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.

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Blessings, Rock