Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him, saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’ Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand? If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace. So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Luke 14:25-33

As we look at this passage, First Jesus is heading to Jerusalem. He knows what he is heading there to do. He know what the Cross is and what it means. DEATH. We are know that he is traveling with a large crowd. So his Questions here are specific. He wants to know who is a FAN or who is a Disciple. I often wonder this on occasion for myself. Am I a fan or a Disciple. Most people would probably say they are a fan of Jesus. That he said some inspiration stuff and did some good deeds. But would you follow him. Would you trust him and go where he was going?

Jesus mentions we must hate our family and friends. In some translation it is “Love me more than”. The Point is we have to give up or let of something to follow him.

I think the parables he gives are important because it realize who we follow and what we do matters. Notice how in both parables Jesus says “sit down and consider.” In the busy world we live in today. How often do we sit down and consider what we do, who we follow, where our money is going? etc. If you want specific answers from me, go else where. You need to answer these questions for yourself.

So back to the question at hand. What is the Cost of following Jesus?

I found this wonderful piece that I graciously borrowed from some Franciscan Sisters in North Dakota. It certainly gives me a starting place to begin sitting down and counting.

“GIVE UP ALL YOUR POSSESSIONS,TAKE THE CROSS AND FOLLOW ME”
† Give up judging others; take up the Christ dwelling in them
† Give up emphasis on our differences; take up our oneness
† Give up the darkness around us; take up the light of Christ
† Give up ill thoughts; take up the healing power of God
† Give up words that pollute; take up words that purify
† Give up discontent; take up gratitude
† Give up withholding anger; take up sharing our feelings
† Give up pessimism; take up optimism
† Give up worry; take up trust
† Give up guilt; take up freedom
† Give up complaining; take up appreciation
† Give up stress; take up self-care
† Give up hostility; take up letting go
† Give up bitterness; take up forgiveness
† Give up selfishness; take up compassion for others
† Give up discouragement; take up seeing the good
† Give up apathy; take up enthusiasm
† Give up suspicion; take up seeing the good
† Give up idle gossip; take up spreading good news
† Give up being so busy; take up quiet silence
† Give up problems; take up prayerful trust
† Give up talking; take up listening
† Give up trying to be in control; take up letting go.

 

Grace and Peace to you on your journey toward Discipleship.

Happy Easter!

Luke 24:1-12

The Resurrection of Jesus

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. The women were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, ‘Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be handed over to sinners, and be crucified, and on the third day rise again.’ Then they remembered his words, and returning from the tomb, they told all this to the eleven and to all the rest. Now it was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the other women with them who told this to the apostles. But these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. But Peter got up and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; then he went home, amazed at what had happened.”

Jesus is Risen. He has Risen Indeed Alleuia!

In case you weren’t aware. Jesus was dead. So when we talked about the Resurrection it should shock us. It should be so astounding we scratch are heads a little. Today and Every Sunday we celebrate this great mystery of faith: that Christ has died, Christ is Risen, Christ will come again.

The mystery of the Resurrection is so profound that we spend a whole season of the church year talking about it.. Even then I don’t think we quite understand what the impact of Jesus Christ Rising from the dead means to us. I can tell you the one thing I do know. Jesus was not a Zombie or Vampire, because a Zombies and Vampires are the walking dead. Jesus is very much Alive. And When the risen Jesus meets the disciples he bears the marks of his death on the cross. He is not a new being but the same Jesus who was died and is now Alive. When talking about Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ we must proclaim and be clear. Death and Resurrection are not just mere metaphors or similes. What happened and what we celebrate is a reality that changed human history.

Christ’s Death and Resurrection break through this reality and boldly declare that Death and Sin do not have the last word. That God did not abandon us but came to love us and prove the creator of the universe can create something new in us. Before, “Death” was it, final, finite, done, no start over. And because of Sin, death was our inevitable end. However through Christ we find life. In Jesus who conquered death and the grave we receive promised life. This new life starts now because through the cross in which Christ endured, Sin and death no longer have a hold on us.

Just look at the past week’s headlines and you will find death and sin all around. It can be easy to turn cynical and lose faith in humanity and even God. But, God has called you to this place today to hear the Good News of the Risen Jesus. To hear of Christ’s victory of death and sin. To hear and know that not even death can separate you from God’s Love.  If you have doubts about who Jesus is or whether this whole resurrection thing is real. You are in good company. Those first disciples were not expecting a miracle. Their Hopes and dreams died with Jesus on the cross.

We are reminded in the scripture lesson today that the Women were not expecting the risen Jesus. As the Angels ask the women. “Why do you search for the living among the dead? He is not here, He is Risen.” These women weren’t searching for anyone living. They were looking for a very much dead and stiff Jesus, one to whom they were bringing spices and oils to cover up the smell of death. We give the Disciples a hard time about not believing Jesus was alive but they weren’t idiots, people being raised from the dead didn’t just happen. They had just seen Jesus die on the cross, in agony and pain. They were sad, heart broken, scared and still had not wrapped their heads around Jesus being dead.

Here is the hope we find in this among these people. That Jesus shows up, even to doubters. That he continues to show up again and again as we continue reading Encounters of the Risen Jesus throughout the Easter season. This is beginning of the disciple knowing that Jesus is Alive. We don’t have to get this great mystery right away. Jesus continues to reveal himself in the midst of doubts and fears. The hope is that the Risen Jesus brings new hope and dreams that are greater and bigger than the ones left on the cross. Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia! Amen!!

Dante's Inferno
We have been discussing the 7 deadly sin for Lent. It has been very powerful for me to reflect on each of the sins along with their virtues. Pride, Envy, Anger/Rage, Sloth, Greed/Avarice, Gluttony, Lust. Each sins draws us away from God and towards Darkness. I fear as I look around I see all these Sins. Most particularly I see Anger. I see the way we are blinded by rage caused from our Pride (thinking we know better than God) and our Envy (our constantly comparing ourselves to others in a harmful way). We are lacking the virtues God gives us to set ourselves toward the God who loved into existence. The virtues of Humility, of Admiration and of Forgiveness. I pray, we come to know that we cannot fix the world by our own power but trust and rely on the wisdom and strength that only comes from God. I pray, we stop tearing each other down and indeed build each other up. Look for the good in each and every person that God created. I pray, we realize that God created each of us for a specific purpose and that we are not consumed by trying to out do each other for our own selfish gain. We are in this together. I pray, we most of all to forgive. Not Forgive and Forget but, do the hard work of forgiveness in which we share ourselves and hold eachother accountable so we can move forward into new relationship and newness of life. The God who loved us into existence doesn’t need anything from us but just desires us to turn towards him(or her) to live the life that really is life.

I recently had to give a funeral sermon in my preaching class for a victim of Domestic Abuse. I chose to write a sermon for fictional person named Gloria. She was 22 years old. A childcare worker and part-time college student with a bright future. Unfortunately she was killed by her boyfriend. Although fictional you could insert anybody you know into this sermon because abuse happens everywhere. It is an all to common occurrence. I use Paul’s passage on Love from 1 Corinthians 13 because Paul is exhorting a people deeply divided. Abuse deeply divides and damages the world we live in. We are called to a love deep and sacrificial. Abuse is not Love.

1 Cor 13:1-8a, 12-13 (NRSV)

13 If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast,[a] but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends…12 For now we see in a mirror, dimly,[b] but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. 13 And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

 

The statistics say 1 in 4 women experience Domestic Violence. Well Gloria is not a statistic. Her life was taken from us and today we remember her as A Child of God, a loving daughter and a friend. We are angry, heartbroken and overwhelmed trying to make sense of her tragic death. Maybe we are feeling guilty, like we could have done something. We wait in expectation demanding justice for Gloria. Today, Death has left its sting on us. “She lies here today because of hate. She lives in our hearts because of love. Embrace love because only love can heal the hurt we feel today.”

And not any kind of love but the kind of love that is a deep, meaningful, abiding love. A gift from God, the kind of love the unites us and comforts us as we remember Gloria for the fun loving, life-filled, caring person she was. The kind of love in which Jesus holds Gloria now. A Love that is patient, kind, slow to anger, and abounding in grace.

Of course it doesn’t change the fact that we live in a broken world. That Gloria is no longer with us. We live in a world where Love is distorted and defined in shallow and insignificant ways. This passage on love reminds us what we know is true that everything we do is meaningless without love. Life is not life unless it has Love. Love brings joy, peace and meaning.

Let me be perfectly clear, Abuse of any kind is not love, it only brings destruction and hate. No excuse or circumstance excuses abusive behavior. It brings misery to everyone it touches, victim and abuser. It has no place in the kingdom of heaven. It makes me angry that Gloria is dead because somebody’s view of love is control, harassment and violence. It makes me angry that Gloria isn’t the only one to die from abuse. Yes, Gloria suffered but it wasn’t because God didn’t love her. God is grieving with us.

In the midst of this sinful world, God loves us so much that he sent us his only son, Jesus Christ. To this sinful world, Christ came for both victim and abuser, oppressed and oppressor. To bring life, To show us how to live in love. He endured the cross and died, he knows our pains, hurts, sorrows and sense of injustice. He loves us deeply and intimately. And because of Christ we Live. Because of Christ’s love we are not longer separated from God and Life. There is hope in the Resurrection. Because Christ conquered death we know that Death will not have the last say, that injustice we will not be the last word. That Gloria is loved deeply not just by us by our creator who holds each and everyone of us.

Her parents told me that Gloria always saw the best in people, that she smiled often and she loved her work. Gloria loved Children, She wanted to be a teacher. She worked at a day care part time while going to school and Her colleagues saw the gifts she had, that she was somehow able to love even the toughest Child. She demonstrated love to others in an extraordinary way. Maybe it was that sense of hopeful expectation that helped her endure the violence her boyfriend inflicted upon her.

We prayed often for her safety and I wish I could have done more for her. Her family did all they could to help Gloria in her volatile relationship. It pains us to see that evil has seemingly prevailed. The minutes, hours, days and years to come will be filled with loss, anger and fog. We are left with questions and pain. Maybe the biggest question we have is, what do we do now?

We can trust that Gloria is with God, that she is at peace. We can trust that God’s love is more powerful than one person’s violent act. We can trust that God’s love will prevail despite Gloria having to lose her life on this earth.

We can love. The Apostle Paul gives us this description of love not as a romantic gesture but he gives this description of love to a community divided. To a community much like us in need of guidance to understand and live out Love the way God intended. It is difficult to understand love completely in the midst of violence. A love that is patient, kind, and seeks out others. A love that deep and wide. A love that is given freely and never exhausted. This love is can be a mystery to us but we can only love because Christ first loved us. We can learn to love because through the Holy Spirit, Christ moves in and through our hearts, comforting, sustaining and transforming us at this very moment.

We can share Gloria’s story of pain and struggle so that others know they are not alone in the prison of domestic violence. Abuse is not something that happens to somebody else now, It has happened to us. It has affected each and everyone of us here. We can be advocates. We can support each other. We can seek help for ourselves and others. If you are being abused, don’t wait to seek help. God loves you and it is not your fault. If you an abuser, God’s love you and desires that you not hurt yourself or others, seek help and forgiveness. If you are family or friend do not remain silent, listen, show trust and be a place of safety and healing. Together through God’s grace we can be a sign life in the midst of this death.

We can honor her memory by trusting in God’s mercy and living the Love that God intends for each and every one of us and helping others to do the same.

Let us Pray,

Lord we thank God for Gloria’s life. We give you thanks for the many hearts she touched and the way she loved. We are angry and sadden by the events that led up to her death. God grant us Justice, Grant us forgiveness, Grant us peace. We pray for all those in abusive relationships victim and abuser give them courage to stop the cycle of violence. Give them hope for future. Give us strong voices to those that have none. We commend Gloria to you trusting in your infinite grace and mercy. Amen.

The Wedding Banquet Parable (Matthew 22:1-14)

22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, ‘Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.’ But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, mistreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, ‘The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.’ 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 “But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.”

The Wedding Banquet parable is one of the most difficult parables to interpret and fully understand. In the Christian faith, we wrestle with the cognitive dissonance of grace and judgment. On one hand, we have a King who offers lavish invitation to everyone especially to those we most likely would not expect and on the other hand, there is clear judgment to those who choose not to come and those who come unprepared.

In reading Thomas Long’s commentary of Matthew[1], he notes that this parable has two parts. The first part can be seen as an allegory for the history of God and Israel. Each character and event serves a purpose and meaning. In this Story the King is God, the banquet is the Kingdom of God, the servants are prophets, the guests who declined are Israel and the destruction of the city is the destruction of the temple in 70AD.

As we look at the second half of the parable we do notice the extravagant grace of the King to invite everyone. Throughout the parable, the servants were sent out several times. We know that some people will reject the invitation and even hurting or killing the servants. The guests who eventually arrive at the end of the parable are labeled as both bad and good. The servants were called to invite guests regardless of their status because the king asked for everyone. The task of invitation is the continual role of the servant in God’s Kingdom. As the church today, we are called to invite people to the banquet, as expressed later in Matthew in the great commission.

This invitational task is important, but significant questions arise when we look at the guest who was rejected. This last guest is thrown out for not have a wedding robe. Our immediate reaction is that the King is harsh because how can a poor person be expected to show up to a party with a wedding robe. The wedding robe must have more significance as everything else in the story is ripe with meaning. Thomas Long[2] points out that the wedding robe could be the new clothes we receive in Christ Jesus through Baptism as noted in Galatians 3:27. Additionally, In the Africa Bible commentary[3], the author notes that cultural expectation for most weddings were already known and required of a person invited to a banquet or party. Dressing well and behaving appropriately were assumed. The guest obviously did not meet expectations. For this guest, maybe it wasn’t just the robe but how he was acting. Looking at these two things in regards to the guest who was rejected it raises questions about how the others in the story interacted with the thrown out guest. It raises questions for us about how we communicate the gospel invitation to the feast as servants and how we treat others as fellow guests at the feast.

 

A good task for exploring scripture and particularly parables is to look at each of the roles and imagine ourselves in those roles and then ask good questions.

 

Take a moment to read each question and ponder the answer. Take your time. If you want you can read the parable again. Since we all guests at God’s Banquet Feast let’s start there.

Who invited you to the feast? How were you greeted? Did you know what to wear? Or how to act? Who gave you or how did you get your clothing? Who told how to act? What did the other guests say to you?

You are now the servant.

How do you invite others to the wedding feast? What did the guests need to know? What did you assume people knew about the feast? Did you not invite people for whatever reason? How did you greet the guests as they entered the feasting hall?

And lastly as the rejected guest.

Who invited you to the feast? How were you greeted by the servants? By the others guests? Did you feel out of place? Why didn’t you have your robe? Who taught you how to behave at a wedding?

 

The scripture does not offer concrete answers for these questions but, often in asking questions it leads us to the answers we might be seeking. It is good to ask questions of ourselves. It is good to ask questions of those we hope hear the invitation to the feast that is the church. What burdens or expectations do we or should place on our guests. What does it mean to be a guest at God’s Feast?

Prayer

Lord, King of the Banquet Feast,
You call us as guests to your feast even though we may not be worthy. You call us as servants to invite others to your marvelous feast. Help us to be mindful of other guests so that they too may be worthy and join in the festivities of your love. Forgive us if we neglect to tell, show or teach of your love to others. For you desire everyone to partake and desire not one to be rejected. Amen.

[1] Long, Thomas G. Matthew. Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press, 1997. 246.

[2] Ibid., p. 247.

[3] Adeyemo, Tokunboh. “Matthew.” In Africa Bible Commentary, 1157. Nairobi, Kenya: WordAlive Publishers ;, 2006.