On the Basis of Love

Lessons of the Day: Deuteronomy 30:15-20; Psalm 1; Philemon 1-21; Luke 14:25-33.

When we first moved to Florida, as the first full year of our life here came to an end and our first full summer began, I recall my mother’s dismay as attendance and participation at Church took a sharp decline – one Mass was canceled, Sunday School ended, youth group took a break, and even the prayer groups that she was a part of took weeks off. As was her wont, she brought her concerns to the parish priest, Father John Caulfield (yes, the same John Caulfield that would be my mentor years later here in Lakeland). Father Caulfield’s only response was, “Oh, yes, Floridians do tend to take the summer off, perhaps it’s the heat.”

Maybe we take the summer off or maybe not – but, to be sure, to be a disciple for God we are beckoned to live a life for God at all times.

Through the lessons today , we learn about the cost of discipleship. In the gospel message, Jesus is clear in his address to the crowd that discipleship will require sacrifice. “Take up your cross,” after all, is no mere request. It is not a suggestive passive act; but, rather, it is a command of sacrifice, the bearing of our own lives unto the journey. Discipleship is no easy feat. There are costs, and there are rewards. 

Now, to be a disciple we might consider three questions. 

  • How does one become a disciple? 
  • What are the responsibilities of a disciple?
  • How does one live out one’s covenant as a disciple?

How do we become disciples? Many of us entered into discipleship as infants. We were baptized in a time before we knew ourselves, before we were aware of our own being and before we could speak the name of Jesus. Someone stood at the Baptismal Font and called out our names to be Baptized. Maybe even some of you had your names called out in this very 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. We were baptized in the Name of the Father, and of the Son and of 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’s own forever.” 

This covenant does not change as we age. Although other things change in life as we age, our Baptismal Covenant with God remains unchanged. We may marry, have children, wrinkle. We age 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 through 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 the world. It is through Baptism that we are the disciples of Christ.

What are the responsibilities of discipleship? 

During the time the disciple Paul was imprisoned, he wrote a letter to Philemon, a leader of the church in Colossae, and an apparent friend of Paul. In his letter, Paul speaks a runaway slave named Onesimus, whom Paul had met, converted, and baptized. Now, slaves under Roman law had no rights because they were considered property. They could be condemned to hard labor, punished with blows of the rod, and otherwise tortured. Runaway slaves were branded with a red hot iron on the forehead with an F (fugitivus, or runaway) and even crucified. It also seems that Onesimus had stolen from Philemon, which is why Paul wrote that if he had wronged him in any way or owes him anything, Philemon should charge that to Paul’s own account.

But as strong as Roman culture, practice, and law were, Paul told Philemon that Christian faith should be stronger. He was sending Onesimus back to Philemon and asked him to receive him not as a slave but as a brother in the Lord, to welcome him as Philemon would welcome Paul himself. The reality of the indelible mark of baptism on Onesimus’ soul was to be far weightier, Paul suggested, than the branded “F” that could be placed on his forehead. And we have every reason to believe that that is exactly how Philemon welcomed Onesimus back, otherwise we almost certainly wouldn’t have had this personal letter of Saint Paul preserved.

This points to the type of revolution the Christian faith is supposed to work. Our faith in Christ, and what we know he asks of us, is supposed to be the central reference point for how we look at ourselves, how we look at others, and how we make our decisions. Philemon received God’s grace to welcome Onesimus no longer as a piece of property, no longer as someone who had stolen from him, but as a beloved spiritual sibling.

So, how are we then supposed to live a covenant life? 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 was raised 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, 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, to live out the covenant of discipleship? My grandfather was good and faithful, and wise in his own way. He was politically active and used to say of why he supported a particular candidate, “You will know what a person believes from how that person behaves.” Not earth shattering wisdom, but on the mark. 

Our actions toward each other illustrate what we believe. As they say, “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”.

Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 45.

Cheap grace is cheap because we can give it freely according to our need to justify our sinful behavior.

The martyrs of new Guinea (Feast Day-September 2), likewise, knew the cost of discipleship. Led by Lucian Tapeidi, the martyrs – all Anglican priests and missionaries – refused to leave their posts as the Japanese invaded Papua in 1942, at the battle of Rabaul. The eight missionaries were all killed by the Japanese, along with 325 other Christian witnesses. A statue of Tapiedi is installed among the niches with other 20th-century Christian martyrs over the west door of Westminster Abbey in London. His killer, taking the name Hivijapa Lucian, later converted to Christianity, noting Tapiedi’s courageous witness to Christ and the people he served as the starting point of conversion. He built a church dedicated to the memory of his victim

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.”

Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 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 and 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). 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 world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s