Sunday, October 29, 2017

Reflection on Luther's 500th Anniversary of 95 Theses

“Conservatism is the worship of Dead Revolutions.”
--Clinton Rossiter, US Historian and Constitutional Scholar

I do not want this in any way shape or form look to politics, but I do want us to turn our thoughts today to Martin Luther. As important a thinker as any who has shaped the modern world. He, in his thinking through the excesses and sins of the Roman Catholic Church, called the Church of God “back to its first love,” as the book of the Revelation puts it.

We come today, not to worship Luther, but to honor what he did. And I started with the Conservatism quote because I do not feel that Luther would want us to uphold what he did, but rather to live in the Spirit of what he did. In my opinion, one of the most Luther-esque acts we can make is to live in a state of personal and collective Reformation.

“God is not done with us yet!” Just as God was not done with Luther, as God is not done with the Catholic Church. You may not be aware, but in 1999 the Catholic Church actually declared that Luther was right. “...the subscribing Lutheran churches and the Roman Catholic Church are now able to articulate a common understanding of our justification by God's grace through faith in Christ.”
And isn’t that what Revolutions and Reformations are all about? Having the wrong come round and be made right?

In fact, with Pope Francis and other recent reformers in Rome, maybe the most Luther-esque act is for us to begin to work more closely with our Catholic brothers and sisters. Rome actually a public square to Luther this spring, endorsed by the Catholic Church. Times they are a’changin’.

So, as I started with tonight, may we also be Reformers always reforming, not in in the shape of Luther, but more and more into the likeness of Christ. I think if we were, Luther would be pleased. Amen.

Year A Proper 25 2017 Loving With All We've Got

Year A Proper 25, 29 October, 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Loving With All We’ve Got”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, increase in us the gifts of faith, hope, and charity; and, that we may obtain what you promise, make us love what you command; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 22:34-46
When the Pharisees heard that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying,
‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
until I put your enemies under your feet”’?
If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

How do we live a good life? What makes it good? Whose voice do we listen to when we seek answers to those questions?

Our answers to those questions will determine so much of our happiness over the years. I have heard all kinds of slogans, or mantras, whatever you want to call them:
  • “He who dies with the most toys wins.”
  • “Do unto others before they do unto you.”
  • “Get busy living, or get busy dying.”
  • “God is not done with me yet.”
  • “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but how many moments take our breath away.”
All these are ways to look at the world, and our place in it. Some healthy, some not. But they all help us determine the small choices, that add up to our days, that make our years, that are our lives. We choose. We choose some things. We turn down others. And today I want us to look at what it is we say yes to, and because of our greater Yes-es, we have to have some Nos in response.

In movies when the characters want to know something about somebody, you often see them digging through the trash. And that is a way to learn some things about somebody. It gives a picture of some things we do, but more it is what we let go of, but it does not paint a picture of what we embrace.

Philosophy professor and theologian Dallas Willard in his masterpiece, The Divine Conspiracy, said that one of the things that defines us as humans is our ability to treasure things. We give import and meaning to some things more than others. We cherish, and we relish what we cherish. We have keepsakes and mementos. There are some things that neither hell nor high water could take from you. So, unlike our movie detectives, look at someone’s trash and I might see their actions, but show me your treasures and I will get a glimpse into your soul.

Someone saw me unpacking a box the other day in my office. And they said something about me still moving in. I am 90% settled, because I have spent more time getting to know you all rather than arranging my stuff that adorns my office. But there are treasures of mine there. Things I hold dear. And as the cliche goes, one person’s trash is another person’s treasure. What I cherish are the tangible reminders of beautiful days and moments, those times that took my breath away. And I will always hold them dear.

Treasures give a glimpse into who we are, but our treasures are not, nor should they be, who we are. Prolific Christian author Henri Nouwen shares 3 Lies of Identity:
1. I am what I have
2. I am what I do
3. I am what other people say or think of me
None of these things are who we really are. With that caveat, let’s look at what Jesus said in today’s Gospel.

As we look at our treasures, and we see glimpses into our identities in them, I come back to the original questions. How do we live a good life? What makes it good? Whose voice do we listen to when we seek answers to those questions? The lawyer asking Jesus the greatest commandment was repeating a long rabbinical tradition of ranking God’s rules. Of the 613 in the Torah, the Five Books of Moses, which was the top? And Jesus, like others before him, cites two, linking these two commandments together. “Love God with all you’ve got, and your neighbor like yourself.” The first comes from the great liturgical call of the Shema our Jewish brothers and sisters recite (Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One… Deuteronomy 6:4-5) and from the call to love our neighbors as much as ourselves (Leviticus 19: 17-18).

These summaries are tied because how can we love the unseen God if we cannot love our “seen” brothers and sisters? And also, how can we love others if we cannot love ourselves?

Starting today, I listed a number of phrases that could be seen as philosophical, but I think the commandments Jesus list here could fall into the same arena. Jesus’ answer is a touchstone on how to live that good life. Love God, others, and self. If that is the case, what does it look like to live a life when we love God with all we’ve got, and our neighbors and ourselves equally?

I would say you might get a good idea from glancing at a few things. These are everyday items, and you may not see them as spiritual or religious, but if I see your relationship with these things, I can get a glimpse into what and who you love.

The first thing I would ask you to delve into is your Calendar. And this is the only place where we are all equal. We are each given the same number of hours in the same name of days. What we do with them is where the proof is in the pudding. What are the blocks that you make sure you put into every day? What are the tidbits that fill in the cracks?
“If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed.”
—Admiral William H. McRaven
We have to start somewhere, and our bedclothes are an intentional and deliberate beginning. It is literal and metaphorical. We all have to start where we are, and we all sleep. Does making our bed make us better Christians? Not necessarily, but as we look at how we live our lives, Loving God, others and self, our intentions and our actions do come into play.
"The hard must become habit. The habit must become easy. The easy must become beautiful.”
—Doug Henning

It really is like that. What do you make sure makes it into your days? What do you give to God DAILY? There is physical muscle memory, where once we learn to ride a bike we can always ride a bike. And I believe there is spiritual muscle memory, once we start including God on everything it becomes a habit, one we won’t want to break. The daily devotionals in the Book of Common Prayer is a great place to start. If you can make more time, the Daily Offices are transformative. As we look at our the Stewardship of our lives, our calendars are the best place to start your investigation.

Next, show me your Checkbook (or credit card statements these days), and look to where your money goes. Do you make enough to cover your bills? Do you fritter away nickels and dimes and over the decades miss out on where you could have been? As you look at your resources, where on the checklist is your giving to furthering God’s Kingdom? My wife and I give to this parish, and to Shrine Mont, and to other ministries that are important to us. What you give does not need only be to this church. But we are asking for you to thoughtfully, joyfully, and prayerfully give to St. James the Less, and if possible, we are asking you to increase your pledge this year as you are able. As you steward your checkbook, and intentionally review your patterns of saving and spending and giving, think of what you hope to accomplish and work systematically to get there. It is all tied together.

Lastly, I want you to look in the Mirror. There is nothing that can hide when you look yourself in the eye. And as you look yourself in the eye, ask “Who do I see? Am I on the path to be who God is calling me to be?” When you look yourself in the eye, are you critical? Or do you see yourself as God’s beloved? BrenĂ©  Brown says, “Talk to yourself like you would to someone you love.” It may be corrective, but it should always be loving. How on earth can we love God or others, if we do not see ourselves as lovable or capable of loving? In the 70s we heard repeatedly, God don’t make no junk! It is still true.

Today, was my “Stewardship Sermon,” how we manage and account for our lives as part of our Stewardship of this parish for the coming year. We ask of you to consider your Time, that looking at your Calendar and your plans for the coming year. We ask you to consider your Talent, that thing that you are uniquely qualified to further God’s work in this world. And we ask you to consider your Treasure, those resources you have and how you might use them to fulfill your needs, hopes, and desires for the coming year.

How do you show what you treasure when someone looks at your calendar, your checkbook, or watching you look in the mirror? All three speak volumes. What do yours say? Next week we will gather in the Pledges, and for those we have received already and those that will come in, we will have a time of blessing on them. Just like we do with the elements and the offering every week. We pray for God’s blessing on them. And this week, I pray for God’s blessings on your calendar, your checkbook, and your self reflection. Amen.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Year A Proper 24 Wed 2017 When Religion Gets In The Way

Year A Proper 24, Wednesday Homily 25 October 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“When Religion Gets in the Way”

Matthew 12
1 At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the sabbath; his disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. 2 When the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the sabbath.” 3 He said to them, “Have you not read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? 4 He entered the house of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him or his companions to eat, but only for the priests. 5 Or have you not read in the law that on the sabbath the priests in the temple break the sabbath and yet are guiltless? 6 I tell you, something greater than the temple is here. 7 But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless. 8 For the Son of Man is lord of the sabbath.”

9 He left that place and entered their synagogue; 10 a man was there with a withered hand, and they asked him, “Is it lawful to cure on the sabbath?” so that they might accuse him. 11 He said to them, “Suppose one of you has only one sheep and it falls into a pit on the sabbath; will you not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 How much more valuable is a human being than a sheep! So it is lawful to do good on the sabbath.” 13 Then he said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and it was restored, as sound as the other. 14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.

In today’s Gospel reading we see the foundational conflict of the Jesus way of loving God. In it, we see Jesus doing and teaching his disciples in ways that were contrary to the religious practices of the day. And as a priest in the Church of God, I stand here and attest, that sometimes Religion gets in our way.

Now before we upset too many applecarts, let me frame what I am saying here. What is “religion?” When in doubt, I do my etymology. Religion is a late word, actually. Its foundation is religare from the Latin for the verb “to bind.” Think of it as to re-ligament ourselves to God. Then in the middle ages, it was a specific thing,  religio was the vows of a monk tying him to his order meaning “obligation, bond, or reverence.” So, the strictures of religion were applicable to only a very committed subset of people who believed. Hold onto that, we will be coming back. So then, religion then became the rules of the faith, the motions we go through to express our inner faith.

And when we put the rules before the meaning, we get into problems. The Pharisees were acting as the religious police, making sure people were upholding their standards. Jesus was having his disciples eating in a forbidden way on the Sabbath. Then he was healing people on the Sabbath. They were more worried about Jesus missing the boat when he was actually at the airport.

When I try to uphold my values by enforcing them on you, then I am deeply into error. I would not expect you to fulfill the vows I have taken as a husband or as a deacon and priest. It is not fair to you, and it is unfair to the vows themselves. The Pharisees were the ones who were so close to the way that Jesus taught. Simple, moral lives. A deep devotion to God. A belief in an afterlife in God’s presence. But, and there is always a but, the legalism, the strict enforcing of their way or the highway kept most from ever coming to God.

Jesus saw that their religiosity was getting in the way of HOPE for the prostitutes and tax collectors that were finding a way home in Jesus’ teachings. To use a modern phrase applied to many things we do as Church, “Their eyes were so fixed on heaven that they were no earthly good.” I pray that that never be said of us. Or as Jesus put it, “Deal with the log in your own eye, before you try and get out someone’s splinter.”

Jesus said after people complained about him reaching out to the tax collector Zaccheus, 9 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’” (Luke 19:9-10)

I love my religion. I love that it keeps me grounded and connected with God, most days. I seek God, and most days my religious practices give me the sense that I am finding God and there is work being done in my life.

But when I project my worries, fears, and inadequacies onto others, then my religious practices cease being a scalpel used for surgery on my soul, and it becomes a weapon that harms, hurts, and kills that glowing ember of hope in others.

We all know someone who has thrown up their hands in a “Why bother?!?” knowing that they will never be “good enough” to be religious. And somewhere along the way far too easily fall into the trap of thinking religion is the point, and not relationship. Jesus did not come to make bad people good, or rude people polite. Christ came to make the lame to walk, the blind to see, and dead to rise to life. He was about transformation, not comfort.

And for me, when I feel myself falling into that trap of religiosity, I lean back on the Grace upon Grace that Jesus showers on each and every one of us, and I try to project that instead. Let your religion be about you and your walk with God, and invite, don’t enforce it on others. Amen.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Year A Proper 24 2017 Whose Image?

Year A Proper 24, 22 October 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Whose Image? ”

Collect: Almighty and everlasting God, in Christ you have revealed your glory among the nations: Preserve the works of your mercy, that your Church throughout the world may persevere with steadfast faith in the confession of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Matthew 22:15-22
The Pharisees went and plotted to entrap Jesus in what he said. So they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, “Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and teach the way of God in accordance with truth, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality. Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not?” But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, “Why are you putting me to the test, you hypocrites? Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” When they heard this, they were amazed; and they left him and went away.

Beware honeyed words. They often contain another agenda, and cannot be taken at face value. Jesus knew this. Anyone with any experience knows this. The Pharisees, strict conservative teachers of the law, and the Herodians, supporters of the Roman occupied rule and their puppet king, came to Jesus with an unanswerable question. There was no win in their either/or. It was the epitome of a “Gotcha” question.

We still have them. “When did you stop stealing from the company?” “Were you drunk again today?” Either way there is a presumption of guilt, and either answer is a self-condemnation. And in front of the crowd, there was a gathering of witnesses to the self-condemnation of this teacher getting too big for his britches.

If Jesus had said that it was “lawful” (to use their word) then those who opposed Roman occupation would have hated Jesus. If he said it was not lawful, there would have been grounds for treason on Jesus’ part and he could have been arrested on the spot. You see, the were looking for a way to get rid of this “troublesome” rabbi.

But Jesus, in his inimitable way, redirected and refocused the conversation. And like in all things, he pointed it back to God. “Show me the coin used for the tax.” And they brought him a denarius. Then he said to them, “Whose head is this, and whose title?” They answered, “The emperor’s.” Then he said to them, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

Jesus recognizes we have responsibilities. We are beholden, to use a word that is used far too little. As a part of a community, we have expectations from our receipt of the benefits of the community. From being the people of God, there is an expectation that we are responsible for the upkeep of God’s community of faith.

Some of you got my letter this week, saying God does not need your money, but that God wants your heart. And just like Jesus looked at the coin and saw Caesar’s image, I look at you and I see God’s image.

The Bible begins with that story, and it is foundational to most everything we say and think about God. You and I are made in God’s image. (Genesis 1: 27) The other morning I was walking with my oldest to take her to school and a former neighbor stopped to say hi, and said, “She is looking more and more like her mother everyday!” She is. Lucky thing. And I hope as your priest, that God can say the same thing of you and of me. Everyday we are looking more and more like God. The spittin’ image as we say in the South.

As we hear the words of Jesus, “Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” We hear him saying that we share with the government what is their share, and we share with God what is God’s.

The English poet, Robert Herrick put it this way:

Christ, He requires still, wheresoe’er He comes,
To feed, or lodge, to have the best of rooms:
Give Him the choice; grant Him the nobler part
Of all the house: the best of all’s the heart.

As we continue in this season looking at our Stewardship of God’s work in this parish and in this town, it takes a commitment on each of our parts. Joyfully, cheerfully, and sacrificially as you are led and enabled, we are called to work together to the glory of God. We do that with our Time, our most precious commodity. We do that with our Talents, those things to which we are uniquely suited. And, we do that with our Treasure, those resources we have at our disposal and a recognized source of power and authority both within and outside the church.

One of the great joys of any church is the children. They are the future and they give us hope. But they are also the present, and today we hear from our youth about the work they are doing now to God’s honor and glory. Today as we hear from them, look for how you see the image of God in them and pause and say thanks to God for that gift.

And as we continue in our campaign, think on where God is at work in you. What dark corner needs to be swept out and cleaned up? What are you holding back that needs to be given over? “Give to God the things that are God’s.”

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Year A Proper 23 2017 Worth the Cost

Year A Proper 23, 15 October 2017
St. James the Less Episcopal, Ashland, VA
“Worth The Cost”

The Collect
Lord, we pray that your grace may always precede and follow us, that we may continually be given to good works; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Philippians 4:1-9
Matthew 22:1-14
Once more Jesus spoke to the people 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.’ 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.

“But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, and he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?’ And he was speechless. 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.’ For many are called, but few are chosen.”

We all love it when we listen to kids, as they guesstimate on what something costs. “How much is a house?”
“About a million.”
“How much is a candy bar.”
“Three hundred.”
“How much does mom get paid to do her job.”
“42.” Notice that they do not even say the unit of measure. Dollars, cents, lire.

We laugh because once we gauge a sense of scale of something, we cannot unsee it. Have you ever tried to unsee an optical illusion? I cannot do it. I have already trained my brain to see it. And once we have gained that ability to gauge the sense of scale, we know. We know down deep, how big something is.

Jesus said, many are called, but few are chosen. Woody Allen said that 90% of success is showing up, but showing up just won’t do. We are called into relationship. For those in long term relationships, how long would they continue if they you just showed up? You have to do more than just show up.

Now here is where we get into a theological pickle. Grace is free. And we take for granted things that are free. It is human nature. The air we breathe. The water we drink.
[Singing] Don’t it always seem to go, that we don’t know what we got till it's gone…

Grace is a gift, a free gift, no strings attached. [Martin Bell, “The Tale of Barrington Bunny” from The Way of the Wolf] There is nothing you can do to make God love you any more, and nothing you can do, to make God love you any less. [Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel] But because it is free, does not mean we can take it for granted.

A few years ago, just before I got priested, I took my children to Germany for Christmas. My exchange family from High School and I are still close, and almost blood as much as we communicate and interact 32 years later. They always invited us over for the holidays, especially while the kids were very young. And I knew that this was the last chance in my life to take them up on their offer, because NOBODY does Christmas like the Germans. Watching their faces fill with delight was worth every penny and every second. It was weeks of wonder and awe. So different, so beautiful, and so worth it.

Now, think about it. There is no way that my children could pay their own way. It was so extravagant, and so beyond anything that they could comprehend much less pay for, that there was no question. I would pay, and gladly do so because I love them so much, and I knew how much it would mean, and I knew that the worth of the trip is far greater than the cost. The WORTH is far greater than the COST to me. And that is GRACE. Our WORTH to God is far greater than the COST God had to pay, as dear and costly as it was.

As they learn and grow and mature, I trust that my children will begin to see what it meant for them to have the experience of Christmas markets and castles, of fireworks and Sankt Nikolaus. It was beyond comprehension, and their joy made my joy complete. Maybe one day, as we sit over coffee watching their kids they will reminisce with me and say how much that meant to them. That will brighten this old man’s heart.

The same is our response to Grace. If we approach it with a child’s appreciation when we are older, we lessen the gift. We diminish how precious and wonderful and unique it is. It is a love beyond our sense of scale. But once we see its WORTH, we cannot unsee it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote on this in his masterpiece, The Cost of Discipleship. In it he spoke of Cheap Grace and Costly Grace. We could almost call it unappreciated Grace and awakened Grace. I apologize for the length of this quote, but he says it so much better than I ever could.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?...

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God. ― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Our WORTH to God was greater than the COST at any price. It cost him his Beloved, his agapetos, for his dearly beloved, us. We come to his table, his altar, to “Remember his death, we proclaim his resurrection, we await his coming in glory.” As it is inscribed on the Korean Memorial, FREEDOM IS NOT FREE. Neither is Grace. But our WORTH to God was greater than the COST. Bonhoeffer likens our faith to the Treasure in the Field, or the Pearl of Great Price. But also remember, we are the Treasure for God, we are the Pearl. God would do anything and everything for you. And our response to that may not be required, but how can we be human and not respond. Our response is our Thank You to God. This is the crux of Jesus’ parable of the King’s Feast.

The King invites those “worthy” of an invite, and the do not appreciate what they have been given, and so he invites the “unworthy.” He invites anyone who would show up. But when we are invited to a party, we are expected to party. And when we are invited to formal party, the party to end all parties, the party at the end of the Universe (LITERALLY), then showing up is not enough. We are expected to make an effort, because that is what one does.

We are invited to the wedding banquet of the Son, and *surprise* we are the Bride. WE, the Church, are the Bride. How are we phoning it in? How are we taking the easy route? How might we take it to the next level, no matter from where we are starting?

I often liken Christian discipleship in my mind to a soundboard, those things audio technicians sit behind to make the acoustics perfect. Now, I know little to nothing about soundboards, but most of us have seen them. There are really big knobs and lots and lots of little knobs. Most of us have our big knobs where they need to be. But as Christ moves into our lives, he starts by making the big knobs are in the right place, and then takes the months and years to take the little knobs and tinker with us. A bit here, a bit there. This metaphor is a modern equivalent to the wonderful old Shaker hymn, Simple Gifts.
When true simplicity is gained,
To bow and to bend we shan't be ashamed,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come 'round right.
As we continue in our turning, what Paul called “working out our Salvation in fear and trembling” in the lectionary reading from two weeks ago and I did not have time to get into, we begin to see how far we have to go and how far we have to grow.

I almost wish portions of Scripture had ratings like movies, G for general readers, PG for parental guidance (I guess that is why some of you call me Father Rock), and MA for Mature Audiences only. I have heard some very immature folks quoting Paul’s message here, when it is not simple or easy at all. This is graduate level discipleship. It takes a deep level of faith and years of walking together to Rejoice Always! This is when all the soundboard is really close. Paul is encouraging those mature in the faith to continue in that kaizen [Japanese term used in business], constant improvement, that constant state of learning and growing in the Spirit, so that “turning, turning, we come round right.” Or as Paul put it in today’s reading, “Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.”

God’s Grace precedes and follows us, so that we may continually be given to good works. So you have gotten the word. Your tickets are waiting at Will Call, bought and paid. Are you going to show up? Are you going to come appropriate to the occasion? The Host is waiting, and wants nothing more. The WORTH of your attendance is far greater than any COST. That is Good News and it is Yours. Amen.