Considering the Cost of the Gospel

Good morning. This morning’s Gospel is one of the pieces of scripture that we call “the hard sayings of Jesus.” And I really can’t complain. I’ve been preaching 25 years and this is the first time that I’ve had to preach on this particular scripture. So , I’m lucky.

In the modern world, we have all experienced, when we’re on our phone or we’re on our computer and we download a new piece of software or we want to go to a site, a website that we’ve never been to before, or we want to buy something, and a little box pops up and it says, “I have read and agreed to these terms and conditions. Click here.” And what do we do? Do we read the terms and conditions? Do we click on the little a link and read through the pages and pages and pages of legalese?

We click the box, right? How many of you click the box? So we might be, I don’t, signing away the rights to our firstborn child or allowing all of our personal information to be released in the world. We don’t know because we click the box and we didn’t read everything.

That’s not how God works. That’s not the way the Kingdom of God works. God in the person of Jesus in this morning’s Gospel in our faces, saying to the crowds, to those of us who have been so inspired by the love, the grace, the courage and the promise that the Kingdom of God is being built here in this world. Jesus Christ looked at all of these people and said, “Wait a minute, before you click the box, let’s just go over the terms and conditions.” And he tells us that we’ve got to be willing to step away from this society, from the structures, from the people, from the ways of doing things that we’ve known.

Let’s consider the story of Philemon. Paul writes to this man about his slave who has stolen from him and run away. He, under the law, has the right to kill him. And yet, Jesus says, under the terms and conditions of building the Kingdom and being part of grace and justice and peace that we’re building, I’m asking you to do something different. I’m asking you to forgive the debt. So he says, you got to give this up this anger, this need for being right, the need to get revenge. You’ve got to lose this possession (your slave). You’ve got to be willing to give up whatever he stole. But, but not even just that. I want you then to welcome him as an equal into our community.

Now I think the reason Paul went around and around this is in his letter is because if you’d gone straight down the middle of telling him what he needed, Philemon would have said, Have you lost your mind? But this is what he was calling him too. Paul though, is calling him to sit down and consider the cost of doing this thing that is against all of the standards in the day, knowing that will cost him effort and work. That it will cost him money and time. And he’s say, just do it. Because that is what we do when we’re building the Kingdom of God. We have all of these things, these costs, these rules, these terms and conditions. And on this side we have love and we have justice and we have peace and we have the Kingdom of God coming into the world.

About seven or eight years ago, I had a conversation with someone about, um, the ordination process and the way the ordination process goes is that you meet with the Commission on Ministry first you meet with the Bishop, he sends you to the Commission on Ministry. The Commission on Ministry leads you through this discernment exercise about whether or not you’re going to be ordained. And this person asked me, would you ever think about doing something like that? And I said, there is no way I would ever, ever be able to do that. It’s too much responsibility. You have someone whose heart and soul and dreams are in your hand and there’s a chance you might have to say, we don’t think this is the place for you. We don’t think this is the right thing for you. I could not look in someone’s face and do that. I also would have a hard time looking at someone’s face and saying, okay, and here are all these things that you have to do in order to get through it. I said, it’d be too hard. Five weeks later, the bishop called and said, I want you to be on the commission on ministry.

And I said, because in my bowels, I said, I would do what the bishop says. Okay. And I was on the Commission on Ministry for seven years, and in my last year I was the chair of the Commission on Ministry in charge of luring other people into doing this. And Alan is now on the commission on Ministry. He’s in his eighth year and he’s chairperson and you’re welcome. And at the time when I was asked to agree to it, I knew I was being asked to do something that I could not do. That was impossible. That was hard that I didn’t like it, that I didn’t want to do it. What I didn’t know was that I would need a breadth gifted people who want to give their lives to God. What I didn’t know was that I would get to walk in the path of discernment with these people and help them discover tasks that would inform them, that would deepen their understanding, that would help to lead them in new directions. What I didn’t know was that insane. No. To some people I was helping them to say yes to something that made them more of who God intended them to be. What I didn’t know was that I was being called to help build the Kingdom of God, to put forth love and justice and peace and grace and to be one small part of one small part of this great thing that we call building the Kingdom of God.

Here are the terms and conditions. If you want to be part of building the Kingdom of God, if you want to be part of creating a world that is defined by grace and peace and justice, if you want to build a world that is turned upside down and looks more like God would have it be if you want to be part of making a world where love runs everything, justice underpins everything and peace is the order of the day. You’ve got to be willing to step away from the way that we’ve always done things. The way the people closest to you might say they should be done. You have to be willing to walk away from comfort from what we’re used to. Even at first flush from common sense. If you want to be in the Kingdom of God being a part of all this, you’ve got to be able and willing to pick up burdens that are not yours. Be Willing to carry heavy, heavy things for people who cannot.

You have to be willing to do it, not knowing whether it makes any difference, not knowing whether you can make it to the end, not knowing why you’re being called to do it. You have to be willing to put out your hand and say: “My money, my time, my talents, my whole self, whatever you need, God, I’m going to give it to you because I want to be a part of this, this Kingdom of God that is full of love and justice and grace and mercy.”

So are you going to check the box? Are you going to agree? Are you going to be a part of the Kingdom of God?

Preached by the Rev. Hailey McKeefry Delmas at the Church of the Epiphany, San Carlos on September 8, 2019.

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