As in all things, let us begin with prayer to Almighty God.
The Lord be with you.
Let us pray,
Lord God, you created all things, you arranged all things and in you we move, and breathe and have our being. Tutor our hearts so we can follow you. Empty our minds of the busyness of this world so we can be your vessels of peace. Open our ears that we can hear your words, so that your words will be on our lips. And then, sweet Jesus, use us. Use us as your disciples and let us be a living breathing example of your love. A love that is so essential, in this unforgiving hostile world. May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable unto you. All this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
This weekend some of us are blessed with an additional day off from our jobs to celebrate Labor Day. Traditionally, Labor Day is the last day of summer, the day for family BBQ's. Historically, Labor Day marked the last weekend that ladies wore white dresses with matching shoes and handbags, the last day that gentlemen wore white jackets and straw hats. Labor Day is a day set aside to remember to rest from arduous daily work. It is a national holiday created to insure that union workers and their families rested and enjoyed the end of the summer. But to be a disciple for God we are beckoned to live a life for God at all times.
Today we learn about discipleship from the Gospel of St. Luke. In Luke 14:23-33, Jesus is clear in his address to the multitude, to the crowd, that one must voluntarily sacrifice relationships between parents, spouses and children to follow Christ. In addition to sacrificing our primary relationships, we are commanded to pick up our own cross and follow Christ. Discipleship is not easy. There are costs and rewards to discipleship. However, to be a disciple one must consider three questions. First, how does one become a disciple? Secondly, what are the responsibilities of a disciple? And, finally, how does onee live out one's covenant as a disciple?
How do we become disciples? Many of us entered the sacred orders of discipleship as infants. We were baptized in a time before we knew ourselves, before we were aware of our own being before we could speak the name of Jesus Christ. Someone stood at the Baptismal Font and called out our names to be Baptized. Someone called your name a long time ago in the in the House of God. In the presence of a worshipping congregation, your parents and Godparents made promises to God, on your behalf, about your life and spiritual development.
At baptism, as adults or infants, we became connected to Christ and the family of God through an invisible umbilical cord. We were baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit and we died to sin when the water was poured over our heads. We received new life in Christ when we were sealed with the chrism and "marked as Christ own forever." This covenant does not change as we age.
Although many things change in life as we age, our Baptismal Covenant with God remains unchanged. We may marry, have children, wrinkle. We get old and some of us may even expand our waist lines as the year's progress. But the Baptismal Covenant between the baptised and God remains firm throughout eternity. Therefore, we are loved and are expected to love others in the Name of Jesus Christ because of our baptismal covenant. We are the Baptized! We are the breathing, living example of the love and the gift of God in an unloving world. It is through Baptism that we are the disciples of Christ.
Now that we have identified who are the disciples, what do we do? What are the responsibilities of a disciple? During the time the disciple Paul served his term in prison, he wrote a letter to Philemon. In today's Epistle reading we learn about Paul's criminal record as a prisoner. (By the way, given the criteria for ordination today, Paul would not be a likely candidate for ordination because he would fail the background check - his criminal record would disqualify him!)
From his prison cell, Paul writes a letter to his friend, Philemon, a sister in Christ Apphia, a fellow soldier in Christ Archippus, and the worshipping community who met at Philemon's house, about Onesimus. In his letter, Paul describes a new family member in Christ named Onesimus, a run away slave. In the spirit of adoption, Paul has claimed Onesimus as his son and asks that Philemon and the community receive Onesimus not as a slave, but as a "beloved brother", an equal partner and friend in the community of Christ. To emphasize the importance of this matter, Paul personally writes the letter to Philemon and calls the disciples of Christ to a higher standard of love, one of forgiveness. Through the love of Jesus Christ, Paul asks that Philemon and the church create a new system of brotherly and sisterly equality, rather than live in the secular system of oppression and superiority. What a wonderful idea - total acceptance of a slave as brother or sister, because Jesus Christ loves us. We are all equally loved in the eyes of God.
As disciples we are responsible for each other and for loving each other in Christ as brothers and sisters in Christ. As the baptised, we are responsible to proclaim the 'Good News' of Jesus Christ. The 'Good News' of Jesus Christ, who died, was buried and resurrected for each of us in love. As disciples, we are summoned through our baptismal vows to commit random acts of love, because we believe in the resurrected Christ, the love of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. Our actions must illustrate the love in Christ, the same Christ who spoke on the Mount of Olives, the same God who parted the Red Sea, and the same Holy Spirit that is the comforter and the same God who calls us to love each other unconditionally. We are the earthly vessels for God to use as witnesses of God's continuous acts of love. Disciples are responsible for preaching, teaching and manifesting the word of God and loving all people regardless of race, creed, color, class, social status, height, weight or depth. We are commanded to love. That is the responsibility of a discipleship of God.
This morning we, the baptized, are called to fulfill our baptismal vows. How do we live out the covenant of the discipleship? My dad was a good, faithful Christian and a wise person. He always said, "You will know what a person believes from how that person behaves." Our actions toward each other illustrate what we believe. It is only through God's grace that we can illustrate unconditional love. God's grace is free, but it is not cheap. Dietrich Bonhoeffer a theologian, author and teacher, returned to Nazi Germany during WWII to be with his countrymen and women oppressed under Nazi rule. Bonhoeffer left the safe haven of America and returned to Germany knowing he would be arrested, placed in a concentration camp and possibly murdered. In his book entitled, "The Cost of Discipleship", Bonhoeffer describes cheap grace. "Cheap Grace is preaching forgiveness without requiring repentance. Cheap Grace is baptism without church discipleship. Cheap grace is communion without confession, absolution without personal confession". Cheap Grace is what the world offers, " it is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross. Cheap Grace is grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate". (Cost of Discipleship, p.45-45) Cheap grace is cheap because we can give it freely according to our need to justify our sinful behavior.
This morning God summons us back to costly grace, a grace only given by God, a grace that is free to receive. Bonhoeffer describes costly grace as follows; " Costly Grace is costly because it condemns sin and grace because through it justifies the sinner. It is grace because God loves us enough to allow Jesus Christ to pay with his life for the sins of the world. Costly Grace is the Incarnation of God". (Cost of Discipleship, p. 45 ). The Grace of God that is found at the foot of the Cross of Calvary; and the Grace of Jesus Christ found in the love of God that gives us the true life, that is costly grace, the true grace of God. Today God offers costly grace, available to the disciples of God, baptized in the love of Christ.
We are disciples by baptism. We are called to love all people as disciples and we fulfil our baptismal vows performing selfless acts of love in Christ's name. As disciples we accept the costly grace of God, a grace supplied only by Almighty God. But we are called to act.
As disciples, we can not stand by idly and not protest the essential social ills of our communities. We can not be bystanders as homeless, uneducated and abused children grow into illiterate, unemployed adults. We can not stand by silently and accept institutional racism, social economic injustice and constitutional changes that serve the privileged few. We, the disciples of God, can not stand by and quietly accept the deviant, hateful, political slurs against the poor, women and ethnic people. We cannot accept the political structural corruption that erodes our neighborhoods, destroys our families and endangers the future of social security for the elderly. As disciples, we are called to experience costly grace by being God's prophetic voice in a world unplugged to God's love. We are called to scream from the rooftops for equality and justice for all people in the love of Jesus Christ!
Pick up your cross and follow me, are words that ring through the Christian experience. It is in carrying our own cross and sacrificing ourselves to God that we become disciples of God. But this is not easy. We must love; we must love those who hate us. We must love those who are different from ourselves. We must love, even when we do not want to love; we can love in the name of Christ. But we must also act.
We are reminded in the Letter of James that faith without works is nothing (James 2:26). We must work at taking back our neighborhood from the social ills that frighten our children and elderly. As disciples, it is time to call the agency that insists on unemployment as a better way of life. It is time to pray about the politicians we place in office and trust that God will speak to their hearts.
Today God calls the disciples of Jesus Christ to love, take action and live out the life that Christ began some 2000 years ago. Jesus commanded us to proclaim the Good News. So, go from this place not just rejoicing solely in the power of the spirit but with the power of the spirit, with a new step and a new vision of fulfilling God's will in this unloving and uncaring world.
Let us pray.
Dearest God, send your Holy Spirit upon your people. Let your love fill the hearts of your people, lead and guide our footsteps in the path of your love. Let our lives as disciples be living, breathing examples of your presence and your love. Give us your courage and strength and let us be that beacon in this world of confusion and dissension. Bless us with your Grace, your costly grace that transforms lives, heals families and moves a nation to love. Oh God, send your Holy Spirit to rest upon your people, not only today, but every day of our lives. All this we ask in thanks and praise of your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.