Thursday, September 29, 2016

How Big is Your Faith?

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 17th Chapter

The apostles said to the Lord, "Increase our faith!"  The Lord replied, "If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from plowing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'?  Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'?  Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?  So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!' "

How big is your faith?  Is it the size of the biggest seed, a 90 pound Sea Coconut?  I suppose if you have faith that big you could move a Giant Redwood!  Or is your faith more like the rain forest orchid seed, the smallest seed, which weighs only 1/35,000,000th of an ounce!  With that amount of faith you might only be able to uproot a very young radish.  

I’m not sure what size the disciples’ faith was, but it was clearly smaller than Mustard Seed sized.  We know that, because they couldn’t tell a Mulberry Tree to hike up it’s tree skirt and march down and plant itself in the ocean.  Oh, those wacky disciples!  It’s fun to laugh at them isn’t it?  After all, what kind of disciple doesn’t even have faith the size of a tiny Mustard Seed?!  It’s fun to laugh… except, of course, when you ask yourself as a disciple… Have YOU ever spoken to a Mulberry tree and got it to jump up and plant itself in the ocean?  I’ve pushed an old log out into a river before… but I don’t think that counts.     

So how big is your faith?  Is there any way to really know?  If you can uproot a turnip by talking to it, does that mean you have more faith than someone only able to uproot a radish?  Can you even uproot a tiny radish by talking to it with your faith?  It all sounds pretty silly and I think that was Jesus’ point.  By using this crazy image of uprooting trees and planting them in oceans… and by comparing faith to the size of something small that people buy and sell in a market, he was trying to tell us… FAITH ISN’T LIKE A SEED!  Faith isn’t a commodity.  It’s not something you can order up by the pound or the gallon.  

The disciples thought they needed to be filled up with faith in order to do what Jesus was calling them to do, but Jesus let them know that you don’t get faith the same way you get mustard seeds, cumin seeds or beans in the market.  Faith isn’t a commodity.  

But if it’s not a commodity… what is it?  Lots of folks think that faith is getting something right up here… in their heads… being filled with knowledge... believing that something is true even though it's unprovable or unbelievable.  But that’s not faith as Jesus knew it.  Faith isn’t being filled with the ability to believe the unbelievable.  Faith is a way of being.  Faith is being faith-full.  Being loyal and following God's leading in our day by day walking and living in the world lives.  Faith is a trust that God's way of living is so right that you don't have any fears or anxiety about where you're headed.  It's seeing yourself, the people around you and all of creation through God’s eyes and living life out of that vision.    

Because Jesus knew what real faith was, Jesus let the disciples know that thinking they needed to be filled up with faith BEFORE they went out to do God’s work in the world didn’t make any sense.  To show this even more, Jesus tells a story that reverses the roles of a master and a servant.  Just like the master serving the servant is backwards, so is their idea that they needed to be filled up with faith before following Christ out into the world.

It’s like wanting to play the guitar and believing that as soon as the spirit of Les Paul comes and fills me up with “talent”… THEN I’ll be able to play the guitar!  But that’s not the way it works, is it?  If I really wanted to play the guitar... if I really want “talent”… what’s the only way to get it?  Yeah!  I’ve got to go PLAY the guitar... a LOT!  

Jesus is telling us that if we want to be faith-FULL, if we want to have lives filled with peace, contentment and purpose… if we want to have lives radically centered in God, the way to do that is to start living our lives peacefully, contentedly and purposefully!  In short, if we want to be full of faith, the way to do that is to go out there and start playing our lives faith-FULL-y... a LOT!

But what if we don't play life perfectly… what if we don’t do it right?  Well, WHEN that happens… not IF but WHEN… remember the disciples.  Jesus wasn’t looking for the perfect or doctrinally correct or ideologically pure in his disciples... he was looking for them to FOLLOW HIM, just to simply put one foot in front of the other one day after another.  He didn’t care if they walked that walk perfectly or horribly, beautifully or tripping on everything… it doesn’t matter HOW you walk the Jesus walk, only that you're walking.  

So don’t wait to be filled up with faith.  Do what you can to live faithfully NOW and you’ll find that you are filled.  Fill the hungry with good things NOW and you will find yourself filled.  Fill the lonely with companionship NOW and you will find yourself filled.  Fill the forgotten with a sense of worth NOW and you will find yourself filled.  Go and live faithfully... one step at a time… one moment at a time walking the Jesus walk with all your most spectacular falls, fumbles, flaws, faults and faux pas.  And in that walking you will find faith's been in you all along.  Amen.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

A Split Stage Play in Two Acts

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 16th Chapter

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

The curtain opens and on one side of the stage you see a large, bald, man with glasses, a goatee and several extra chins sitting at a long table eating a multiple course meal all by himself (played by Jason Alexander).  His butler, stands close at hand.  

On the other side of the stage, on the street outside, a man named Lazarus (played by Steve Buscemi) struggles to stay warm… unwelcome at the library, in the downtown or anywhere else.  His body is wracked with pain.  His dog licks him and he flinches with added pain from the dog's loving touch.  The light fades and as the homeless man dies, the spotlight goes out.  

Immediately there is a knock on the rich man’s door.  The butler answers.  “Death is here to see you, sir” says the butler.  “Can’t he see I’m eating” shouts the rich man, “he’s not part of my plan!” “Death seems rather insistent, sir.” says the Butler.  At that moment the rich man clenches his chest, falls to the floor and dies dramatically as the lights go out.

The scene shifts to a different, two part stage.  On stage left, a wise looking man named Abraham (played by Morgan Freeman) is sitting with a much healthier looking version of Lazarus.  Stage right, the rich man, wearing a 70’s era sweatsuit, is sweating in a gym. “Jeeves!  Jeeves!  Where is that butler!  Someone better do something about this heat or heads will roll!”  says the rich man.  He looks up from riding the exercise bicycle and yells at Abraham.  “HEY!  You!  Yeah, you, it’s really hot down here.  How about sending one of “those people” (waving toward Lazarus) down here with a bottle of Perrier or something.  Make sure it’s cold now, I’m in agony here with this heat!

Abraham replies, “I think you will remember that you had everything while you were alive and Lazarus here, had things pretty hard, but now Lazarus is much better.  Besides, even if you hadn’t been such a jerk in life, I couldn’t help you even if I wanted to.  There’s that giant chasm and there's no way over to you and no way over to us.”

“Alright then.” Says the rich, bald and now very sweaty man, “Here’s what I need you to do.  I want you to send, what’s his name… the pox guy, uhhh Lazarus, yeah, Lazarus… I want you to send Lazarus there to my brothers so that they won’t have to join this gym from hell.  Got that?”  Abraham replied, “Your brothers have been told how to treat other people.  They know what Moses and the Prophets said.  They know right from wrong… justice from injustice… they just need to do it.”

“No, no, no, no, you don’t know my brothers.  They think all that ‘do justice, love kindness’ junk is just for show.  It’s not like they live by that stuff.  BUT!  If a dead guy came and told them… THAT, they would listen to!”  Abraham replies.  “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they’re not gonna listen to some dead guy raised from the dead either!”  And with that, the lights on the stage dim and an woman’s voice with a very Eastern European accent yells through a speaker, “1000 year aerobics starts NOW and YOU’RE LATE!!!!”… and… Scene.

Do you see?  It’s not riches that got the man sent to the gym from hell and it wasn’t homelessness that got Lazarus a ticket to sit with Abraham in the park.  Lazarus knew he wasn’t God and only God was in control.  Lazarus let God be God.  Lazarus had faith.  

The rich man thought HE was in control.  Even his own death didn’t wake him up to the fact that he wasn’t in control.  Even from the gym from hell he was still trying to throw his considerable weight around and control his life and the lives of others.  He didn’t think he needed forgiveness.  He just wanted the gym cooler.  He didn’t want life.  He just wanted a bottle of Perrier!  There was indeed a great chasm set between the park bench and the rich man and HE was the one that set it there!  The only way to bridge that chasm was to realize that he was lost and dead without God.  He needed to change, but he wasn’t ready to change, not even facing 1000 years of Eastern European aerobics!  So there he was.  Stuck.

Jesus wants us to hear this story, because when we look honestly in the mirror, the reflection we see is more often that of the rich man.  Jesus tells this story to help us realize only through DEATH do we receive life!  Only when we die to our need to be in control… die to the idea that more stuff makes us better people… die to the notion that people... human beings can be reduced to “those people” or a “pox” or a "poison Skittle” and the world revolves around me.  Die to the notion that there is “not enough” and we need to horde, cut back or squirrel away what little we have rather than share God’s abundance with radical generosity.  Jesus wants us to die to the idea of "my way or the highway" and remember that we are called to bend and change and even though that may sound hard, remember that not even death is insurmountable for God. 

Jesus wants us to look in the mirror and be honest with our reflection and then know… really KNOW that we have ALREADY been given the gift of eternal life through Christ’s death and resurrection!  That gift is ours… right now… and all we have to do to pick it up is to die.  Amen

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Stoning Your Children and Other Helpful Hints!

This week, I'm so thankful for the opportunity to be preaching at Temple Beth El in Augusta on Friday and for Rabbi Erica to preach at the Church at 209 on Sunday.  

On Monday afternoon, I finally looked at the Torah portion for tonight (click on the passage above to read it in full).  Rabbi Erica had sent it to me a while ago and told me I didn’t have to preach on it if I didn’t want to.  I could preach the Isaiah text instead.  So, on Monday afternoon I finally read it and immediately sent her a text that said, “Holy stoning your kids to death, Batman!”  She told me again I didn't have to tackle it but after reading it I WANTED to, because so many of us struggle with these sorts of texts and my contention is that whenever a text seems too hard, it means we need to go deeper into it, not around it.  So, let’s dive in!  

So, to recap, tonight’s Torah portion takes on… let’s see…  How to marry someone you’ve captured in a war… turns out it’s quite a process.  How to deal with your two wives and the kids… carefully.  How to get the town folk to stone to death your rebellious kid… three chapters in the Talmud on that one.  What to do with executed bodies… don’t leave them out.  What to do when your neighbor’s livestock gets out… help them with that AND whatever stuff they’ve lost.  Cross dressing… don’t.  Eating baby birds and eggs… you can, but not the mama bird too.  Rooftop safety… build a fence on your roof so friends don’t fall off.  Some farming rules, fabric rules and cloak tassel rules.  

But wait, there’s more!  Lying about your new wife’s virginity… don’t.  Sleeping around… don’t.  Rape… seriously, don’t!  Which male people are allowed in the assembly… depends on how fortunate or unfortunate they’ve been avoiding particularly difficult to talk about accidents with certain body parts.  Ammonites and Moabites… they’re out.  Edomites and Egyptians… they’re in… for a while anyway.  Rules for handling embarrassing night time issues and dealing with poo while you're serving in the army… it's complicated.  How to handle escaped slaves… kindly.  Female prostitution… no.  Male prostitution… also, no.  

Still more!  Who gets charged interest on a loan… Israelites no… gentiles… it’s OK.  Promises… follow through.  Your neighbor’s yard… snacking on their grapes is OK… harvesting their grapes, not OK.  Being cruel to the poor… don’t.  Skin diseases… be careful.  If you didn't get it the first time, REALLY, don’t be mean to the poor… or workers or foreigners.  How to take care of widows, orphans and aliens… don’t let them go hungry.  How to do a trial… quickly AND how to do business… honestly!  

And why all these things?  Well, says the text, because WE were once the slave, the poor, the captured, the orphan, the widow, the swindled, the cheated, the dumped and forgotten and don’t you remember how awful it felt, how much it HURT when WE were wearing those shoes?  SO... remember that hurt!  And don’t perpetuate the pain.  

That’s really the take home lesson from this long portion of Torah.  Don’t perpetuate the pain.  It’s easy to get trapped debating the degree of rebelliousness that a kid needs to display to warrant being stoned to death (three chapters in the Talmud!) and it’s easy to get side tracked and focus on the sexism of another age and cultural strangeness of an ancient land which was a very different place than where we live today in Augusta, Maine, BUT if you can pull back from the gory details of that different time and culture, the overarching truth, and God’s call for us that comes out of that truth is still just as powerful for us today.  

The truth is that hurt people, hurt people.  People who have been hurt by someone in the past, often go on to hurt others, passing the pain on, sometimes "visiting the iniquity of the father on the children to the third and fourth generations."  But, God’s children are called to a much higher calling, BOTH for the benefit of our community but also, as Isaiah says, to fulfill our calling to be “a light to the nations, to bring God’s salvation to the ends of the earth.”  

So, as followers of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in whichever form that takes, we are called to a higher and admittedly harder path.  We are called to break that cycle of pain and instead of paying forward the pain we’ve received from others, WE, as God’s people, are called to pay forward God’s “Hesed”… God’s steadfast love, instead.  

One of the tricky parts of this calling is that paying forward God’s love doesn’t magically keep others from hurting us and it doesn’t make all the hurts of our past, magically vanish into thin air like a rabbit under a magician’s hat either.  The other tricky part of this calling is that as God’s people, we know that when we look in the mirror, there are times when we see someone with a bit of a stiff neck and a hard heart staring back at us and the temptation to pass on the pain, seems stronger than the calling to pass on God's love.  

That’s why so much of what we read in tonight’s Torah portion was about living together in community.  God knows, it’s hard for us, all by ourselves, to deflect the slings and arrows sent our way each and every day and respond with God’s love instead of resorting to finding a bigger sling to throw harder rocks and an even stronger bow to shoot even larger arrows! 

Alone, assaulted by the pain of the world we will be overwhelmed, but as part of our community of faith we can recognize the hurts as they come our way and TOGETHER deflect them and return God’s love, instead of perpetuating the pain.   May God continue to shower us with the blessing of God’s loving kindness… God’s steadfast love… God’s hesed.  And may we, the people of faith in Augusta, neighbors and Children of God, continue to help one another deflect the pain of the world and return only God’s love until Isaiah’s prophecy is fulfilled and our light shows the world God’s salvation.  Amen.  

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Divine Homemaker - Good Shepherd

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 15th Chapter

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.” 

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 

Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Today… 9-11, is a day for remembering.  Fifteen years ago, this was the text for the Sunday after 9-11.  It was a good one for that day because after that Tuesday, when the towers fell, the Pentagon was hit and the plane crashed in a Pennsylvania field, EVERYONE felt lost, all at the same time.  On any other Sunday, not EVERYONE feels lost.  Maybe one out of a hundred, like the sheep, or maybe one out of ten, like the coin, really FEEL lost on any given Sunday… because of some individual grief or pain, doubt or worry.  But most Sundays, most of us feel more like the 99 sheep who were home in the pen or the 9 coins, safely resting in the woman’s purse.  On most Sundays only a few FEEL lost.   

But on that Sunday after 9-11, I think all of us together, maybe just for that one moment, understood these parables better than ever before.  We ALL felt like that lone, lost sheep… looking up, and suddenly feeling vulnerable… having no idea where we were or what direction to go.  We all felt like that lost coin, who, even if we KNEW were to go, which we didn’t, we couldn’t get there on our own… coins don’t have legs, after all.  On that Sunday in 2001, we ALL felt the reality of being lost and we all felt it at the same time.  On that day, unlike most days, we simply couldn’t pretend we were anything but completely and totally lost.  The truth is, of course, that “lost” is our every-time, every day reality.  Most days, though, we succeed in fooling ourselves into believing that we can walk ourselves back to the rest of the flock, or roll ourselves back to the purse, but on that day, we just couldn’t fool ourselves.  Everyone felt… everyone KNEW… we were all completely lost.  

The Good News that September 16th in 2001 was that finding the “lost” just happens to be the specialty of our very Good Shepherd… the expertise of our amazing Divine Homemaker.  It is precisely the lost whom God comes to find, the broken that God comes to heal, the last whom God makes first, the weakest that are made strong and the dead that God raises up to new life.  God always works from the bottom up… with the lost, the last and the least… every time.  We don’t make our own way back to the flock, we don’t roll our own way back to the purse, we don’t work out our own salvation, we don’t find Jesus.  Whether we’re lost because we’re broken like the tax collectors and sinners, thinking we don’t deserve to be found OR we’re lost because we’re broken like the pharisees and scribes, thinking we’re not the ones who are lost and don’t need finding… the Good News is that no matter how we’re broken, no matter how we got lost, the fields have been searched and the floors have been swept and in Christ’s life, death and resurrection we ALL have been found!  

And LOOK!  Here we are 15 years later, ready to be carried once more, that last little bit to be fed again with the bread… ready to be swept up those last few steps to taste the cup of salvation.  Here we are.  Ready to receive the Body of Christ… BUT at the same time, we’re ALSO here again to be sent out into the world TOGETHER to BE the Body of Christ.  

That’s the rest of this story… the other side of the coin.  Individually we ARE the broken, the lost, the last, the lost AND… and… at the same time, TOGETHER we are also the Body of Christ, called and sent into the world to seek out and lift up the ones who have wondered off, head down, eating one tuft of grass after another until, suddenly they look up and don’t know where they are any more.  Together we are the Body of Christ, called and sent into the world to sweep up those who have been thrown away into dark corners… lift up those who have rolled out of sight and return those who have fallen through the cracks and have been forgotten, back to the purse.  

It’s a beautiful mystery.  Individually we can only be lost, but together we are also the Body of Christ.  Some of us are the eyes that search the fields, others the hands that work the broom, the arms that lift the lost, the shoulders who bear the weight, the finger tips that pry the forgotten out of the cracks… some of us become the smile, others, those lines that show up when the smile spreads to the eyes.  Other become the lungs that shout and the vocal chords that ring and the legs that leap with joy when the lost have been found, the forgotten remembered, the separated returned and the dead brought to life!

Fifteen years ago we couldn’t, for a moment, fool ourselves into thinking that we were anything but lost.  We need to remember how that felt.  Remember that in that darkness, the Good Shepherd… the Divine Homemaker gives everything to find us.  Then remember too, that each of us is also called to take our place in the Body of Christ and do our part, to be the eye or the shoulders or the fingers or the hand and sweep the corners of our city for the lost and lift those who have wandered or who have fallen or who have been forgotten.  We are both the lost who have been found AND an essential part of the Body of Christ, found, fed and sent into the world to continue the search.  May we remember both today and every day.  Amen. 

Friday, September 2, 2016

It's A Stretch

The Holy Gospel According to St. Luke, the 14th Chapter

Now large crowds were traveling with Jesus; 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.

There are two ways to handle this text.  Deep theological, scholarly analysis… or talk about cars.  So, my first car was a 1971 Plymouth Barracuda.  It looked very, very cool… as long as the hood was closed.  Because under the hood was not the 383 engine it deserved but… a slant six.  For you non-car people, the 383 is hefty, hefty, hefty… the slant six is whimpy, whimpy, whimpy.  Why didn’t it have a 383?  Well, I weighed the pros and cons of fuel economy, cool factor and all the rest and then I LAID OUT THE COST.  After I did that, none of the rest really mattered because… I simply didn’t enough money.  I couldn't stretch that far to buy one!

In today’s Gospel, Jesus turned around and clearly laid out the cost of being a disciple.  Lots of folks were following Jesus because, well, Jesus was cool!  He fed folks, healed people, cast out demons, calmed storms, walked on water… It was just really cool to follow Jesus and see what happened next! 

But just following Jesus for what you can get out of it, or for how good it makes you feel, or how cool it looks isn’t REAL discipleship.  It wasn’t way back then and it isn’t today either.  So Jesus turned to the crowd and laid out the REAL, very hefty price of discipleship.  But, before we talk about that I want to make sure we’re clear that discipleship is NOT the same as salvation.  

Salvation, eternal life, going to heaven or chowing down at the eternal banquet… whatever you call it… is a gift from God.  Salvation doesn’t cost you or me anything at all.  Jesus lived, died and rose, and in some mysterious way, God, in Christ GAVE you, me and all of creation eternal life.  It’s a no strings attached gift.  Salvation, is God’s thing.  

Discipleship, though, is our thing!  Discipleship is how we RESPOND to God and all that God has given us.  And being a REAL disciple… THAT’s gonna cost you BIG!!  Jesus warned the crowd that discipleship would cost them literally their whole life; all of it, every part of it… heart, hands, time, wallet.  All of it.  And it would cost everything you have, every single day.  No weekends off.  No retirement.  At the end of a perfect day of discipleship you will have nothing left. 

When I weighed the cost of putting a 383 into my Plymouth Barracuda I discovered that the price was enormous.  In fact, even if I took out all my savings, sold my stereo and cashed in my savings bonds…  I STILL didn’t have enough.  The cost was MORE THAN everything I had.  

Discipleship…REAL discipleship… also comes at an enormous cost, BUT the difference between the price of discipleship and the price of that big block V8 is that, even though the cost of discipleship will cost you literally EVERYTHING you have, the Good News is that unlike that new engine, it won’t cost you MORE THAN you have.  So the question becomes, just like it was for the folks Jesus was talking to is, are you ready to spend everything you have, your entire life, on discipleship?  Is following Jesus, giving of yourself entirely to God and God’s mission in the world what you are ready to do with your life?

It sounds like a lot.  That’s because it IS a lot.  It’s EVERYTHING.  But even so, I’ve met quite a few folks over the years who try to do just that every day of their lives.  And the truth is there are countless people in our world, waiting and looking and hoping for something… for someone important enough, worthy enough, life transforming enough to follow right now!  ACTUALLY, I believe everyone, to one degree or another, longs to do this… to be a disciple.  To walk a journey to find purpose, discover hope, to find the thing, the One, who lead our lives toward real meaning and worth.  In that way we’re all some sort of disciples and the question then becomes how far are you willing to stretch today and tomorrow and the next day toward being a REAL disciple of Jesus?    

You’ve seen folks stretching in their discipleship.  Jesus tells us and shows us what it looks like.  It looks like looking for the Holy in everyone you meet, even when you have to look REAL hard.  It means not loving your family any less but loving the world that much more!  Including your enemies!  It means talking TO people instead of about them.  It means giving your time and your money and your heart to people and places that can’t pay you back and might not even appreciate the gift.  It means opening your wallet to generously and overwhelmingly fund good things that in no way will benefit you and doing that so completely that the people around you stop seeing you so much as they see the light of Christ shining through you.  That’s stretching toward being a REAL disciple.  

It sounds pretty intimidating.  Impossible even.  But here’s a secret.  Nobody stretches 100% of the way.  Mother Teresa (who is being made a Saint today) only got to about 89% on the disciple-O-meter, but then she also had years and years of doubt and darkness where things weren’t nearly that good.  On a really good day I MIGHT get to 17%… on a GOOD day… rounding up!  The Apostle Peter, got to a 93% for a minute and was able to take a couple of steps on water but right after that he sank down to a subsurface percentage.

Discipleship is INCREDIBLY gigantic stretch!  It’s within our reach, but that reach demands nothing less than EVERYTHING we have and because we’re human, we’ll all inevitably fall short of that full reach.  But still, it’s worth the stretch… not just as a thank-you to God for all we have been given, but also because Jesus taught us that as we make that stretch toward discipleship; as we love God more completely and love our neighbors more sacrificially… we begin to more and more live into God’s gift of salvation… that abundant and amazing life that God has given us as a gift.  

The cost of discipleship is a GIANT stretch, but God has called us together to support one another on this journey of stretching toward discipleship.  Together, we’re learning, we can stretch farther than we’ve ever stretched before on our own and together, I am confident that we will continue to stretch toward discipleship and the light of God’s love will shine more brightly through us into the world.  Amen.