. One single, solitary sheep goes missing and the shepherd searches high and low to find it. Some might question why; they might judge a shepherd who would leave an entire flock unattended in order to find one missing animal.
But then Jesus turns the tables on those who might do so with the question – “which one of you,” he asks, would leave a lone sheep – defenseless and isolated – and not try to find and recover it? Who would leave it alone, to languish and die?
The shepherd neither waits for the sheep to realize it is lost and needs to return to the fold and then find its own way home, nor wastes time looking for backup – for help with the search or help looking after the rest of the flock. Instead, the shepherd takes initiative. The shepherd takes action and yes, he takes a risk. Ultimately, he finds the lost; saving it and restoring it was of the utmost importance. For the shepherd, it is and always will be worth the risk.
Likewise, in the story of the lost coin, the woman doesn’t wait for the lost coin to turn up in the laundry one day, or to eventually reveal itself in the pile of sweepings. She could do that, she could make do with the remaining nine silver coins and hope that the lost one eventually turns up. Instead she goes searching for it. She commits herself to doing everything she can to restore the lost coin to her purse.
            In perfect fidelity God searches out and pursues the lost. In these parables God is characterized first as the shepherd who searches out the sheep and saves it from danger, then lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. He is so giddy with relief and excitement and joy that he has to share it with neighbors and friends who will surely share in this happy occasion.
            Next, God is depicted as a woman who lights a lamp and then shines that light into every dark place, every dark corner, to try and flush out the single lost coin; then she also rejoices with great joy and throws a party for her friends so that they can celebrate with her. God is represented by both masculine and feminine images – as the universal character and love of God leaves no stone unturned to reestablish the placement of the lost back where it belongs.  
As we contemplate this text, we might look at it from various perspectives. We have already reflected with each other a little on what it feels like to lose something, and what it feels like to find it again. I can’t begin to imagine, truly, what it is like for God – when the stakes are so much higher – to save a lost one and return it to the fold.
Let’s think for a moment about what it feels like to be the lost one. What does it feel like to be lost, perhaps in despair of ever finding our way home? Perhaps your experience of being lost is to be, physically lost, but there are many other ways to be lost in our lives – perhaps being lost for you means battling addiction – yours or in someone you love; perhaps you have lost a relationship in its entirely, or perhaps you have lost the closeness or the trust you once felt for someone else. Perhaps you have lost your health, your youth, your job, your home. There are so many ways to be lost. Maybe it’s not such a stretch for you to imagine what being lost is like or to connect with a memory of being lost.
Back in a previous life, when I was doing medical lab work, I would have to look at slides of some body fluid or other under a microscope. It would be my job to diligently count things – bacteria, blood cells, other biological structures – and report what I had found. At times the element I was counting overwhelmed the slide. In those instances, the report I would make would be that the element was “too numerous to count.”
Too numerous to count are the instances of God’s forgiveness and love to God’s creation. Too numerous to count describes the sins of the world. Too numerous to count are the blessings and resources we are given to use and to share. Too numerous to count defines those instances when we were almost lost – but by the grace of God were rescued from the abyss.
Miraculously, God, who knows each and every one of us so intimately that he knows our sins better than we ourselves do, searches us out and finds us, in the bread and the wine, in the waters of baptism, in prayer and in times of silence, in the gift of community and in the shared stories and experiences of friends, in the kindness of strangers, and then with overwhelming joy, restores us to the fold, and calls the whole heavenly host to rejoice with him at the victory feast.
God’s love for us increases our worth and through Jesus, God shines the light in every dark place to rescue us from the dark and danger of our sin.
God has always been a God who seeks out the lost and redirects them in paths of light and life. In Jesus, the divine imperative of mercy extends to all people, as evidenced by these two parables.
Parables begin with the world we know and end in a world that is even now dawning upon us with metaphorical power. In the world we know – the world of mortal sin and loss, it is easy to stray. It is easy to become “lost.” But God never tires of seeking relationships or reconciliation--through the flood, in the wilderness, during the fall and exile of God’s people, to the incarnation of God’s son, the Messiah, Jesus Christ, who seeks us with his life, in his death, in his resurrection, and ascension…a miracle we remember each week when we participate in the meal of salvation in Jesus Christ.
As the shepherd sought out the sheep, God seeks us out, picks us up, and carries us safely home. It is with joy that God receives back into the fold or the purse those who had been lost.
The good news in the gospel is that God is about a new thing in Jesus, and we are witnesses and recipients of the great shepherd’s grace and mercy and love which knows no bounds, and leads to eternal joy. May we live our lives in this truth, trusting in God’s faithful promises, and rejoicing always in the gift we have been given.

Monday, September 5, 2016

No Haggle Pricing - How Much Does THIS Cost?

Luke 14:25-33; Psalm 1; Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father, from Jesus Christ our Lord, and from our Advocate, the Holy Spirit. Amen.

I have to acknowledge that beginning with such a greeting after hearing this gospel feels just plain weird.
“Grace, mercy and peace to you, but oh, yeah, to follow Jesus, you need to hate those who we have previously been commanded to love.” Is anyone else struggling with this seeming dichotomy?  This contradiction? With these words Jesus turns upside down our expectations of what grace and peace and mercy mean for us. Why? Why did Jesus say them?
If we look very deeply into the life of Jesus, we find that faithful discipleship is definitely not for the faint of heart, for those w

ho like to straddle the thin, white line, or for those who might think that if I just have enough faith, then discipleship is easy and its challenges will slip away and life will be filled with light, happiness, fulfillment, contentment and prosperity.
Instead, Jesus points out to us that there is a cost to discipleship. And the cost is steep, not to be taken lightly. This is not the first or only time that Jesus has driven home the point that true discipleship is not only costly, but those who follow Jesus, commit to a new modus operandi shaped by the cross. In fact Jesus has to repeatedly drive this point home, because The Way is so contrary to our nature, we of fainting hearts and a deep desire for comfort – even in our witness to the gospel.
While we may chafe against the reality of the demands of discipleship, the other scriptures paired with our gospel today indicate that this teaching is not new, it is simply reshaped for those of us who know Jesus as Lord, who have been transformed through his life, death, and resurrection.
Way back in the wilderness of exile and in those wandering years, Moses speaks to the Israelites who prepare to enter the Promised Land and he tells them that while they are soon to enter that place promised to their ancestors, there are choices that they will make that will lead either to life and prosperity, or to adversity and death.
Following God’s commandments will allow for life in the midst of the sometimes harsh and difficult realities of this world. Turning away from God will bring a unique kind of darkness that can never be penetrated by blessing or the light of true life, both for individuals and for community. This call to trust in God and to obey God’s commandments is for the good of all God’s creation.
In today’s gospel reading, Jesus speaks frankly about the serious costs of following the Way of the Cross – the way of Jesus – the way of discipleship.
But if you are like me, there is one particular word that sticks out in today’s text and gives you trouble, and that’s the word “hate,” in verse 26. Deep down, I ‘hate’ that very word and have a hard time imagining it coming from Jesus’ mouth, except to describe how he feels about sin – injustice – racism – and other sins of -uh, hatred.
After all, I stand here all the time and remind you that God is a God of love. Jesus’ greatest commandment is to what? – “to love God and to love one another as we love ourselves.”
So what room in this love-feast is there, for hate? Particularly hate mandated by Christ as a requirement of discipleship? Hate directed at our parents, our siblings, our spouse and children? Didn’t Jesus read the Bible? Doesn’t he know how the hatred of kin wreaked havoc in the Old Testament?
And yet, what does Jesus say his followers must do? Whom should they “hate?” – Father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sister, even life itself.
Wow. Faithful discipleship is NOT for the faint of heart. The question most of us probably wrestle with is, do we really have to follow this instruction to follow Jesus? Does Jesus mean this literally – the way so many of us process words? Can’t I follow Jesus and still love my family? My friends and neighbors? My life?
At this point I think it is helpful to know that the Hebraic understanding of the word Jesus uses here is something that requires single-minded loyalty. Jesus wants us to follow him, possessing such single-minded loyalty.
As followers of Christ, we cannot stand with one foot in the world and one foot on The Way. We cannot equally love our lives as they are and commit to being the disciples Jesus is calling us to be. Discipleship requires radically reorienting our priorities and our actions to single-minded loyalty to the way of Jesus.
While Jesus loved his friends and his mother and sisters and brothers he did not let his love for them keep him looking inward. He did not let it hold him back. Instead, Jesus looked outward, inviting them along, but making his primary action all about obeying the will of God.
Jesus calls his followers to look to the outside, to care more for the good of our neighbor than to the comfort of ourselves. That’s hard. That’s costly – it means giving up things that are very dear to us. It means recognizing that this work, this discipleship isn't about us at all. It I about, and for the sake of Christ.
Jesus calls this church to commit to reaching out, inviting in and opening ourselves up bearing the cost of all that discipleship requires, so that we and those who are not yet among us might see and know and be transformed by the radical love of God, and become disciples too.
Jesus calls Grace to be the church Jesus calls us to be, not overcome with preserving the status quo, nor immersing ourselves in the maintenance of the building that houses us or even the relationships that reside within. Rather Jesus is calling us to be of single-minded purpose – carrying the cross, and following him.
Jesus modeled how transformative mission worked. God has sent people into our world to show us what that kind of discipleship looks like.  
One of those was canonized a saint in the Roman Catholic church today.
While we as Protestants, as Lutherans, do not pray to or venerate saints as our Catholic sisters and brothers do, we do look upon them as examples of faithful living, as individuals who have answered Christ’s call and dedicated their lives to a particular kind of discipleship, and single minded loyalty to Christ.
Mother Teresa of Kolkata was no different from any of us; saint and sinner, bound and free, recipient of God’s grace, mercy and love. She made a particular choice to follow Jesus’ example by ministering to the poorest of the poor. In photos taken of her in her work, you constantly see her touching people – poor people, starving people, homeless people, AIDS victims, dying people, orphaned and abandoned children. Jesus needs us to bear the cost of touching people.
St. Augustine said, “There is no saint without a past, no sinner without a future.” Our past includes the relationships that moor us to our beginnings. Our challenge and the joy that Jesus is calling us to is moving us into a future with single-minded loyalty to Jesus, always looking outward, always reaching out to others for the sake of the kingdom of God.
Sometimes that looks like a life singularly dedicated to relieving the suffering of others, like Mother Teresa’s was. Sometimes that looks like providing lunches, and meals, and clothing, and quilts, and canned food, and hospitality for the stranger, the homeless, and the needy. It looks like ministries we haven’t yet even begun to imagine or explore.
Jesus calls us not to comfortable membership in this church, but to fearless discipleship in his name. Jesus calls us not to maintain the status quo, but to engage in radical hospitality and ministry that will transform our lives and the lives of others, for the sake of Jesus Christ. By God’s grace and mercy, God promises in the midst of all this to be with us, blessing us, challenging us, sending us saints to join the priesthood of all believers of which we are a part, so that others can know the goodness of God. Let it be so.