September 8, 2019
Grace Episcopal Church
It was a dark and stormy night last night, and I thought about what it must have been like for the good people in the Bahamas, in Abaco last Sunday night. Today in the Bahamas, including Grand Abaco, 70,000 homeless, 10,000 homes destroyed. As many of you know, George and Stepper LeBoutillier have a home on Abaco, it was built by George’s father and has endured more than one hurricane through the years but the early news was not good, in fact, the catastrophic winds and water of Dorian, leveled almost everything.
When I saw George and Stepper on Thursday, George said this, and it may be the only sermon we need for this morning: “People are talking about rebuilding but first the community must be rebuilt.” Stepper spoke about the Haitian people on Abaco, some having left Haiti after the catastrophic earthquake of 2010 — “They live in tiny shacks, tents, I don’t know how they even survived.” George and Stepper both said it. There must be a perspective that looks beyond the differences, beyond the privileged and the disenfranchised, there must be a way to bridge the divide that separates us into winners and losers, that draws all humanity and creation together, there must be a perspective that calls forth compassion in the midst of suffering.
So, today, I am making an offering and invite you to consider a gift as well. My gift is in thanksgiving for George and Stepper, two members of our beloved community who know what it means to be “salt.” And it is these two verses that are a necessary addition to our gospel reading today: “Salt is good; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile; they throw it away. Let anyone with ears to hear listen.” (Luke 14: 34,35)
We began today with this reading from Deuteronomy. Moses led the people of God through the wilderness for forty years and with these words marks their arrival into the land God promised. Moses reminds the people of God of the command to keep the commandments of God and to choose life.
Moses conveys the demands of God and the promises of God so that the people of God will prosper. This arc of the salvation history extends the call to choose life and to follow in the way of God so that all the peoples of the earth will be blessed. It is a reminder of the high purpose of the Hebrew people — they were blessed in order to be a blessing to all the peoples of the earth. They were set apart to be witnesses of the one God.
As the rest of the story unfolds through Joshua, the judges, the kings, the priests and most profoundly through the prophets, we see them as both faithful and flawed. The prophets again and again were raised up to call the people of God to return to the Lord. These scriptures show the best and worst of humanity and we can see our own human strengths and limitations in them. And then, finally, the blessing comes; it comes through mother Mary and father Joseph, it comes in the form of the sacred child, Jesus, who is now the one on the way to Jerusalem and to certain death.
In our Gospel reading today, the price is clear — to choose life means to accept the invitation to be disciples of Jesus and to be a follower of the Way. To follow Jesus is to reorient all other claims on one’s life. And as must choose to be disciples of this prophet who will save us all through the only thing we all have in common: death. We cannot save ourselves by good intentions or good deeds. The price for our salvation is a death, a death for all of humanity. Let me be clear: Jesus dies for all humanity and those who follow in his way, be willing to offer our own lives and accept our own death. This is the cost. The benefit is that we also experience the joy of the resurrection.
First, I must share the Parable of the Banquet ( Luke 14:15-24). The scribes and the Pharisees are too busy to attend. Those sought on the highways and byways were the last, the least, the lost, the little and the dead. The losers, those who were already clear that life was not under control. The Parable of the Banquet and the demands of discipleship from the gospel of today, together make the same point: The call of God issued by Jesus (the Prophet) must relativize all other claims on life. What does it mean to be all in? The world tells us we can have it all and Jesus tells us we must choose to be all in, so what is the price?
In the Parables of Grace, Robert Capon says it this way: “Jesus’ point is not simply that discipleship in the way of death-resurrection is expensive; more important, it’s that it is liberating once the price is paid. For the very next thing he says is the Parable of Salt (Salt is wonderful, but if salt has become insipid how can you make it salty again?) Think about what Jesus is actually saying. On the one hand, it is terrifying and unreasonable: in order to gain salvation, life, and reconciliation, you have to lose every amenity, every relationship, every last scrap of the good life you might have. In short, you have to be dead. On the other hand, the deal is a bargain to end all bargains: sooner or later, you’re going to have to lose all those things anyway — Willy-nilly, the death that is your wherewithal for buying a new world is already in the bank.”
“What has that to do with salt? Just this: the saltiness of Jesus’ disciples — the taste, zip, and zing that the church at its best can give to the world — derives precisely from our recognition that the Good News is one huge, inside joke. Because it really is a divine comedy. Sure, the price of salvation is high. And sure, you should sit down and count the cost. But do you see what you come up with when you get done counting? You come up with the absolute certainty that everything you’ve got turns out to be exactly the right amount to cut you in on the deal: you have one life, and the price is one life. Even more hilarious than that, you would have to shell out everything anyway, even to get nothing for it. And funniest of all, even if you shell out only because you have to, your total loss will still get you one ticket to the final party. It’s exactly like the Great Banquet, in fact: all you have to be is a certified loser and God will send his servant Jesus to positively drag you into his house. And that’s the saltiness of the joke: salvation (root sal, which is salt) really is free. Which is exactly what salt is: not worth buying for its own sake, but dirt cheap considering the way it perks up everything else.”
“And we, the church, we must get out of the business of salvation through moral success, intellectual competence, and spiritual triumph. The Gospel is not a tragedy; it’s precisely a hilariously salty story — so flavorful it’s in positively bad taste — in which teachers, crane operators, models, bag ladies, tennis pros, drug addicts, bankers, lawyers, and fishermen all get away with murder just by dropping dead. We are raised, reconciled, and restored not because we are thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent but because we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God — because, that is, Jesus has this absolute thing about raising the dead.”
And that is good news, indeed!