Careful weeding

For a short period of time between “A Bored Seminarian” and “Draughting Theology,” this blog was called “Digging up my own Foundation.”  It was a nod, esoteric as it may have been, to my early understanding of the priesthood as one who empowers and encourages their congregation until they find themselves essentially out of a job.  When it was pointed out that the best way to shorten that too long title was “Dig up MoFo,” I decided to make a change, but truth be told, that ideal of what parish ministry looked like was a bit short-sighted anyway.  No matter how much encouraging and empowering one does, as an ordained clergyperson, there are still things that I can do that members of the congregation can’t.  The real difficulty of this vocation is learning what one should delegate and what one must do.  Or, to put it in the context of Sunday’s Gospel lesson, what can one safely dig up and hand off and what must remain in the ground.

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Invasive Torpedo Grass is hard to pull up without damaging everything else

In reading my standard preaching resources, the consensus is that Jesus’ farming technique left a lot to be desired.  The weed planted by the evil one was likely darnel, a poisonous rye grass that until it comes to seed, is impossible to differentiate from good wheat.  By the time the slaves would have noticed the problem, the solution they suggest would have been easily done.  That is, the wheat and darnel would have both been pretty well close to harvest anyway, and the damage done in uprooting the weed wouldn’t been fairly insignificant compared to the cost of the darnel seed falling to the ground, germinating, and having another year of bad crop to deal with.  Yet, Jesus instructs the slaves to wait and let the harvesters deal with it.  He is worried that to damage even one good wheat stalk would be a cost too high.  Why is Jesus so careful in his weeding?

The answer comes right at the very beginning of the parable.  Jesus starts by saying, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to…”  This is a kingdom parable, a story meant to teach a lesson about what it looks like under God’s reign.  God’s reign turns the upside-down world right-side up.  It makes the last first and the first last.  It heals the blind, frees the prisoner, and reaches out to touch the lepers.  God’s reign is a world in which every tear is dried up and the oil of gladness is poured out in abundance.  In the kingdom of the world, darnel doesn’t become wheat and dead men don’t come back to life, but with patience and faith, under the reign of God, both are possible.  When we see the world through the lens of this world, we are quick to grab weeds and toss them into the fire, but God’s view is long range, God’s goal is the restoration of all of Creation, God’s dream is a field full of wheat.  And so, the slaves are told to leave it to harvesters to deal with the good and the bad.  Who knows, by the time the harvest comes around, maybe the greatest miracle of all is that by the grace of God, darnel can become wheat.

A Parable for the Church

Despite our ongoing fascination with it, Jesus didn’t talk much about the institution of the church.  In fact, the only reference to church in the Gospels comes in Matthew’s account.  In chapter 15, Jesus tells Peter he will be the rock upon which he will build his church.  In chapter 18, the word occurs several times as Jesus explains how to handle a fellow Christian, literally a brother, who sins against you.  In the Greek, it appears only three times (16:18, and twice in 18:17) while in the NRSV, the word occurs five times.  Still, it is worth noting that Matthew’s Gospel shows an affinity toward the church that would bloom out of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  It is helpful as we read other portions of Matthew’s Gospel to recall that it was written with the Church in mind.

Which brings me to the Gospel lesson for Sunday.  As parable season rolls on, Jesus channels his inner Joachim Jeremias by offering a doozy of an allegorical interpretation on the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares.  It is tempting to read this parable and think of the individual: how each of us has within our own hearts some good wheat mixed in with some uncontrolled weeds, but that isn’t what Jesus has in mind as he tells this parable.  Instead, as Jesus explains the parable, he has a much wider perspective.  He tells this story about a world in which there is good and there is evil.  As his explanation comes to a close, Jesus says that after the weeds – stumbling-blocks and doers of evil, are carried off to the unquenchable fire, what will be left is a pristine field of wheat that will “shine like the sun.”

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In his allegory, Jesus explains that this wheat that will be left over are the righteous, literally those who conform to the standard of God and are thereby in right relationship with the Father, which with Matthew’s heart for the Church in mind, led me into the Catechism of our Book of Common Prayer and the answer to the question on the top of page 855, “What is the mission of the Church?”  “The mission of the Church is to restores all people to unity with God and each other in Christ.”  That is to say, with apologies for mixing allegories, the reason the Church exists is to work the soil so that the wheat in our hearts chokes out the weeds.  The work of the Church is to help righteousness flourish in our hearts so that when the harvest times comes, there is a whole lot more wheat left shining like the sun than there is weeds burning in the furnace.

To be sure, the Church hasn’t always done a great job of this.  Often, weeds have been actively ignored, which in my flower beds means they grow wildly.  Sometimes, they are pulled up with haste, allowing their seeds to scatter and the roots to remain in tact, which only makes for more weeds a few weeks down the road.  Rarely, are the root causes of weeds addressed and the proper fertilization and watering for wheat utilized in order to facilitate abundant harvests.  All this to say, when I read this as a timely parable for the Church and a call to intentional discipleship training for an abundant harvest, I am quick to realize that we have a lot of work to do to facilitate healthy growth in restoring all people to unity, i.e. right relationship, with God.

Ironic Jesus

Sunday’s Gospel lesson is a doozy, and reading it in context doesn’t seem to help.  After sending his Apostles out with the instructions we’ve heard over the past three weeks, Jesus returned to his own ministry of healing and preaching.  Matthew doesn’t reiterate Jesus’ message, but we know that on this missionary journey, like all the others, he has be proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near.  This is the same message that John the Baptist preached during his ministry at the Jordan (see Mt 3).  Interestingly, it is during this time that John, now in prison, sends his disciples to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or are we to wait for another?”

It is in response to this question from John the Baptist that Jesus engages in the teaching we will hear on Sunday.  The seemingly random aside about children in the marketplace, the woes to unrepentant cities that the lectionary skips, and even this prayer to the Father about thing hidden from the wise, are all a result of John’s somewhat surprising questioning of Jesus’ Messiahship.  But what really strange about all of this is how Jesus wraps it all up by saying, ““Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

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That’s a serious eye roll, Ironic Jesus!

Is Jesus being ironic here?  After a chapter of pretty difficult apocalyptic teaching, he’s going to end with “my yoke is easy and my burden is light”?  Has he not heard himself for the last five minutes?  He has literally just condemned Bethsaida and Capernaum, the home towns of several of his disciples, to a fate worse than Sodom for their unbelief.  What is easy about this faith if John the Baptist can’t handle it?  How light can the burden possibly be if these towns filled with faithful Jews can’t carry his teaching?

Preachers, and by that I mean, I tend to isolate this final verse from the rest of the lesson and talk about how a Rabbi’s yoke was his teaching, and how Jesus’ commandments to love God and love neighbor would seem downright easy compared to the teaching of the Pharisees, but in context, what Jesus is suggesting is downright heavy.  That is, until we remember that the task of the disciple is not to accomplish faith on our own, but rather to allow Jesus to carry it for us.  John was struggling.  In prison for his teaching and looking at the horizon of his own demise, he wanted to be sure that he had done the right thing.  His faith faltered, if only for a moment, and he looked for reassurance.  What he got was the word that being in prison was exactly where he was supposed to be, and that while his burden seemed heavy, God was there to help lighten the load.  His death would not be in vain.  His faith, unstable as it might have been at the time, would not fail.  The burden of following Jesus, even to death, is light because we are not invited to carry it alone.

True Hospitality – a sermon

You can hear this sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it here.


I can’t help but wonder if one of the reasons Episcopalians are so hesitant to engage in evangelism isn’t the fear of hearing “no,” but rather the fear of hearing “yes.”  I know that has been true for me at times.  I’m always on edge when I know a friend is coming to church.  “Will they feel welcomed?”  “Can they find a parking space?”  “Will they know which door to enter?”  I’ve been thinking a lot about this as recently we welcomed Mark Richard as a Ministry Intern, and today we welcome our new Associate Rector and Chaplain to WKU, the Reverend Becca Kello.  Will they see the church as the loving and beloved place that I do, or will they instead notice the stained concrete near Moore Hall, the weirdly hidden in plain sight coffee pots in Surface Hall, or, as Mark already has, that the State Street doors are inaccessible 97% of the time?  (That’s the actual percentage – I did the math.) It can be nerve wracking to welcome a friend into one’s church, which is why I’ve spent a good chunk of time during my first six months here talking about evangelism, but thinking about hospitality.

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There are more church hospitality gurus out there than K-Cup options at Kroger, but one thing they agree on is that you have very little time to make a first impression on a guest.  Usually, within 10 minutes after the service has ended, a visitor has already decided if they will ever return.  You might not have noticed it, but during our three-Sunday journey with Jesus as he commissioned the twelve to preach the Good News on his behalf, we have heard Jesus lay the foundation for quick first impressions in the church, though the context is, admittedly, a bit different.  Two weeks ago, as Jesus began this teaching, he told the disciples that as they enter a house, they should offer greetings, and “if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you.”  Jesus didn’t invite his disciples to be patient or to give a place a second chance at making a first impression, but rather, he was clear that they would know in an instant whether the Spirit was present and a place was ready to welcome a stranger.

In this morning’s lesson, Jesus circles back around to the topic of hospitality, and although he is speaking to those who will be welcomed, as we hear it today, Jesus offers a lesson on hospitality for Episcopalians who repeatedly affirm that we will seek and serve Christ in every person, especially those who walk through our doors.  God sends every guest that we receive.  Our task, if we are taking Jesus’ words seriously this morning, is to realize that when we welcome a guest, we welcome Jesus, and when we welcome Jesus, we welcome God into our midst.  This isn’t always easy.  I get that.  Sometimes guests look and smell more like Jesus the first century Galilean than we would like.  Sometimes guests have different ideas than we do.  Sometimes, they might even sit in the pew that your family has sat in for the last fifty years.  Every guest we welcome will change us, and to be truly hospitable is to be willing to allow that change to happen.

Truth be told, the Church has been struggling with how to welcome strangers since the very beginning.  Outlined in Acts chapter fifteen, the First Council of Jerusalem was called because the Apostles couldn’t agree on how to welcome Gentiles into the faith.  The author of the Letter to the Hebrews reminds his audience of the fundamental call of the church to welcome guests, admonishing them to “not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”  Even those whose lives are dedicated to hospitality can find it difficult. One of my favorite church stories, one that you will tired of hearing someday, comes from Kathleen Norris’ spiritual memoir, Dakota.  Norris reflects on the tradition of hospitality that has been a part of monastic life for hundreds of years, noting that a wayward traveler has always been able to find safety, rest, and a meal with the monks who welcomed them as they would welcome Jesus into their dwelling.  Yet even in the monastery, true hospitality can be difficult to maintain.  Norris recalls a story of an older monk talking to a younger monk about the challenge of welcoming every guest as he would welcome Jesus at the gate: “I have finally learned to accept people as they are,” the older monk says. “Whatever they are in the world, a prostitute, a prime minister, it is all the same to me. But sometimes I see a stranger coming up the road and I say, ‘Oh, Jesus Christ, is that you again?’”

To welcome a stranger as we would welcome Jesus is a hard standard to live up to.  Every congregation struggles with it to some degree.  I know that in the search process that brought me here, Christ Church did some work coming to terms with the reality that this wasn’t as hospitable a community as you thought you were.  Like many Episcopal congregations, y’all tended to be more friendly than welcoming.  That is to say, you were really good at making sure each other felt welcomed on Sunday, but often, a newcomer ended up as nothing more than a blip on the radar as she passed by the closed conversation circles in Surface Hall and slipped out the back door.  The good news is that you’ve taken it to heart and your Hospitality Team is hard at work looking for ways to help the entire Christ Church community be more welcoming.

One of the fundamental questions we have to ask in this process is “what does hospitality look like?”  Specifically, how does hospitality differ from simply being friendly?  While it may seem like Jesus doesn’t give us much to work with in this morning’s lesson, he shares a basic feature of true hospitality when he tells the twelve that “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  Offering hospitality doesn’t mean a grand buffet every Sunday, though I do hope we’ll have an honest to goodness coffee hour after the 10 o’clock service someday soon.  Hospitality doesn’t require a Starbucks, a glitzy Welcome Center with a credit card reader for first time givers, or even highly trained volunteers.  The key aspect of hospitality that Jesus highlights in our lesson this morning is the ability and the willingness to notice the other.

I cannot offer a cup of cold water to someone if they remain invisible.  To know that a person is in need of water, coffee, or a simple handshake requires first and foremost that I see them.  Seeing them not as an interloper, a pew stealer, or simply as a passerby, but as a human being, made in the image of God, who deserves to experience God’s love in this place.  Being hospitable means having our eyes open and our heads on a swivel to see the family searching for the nursery, the man wondering where the closest restroom is, or the woman unsure of which door to use to enter the church.  Being hospitable means recognizing the person in the next pew who can’t figure out why we speak the King’s English at 8 o’clock, or why there is an S in front of the next hymn at 10, or where to kneel at the communion rail.  Being hospitable means that before you catch up with that good friend after church, you spend three minutes seeking out and talking to someone you have never met before.

Being hospitable means seeing the other, discerning their need, and, in the model of Jesus, showing compassion by doing something to alleviate that need.  It doesn’t require heroics, but rather, hospitality is about inviting the other to experience fully the little things that make church a comfortable place for so many of us.  In so doing, we invite our guests to experience the love of God, the grace of Jesus, and the refreshment of the Holy Spirit.  And maybe, just maybe, if we are all doing our part to make Christ Church a welcoming community, we will be more inclined to invite a friend to join us, knowing that when they walk in, they will be welcomed as an honored guest, even as Jesus Christ himself.  Amen.

What does hospitality look like?

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How true is this slogan?

While being far from universally true, many Episcopal Church, and many congregations of other denominations as well, think of themselves as welcoming communities.  At the very least, they have ushers who will hand you a bulletin, signs that tell you where the bathrooms are, and at least one person who is willing to take a risk by reaching out a hand and saying, “Hi, I’m Steve, are you new here?”  The stark truth, however, is that most congregations that think of themselves as welcoming are actually only friendly at best.  That is, they are really good at making sure longtime members feel welcomed every Sunday, but the newcomer ends up being nothing more than a blip on the radar as she passes by the closed conversation circles at coffee hour and slips out the back door.

It can be hard to hear that what you thought was welcoming is nothing more than friendliness.  When one’s self-perception comes into question, it can lead to all kinds of distress, anxiety, and frustration.  I hear it here at Christ Church, as their Interim Rector, the Search Committee, and the good folks at Holy Cow! were quick to realize that they weren’t nearly as welcoming as they thought they were.  It can really sting to hear these words out loud, and to their credit, they’ve taken it to heart.  A Hospitality Team began to work diligently on the hard task of making a cultural shift from closed off friendliness to open armed hospitality.  We aren’t there yet, but progress is certainly being made.

One of the fundamental questions we have to ask in this process is “what does hospitality look like?”  Specifically, how does it differ from simply being friendly?  In Sunday’s Gospel lesson, Jesus doesn’t give us much to work with, but he does offer us a quick glimpse into a core feature of hospitality when he tells the twelve that “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple– truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.”  Offering hospitality doesn’t mean a grand buffet every Sunday.  It doesn’t require a Starbucks, a Welcome Center, or even trained volunteers.  The key aspect of hospitality is the ability and willingness to notice the other.

One cannot offer a cup of cold water to someone that remains invisible.  In order to know that a person is in need of water, coffee, or even a simple handshake requires that they first be seen, and seen not as an interloper or a passerby, but as a human being, made in the image of God, who deserves to experience God’s love in this place.  Being hospitable means having one’s eyes open and one’s head on a swivel to see the family searching for the nursery, the man wondering where the restroom is, or the woman unsure of which door to use to enter the church.  Being hospitable means recognizing the person in the next pew who can’t figure out why there is an S in front of the next hymn or what the heck a Sanctus is.  Being hospitable means seeing another, discerning their need, and, in the model of Jesus, having compassion on them, i.e. actually doing something to alleviate the need.  It doesn’t require heroics, but rather, hospitality is about inviting the other to experience fully the little things that make church a comfortable place, thereby experiencing the love of God, the grace of Jesus, and the refreshment of the Holy Spirit.

The Commissioning Part III

As we enter our third week of Gospel lessons from Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve with its concurrent warning of the persecution to come, the astute preacher will note that the tenor of the conversation has changed dramatically.  From rejection by family and being dragged into court, Jesus turns his focus back on what sort of welcome his disciples can hope to receive as they enter various towns and villages.  You’ll recall from two weeks ago (in the optional portion of a lesson that we rarely hear in the Season after Pentecost therefore effectively castrating this three-part lesson, but I digress, as is my wont, in ranting about the failures of the RCL) that early on, Jesus imagined for his disciples what hospitality might look like.

“Whatever town or village you enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet as you leave that house or town.”

In Sunday’s lesson, he circles back around to the topic of hospitality, perhaps to end this commissioning on a positive note, but more likely, given the growing number of travelling missionaries by Matthew’s time, to encourage the wider audience to not give up on the several Hebrew Bible injunctions on hospitality.  To welcome a messenger of the Gospel, like one of the twelve, and later Paul, Barnabas, and Priscilla, to name a few, was to welcome Jesus himself into one’s home, and to welcome Jesus was to welcome God almighty under one’s roof.

As I’ve talked about over the past few weeks, being a disciples of Jesus was dangerous for the first three hundred or so years of Christianity.  Being an Apostle of Jesus, one who is sent to proclaim the Good News, was even more so.  The call to martyrdom was answered by thousands in those early years, and yet, those who went and those who welcomed them remained faithful.  While we focus on the great evangelists of the day, the Acts of the Apostles reminds us that without people like Lydia and Mary the Mother of John Mark the Gospel of Jesus would not have been able to spread like it did.  As we reflect on our own call to go and tell, it would behoove us also to think about how we might open our homes to welcome prophets, apostles, and even Jesus himself.

Go, have no fear, take risks, and share the Good News – a sermon

You can hear this sermon on the Christ Church website, or read it here.


It was pointed out to me after last Sunday that thanks to a couple of baptisms and Vacation Bible School, I had escaped a pretty difficult Gospel passage for another three years.  Without thinking, I laughingly agreed, and gave the old “phew” sign.  Monday morning, I realized that I had breathed a sigh of relief just a little too soon.  Unfortunately for me, the Lectionary has split Jesus’ warning into three sections, the toughest of which we hear this morning.  If you’ll recall from last week, Jesus’ ministry has become increasingly successful.  He toured many of the cities and villages of Israel, proclaiming that the Kingdom of God has come near, and the crowds continued to grow.  As Jesus looked at the throngs of hurting and helpless people who were following him, his heart was broken.  They were like sheep without a shepherd, and Jesus knew that for every one that had heard his message, there were hundreds of others who had yet to hear the Good News.

So, Jesus called together the twelve and commissioned them to go: cast out demons, cure the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, and proclaim that the Kingdom of heaven has come near.  Before they departed on their evangelistic expedition, Jesus offered a word of caution.  Well, actually, it’s more like eight hundred words of caution.  The task will not be easy.  There are plenty of people who do not want the Jesus Movement to take off, and many of them are in positions of power.  “You will be brought before councils, flogged in the synagogue, and dragged before governors and kings,” Jesus told them in last week’s Gospel, “but don’t worry, the Spirit will give you the words you need.”  “You will be hated by friends and family alike,” Jesus goes on to warn them, “but with God’s help, you will endure.”  His rhetoric heats up in this week’s passage.  Jesus reminds the disciples that “out there” they are calling him Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that is, Satan himself.  “What do you think it will be like for you,” Jesus asks, “as you take my message and help it to spread.”

Consistently throughout these dire warnings about the struggle that is to come, Jesus pauses to offer the word that God always offers in moments of anxiety and struggle, “Have no fear.”  The work will not be easy.  There will be pain.  There will be broken relationships.  There will be rumors and innuendo.  There might even be a call to die, but despite all that, Jesus says, “have no fear, for even if they kill your body, they cannot touch your soul… Those who find their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

When Jesus talked about giving up one’s life and that “one’s foes will be members of one’s own household,” he was dead serious.  To give up one’s faith in the Jewish tradition and follow Jesus was akin to walking away from one’s family.  The same was true of Pagan Gentiles who converted.  In a world where men followed in the family business and sons took care of their aging parents, this was a significant issue.  To disrupt the religious, political, and economic status quo was the threaten the stability of the whole region, and governments are not fond of instability.  It was not safe to be a disciple of Jesus.  In fact, for the first three hundred or so years of Christianity, there was an almost constant, real threat of death, and so these words of comfort were of crucial importance.

Hearing a similar chunk of Matthew 10, this Thursday, the Church remembered Saint Alban, the first British Christian for whom we have a name.  Alban lived just outside of modern day London during the third century.  He was a pagan when he met a priest who was fleeing the most recent wave of Roman persecution.  For reasons that will forever be unknown, Alban decided to hide the priest in his home.  For several days, they had nothing to do but talk with each other.  Over time, Alban was so impressed by the faith of the priest, that he became a Christian.  When soldiers got word that the priest was hiding at Alban’s home, they came to arrest him, but Alban quickly donned the priest’s cloak and gave himself up instead.  Alban was tortured in hopes that he would renounce his faith, but when he withstood the flogging with patience and joy, the judge ordered him beheaded.

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As Alban and his executioners made their way to the hill where he was to be killed, they came upon a fast-flowing river.  The bridge was so clogged with onlookers that the execution party couldn’t cross the river, but the excited new convert was so ready to lose his life for the sake of the Gospel that he “raised his eyes to heaven and the river dried up.”  The first executioner, amazed by the miracle, put down his sword and offered to be killed in Alban’s place.  Ultimately, both men were beheaded atop a hill that now bears his name.  Legend has it that as he made the fatal blow, the second executioner’s eyes popped out and dropped to the ground along with Alban’s head, which then rolled down the hill and a spring of fresh water burst forth from the ground at its final resting place.  Martyrdom stories tend to get embellished over time, but even if all the details aren’t exactly true, the reality is that for Alban and thousands of others like him, following Jesus in those early days of Christianity was a life-threatening endeavor that they willingly took on buoyed by the assurance of Jesus in passages like this one.

From the comfort of our mortgage free building that sits in the heart of the Bible Belt, and is filled with relatively comfortable, middle class, “mainline” American Christians, this message doesn’t have the same impact.  In fact, it can be downright difficult to begin to make sense of it.  When I hear these warnings about persecution, I can’t help but wonder if I can even consider myself a disciple.  Life as a 21st century American Christian just seems too easy.  What are we to do with a text like this?   I think the answer is two-fold.  First, these words from Jesus should call to mind the millions of Christians outside of our safe little American bubble who face the threat of death every day.  These words from Jesus remind us to pray with fervor for the Coptic Christians in Egypt and Iraq, for Anglicans in Sudan, and for Christians around the globe who are under the real threat of violence for their faith in Jesus.

Secondly, I think these words of warning should inspire us to evangelistic action.  In a country where there is no actual threat to our faith, but where the face of Christianity is often closed-minded, abusive, or worse yet, a self-seeking get-rich-quick scheme, to not speak God’s word of love for the world God created is to fail to live up to the expectations Jesus has for us.  Instead of choosing to love father and mother more than Jesus, many Episcopalians have decided to love polite society or our own comfort more than him.  When we choose the easy route, we fail to take up our cross and follow him.  When we ignore the call to proclaim the Kingdom of God in word and deed, we deny Christ before others, and, tough as it might be to hear, Jesus promises that he will deny us in the same way.

If it weren’t for the faithfulness of those early disciples, who withstood persecution and proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord, we wouldn’t be here today.  It is our responsibility, then, as committed, albeit comfortable, disciples of Jesus, to continue to share the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near, to share a message of God’s love and grace in a world that hears mostly of God’s anger and vengeance, and to show that following Jesus doesn’t mean condemning those who are different from us, but rather, embracing the reality that God loves everyone, no exceptions.  In a world full of vitriol and strife, the message of hope, grace, and love that we have to offer is too important not to share.  So, go, have no fear, take a risk, and tell out the Good News that the kingdom of heaven has come near.  Amen.