July 2, 2017

Pentecost 4   July 2, 2017  (Psalm 24), Exodus 6:2-9, Romans 6:2-9, Matthew 10:40-42

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The good news is – you’re all going to heaven. Assuming, that is – you’ve ever given even a cup of cold water to a disciples of Jesus.

And the good news gets even better. You’re already there – already in heaven, in one sense. Because as Saint Catherine of Sienna has said “All the way to heaven is heaven, because Jesus said, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life…’”

Now the sermon could be already over – since I’ve given away the conclusion. (Some of you say “alleluia!”) So I better talk fast to remind you of the bad news – which is that the good news tends to often be overlooked…. and quickly forgotten… The good news of Jesus Christ has a way of staying hidden from sight…Till we’re living the good news, all the time… So the conclusion really isn’t the conclusion… Till we get to the full conclusion… And we’re not quite all the way there yet. Consider:

Moses gets the word straight from God – go, tell the Israelites, ‘I am the LORD who will free you from slavery to the Egyptians – and you shall know that I am the LORD your God – who has freed you – (who has freed you –) from slavery…’ And Moses is trying to explain to Israel this is already a done-deal. Hey, the Creator of the universe has promised it…

But the Israelites won’t listen. Won’t even give Moses a hearing. Because they’re too broken in spirit by bitter slavery…. to be able to hear the good news… that they are already free… Which is pretty much the story of the human condition…

Christ has died for all. Our sins are forgiven. We have been given the free gift of life eternal. Just as St Paul tells the church in Rome – ‘you have already been set free from sin – you have already been given the gift of eternal life.’

But Paul knows – better than most of us – all the many reasons why the ultimate conclusion can’t be heard by most of us humans… straight-no-chaser.

Telling the good news too quickly – that we’re already freed and forgiven – already living eternal life – tends to lead to hearing the good news badly.

Either going the libertine route – like – “hallelujah! I’m saved. I can do whatever I want now and still be saved… So to hey with the diet and good behavior, I’m living it up till Jesus comes back..” – or going legalistic – holier-than-everyone-else… We believe. We’re saved. Saved by grace and faith in Christ. And since all the rest of the world doesn’t get it – God has left us in charge of explaining everything to everyone.

Our human capacity for misunderstanding grace is probably why it takes the apostle Paul six chapters to work up to telling us the free gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ – and another ten chapters after this to unpack what it means… to be alive and living in Christ… and… (I confess…)

I’m as guilty as the next person of cherry-picking my way through scripture… Looking for the best parts… Skipping over, under, sideways, around the more difficult parts… For example – since it was Father’s Day two weeks ago, so I thought it best to skip over the troublesome parts of Matthew chapter 10 in our lectionary readings – just before our reading today… Where Jesus tells us we can’t be his disciples unless we take up our cross and follow him… And love him more than we love our parents, our children, and our own lives…

I suppose I was figuring the timing wasn’t right – and if we’ve been in church awhile, we’ve probably heard these parts of the message often. It’s stuff Jesus reminds us of with annoying frequency. So maybe we can skip over the hard parts this week and the week after…. And there is a time for every purpose under heaven… But sometimes I have  a tendency to skip over the more difficult truths of the gospel far more often than I should…  Always looking to find the least difficult way of telling the good news… And I may be looking through rose-tinted sunglasses again today… But –

It sure feels like Jesus is doing the five-day-weekend-at-the-Cape-thing today. Eating burgers, sipping a few tall cool ones with St Paul, Moses, and the disciples… All of them out on a deck somewhere, wearing dark sunglasses, big straw hats, chilling out, incognito…Sharing stories from the exodus journey from life into yet-more-life…

And it’s hard not to be imagining along these lines… Because here is Jesus today, tossing us a really weird slow-pitch-change-up – telling us – whoever welcomes even one of his disciples will have a disciples’ reward – whoever gives even a cup of cool water to one of his followers won’t lose their reward…Which I take to mean eternal reward…

Which kind of sounds too good to be true…. But –

We are hearing this straight from Jesus, right? So…

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I’ve been remembering pouring drinks, once, about 35 years ago, for a disciple of Jesus – a righteous man (if ever I’ve known one) – a Maryknoll missionary priest serving in Peru… Fr Tom had been sent by his order to Washington DC, where I was living at the time, sent there on a mission try to do something about all the emergency baptisms he and other priests were doing for children dying of malnutrition related to harsh economic policies imposed by the Washington-based International Monetary Fund. (Of which the US is the largest share-holder.) I heard many a story about his hard-working, long-suffering parishioners… (I find myself reminded to pray for them and Tom often…)

I also remember how Fr Tom liked to tell jokes and funny stories. (He always claimed the slightly off-color jokes were all told to him by the nuns.) His deep commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ kept him serving under very difficult circumstances, including death threats from the so-called Shining Path Maoist insurgents, and his own often frail health… But his commitment to Jesus never wavered… And never interfered with his excellent sense of humor… and obvious enjoyment of the simple hospitality I was able to offer.

It still strikes me as more than a little unfair… To hear that just by serving Tom (way back when) in the comfort of my own apartment… I now share in the reward of Fr Tom – who is still serving the same low-income parish in Peru, still living in the humble home of parishioners, whose hospitality is so much more sacrificial than mine ever was… They sharing of their very humble means…Sharing all they have…

It just doesn’t seem fair at all that I should share in his and their reward – the reward of a righteous man who has done the hard work of living the missionary life, bringing the gospel to the poor… And the work of his parishioners, who practice radical hospitality every day…

And maybe this is part of what makes the good news hard to believe…

St Paul can be hard to understand at times. His arguments often take some odd turns. And in Romans we really do need to read the whole letter to understand how all the parts work together….But to over-simplify only a little – the greatest scandal in what Paul says today isn’t about him telling us the wages of sin is death – we all know that, I think.

The real scandal is in St Paul telling us that eternal life is something we receive only as a free gift. Grace and salvation and love are not for sale at any price. Not things we can ever earn – or deserve… Which is why we, most of us I suspect, often secretly prefer law – the law of God preferably – but in a pinch, law of any kind – any sort of structured order that gives us a reason for everything… Law is so often what we actually prefer over grace… Because grace is irrational. Grace is not something we can control…

There’s a restaurant in California, I’ve heard of, called The Karma Cafe. The sign in the window says “We serve you exactly what you deserve.” Maybe some of us expect good service and good food. And some of us expect the opposite… Lousy food and awful service… Because that’s what we think we deserve…

But at Cafe Jesus… Whoever we are, wherever we’ve been – the cooking’s always going to be very good. The food and the service are always much better than anyone deserves… And dinner’s always on the house….

The one thing we’re always expected to remember in Cafe Jesus – is to always share what ever’s provided – everything from the buffet entrees… to the cold water in the pitchers on every table…

Because no matter who the diner next to us may be… If they are  a follower of Jesus… We’re sharing with Jesus too.  And the good news doesn’t get any better than this…

So maybe we should say, “Thanks be to God.” And get ready for dinner…

Thanks be to God.   Amen.