Sunday, July 29, 2012

One Giant Step for Humankind

John 6:1-16
Forty-three years ago, as Neil Armstrong stepped off his lunar module onto the surface of the Moon; he uttered the immortal words, “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” How many of you remember that moment? How many of you remember what you were doing when word of the landing came back to us? I was 18 at the time, spending my summer home from college working for a brick mason. My job was to mix the mortar and carry the bricks. I was paid $2.00 an hour to make sure that the skilled labor always had their supplies in front of them. It was back breaking work which helped remind me that a college education offered possibilities beyond carrying bricks for the rest of my life. During lunch break, on July 22, 1969, the day after the historic event, the brick masons argued if the event actually happened or it was some giant government hoax. Believe it or not, only two of us actually believed the landing had been made. If Water Cronkite said it happened that was good enough for me.

What of the man that spoke those historic words. What do we know about him? Neil Armstrong flew 78 missions for the Navy during the Korean War. He was shot down on his very first mission but managed to bail out in friendly territory. After the War he became a test pilot for the Air Force and in 1957 was chosen to be an astronaut. He participated in both the Gemini and Apollo programs, culminating with his successful mission to the moon. Of course you knew all of that. But do you know what he did after Apollo 13? He resigned from the space program, accepted a teaching position at the University of Cincinnati, and taught there until he retired. There were no speaking tours, no book deals, nothing. He quietly walked away from being the most famous man in the universe, and did so without regrets. Why did he step away? A few years ago, in a rare interview, he said, “It was never about me, it was about the space program.”

Why do I bring this up? This morning’s scripture shares one the most beloved stories of the ministry of Jesus, the feeding of the 5,000. The story is covered in all four gospels. We like John’s version the best because it is the only one to include the young boy who had the loaves and fishes. We have heard the story so many times I see no reason to spend any time discussing it. But what I would like to bring to your attention is verse 15. “When Jesus realized they wanted to make him king, he withdrew to the mountains by himself.” Jesus pulled a Neil Armstrong. Right at the most famous moment of his life, he disappeared into the mountains.

Think of the popularity Jesus could have had if he would have seized the opportunity at hand. People from all over Judea would have flocked to him. With a few more feedings and a couple more miracles he would have had the world eating out of his hand. He could have done and said anything he wanted to. And there in lay the problem. It was not about Jesus, it was about the Kingdom of God.

I think of all the celebrities that have particular causes. My favorite happens to be Bono, the lead singer for the rock group U2. Some might argue that U2 is the best known group in the world. They have been playing for over 20 years and still sell out every place they go. Bono has used his celebrity as a bully pulpit to speak about hunger and debt in Africa. He has had audiences with two Popes, three presidents and multiple leaders in Europe. No one can dispute that he has been a major voice responsible for changing attitudes toward Fair Trade. But what would happen if Bono was asked to give his life to promote his cause? Would he do it? I doubt it. Often celebrities believe their presence is so important they come to believe their particular cause would fade without their leadership.

Jesus was surrounded by well meaning folks overwhelmed by his message and miracles. They wanted to make him King. They wanted to sweep him up and carry him all the way to Jerusalem. They saw him as the one who could eliminate poverty, sickness, and possibly even the oppression of Rome. And the truth is, there is no doubt that Jesus could have done all of that with the sweep of one hand. But that wasn’t why Jesus came. Daniel Harrell writes, “Jesus makes it clear through the gospels that the kingdom of God exists for more than the temporal bounds of this earth. It transcends time and death to encompass eternity. For eternal life to happen, somebody had to deal with the darkness of human evil and sin, which meant Jesus had to sacrifice his very life for it.”

There is something about human nature that dictates that the famous are above suffering. Once fame arrives, they become the standard bearer, the spokesperson, the celebrity. Others are called on the sacrifice for the cause but the famous must remain above the fray to insure the cause lives on. Not so with Jesus. If Jesus had allowed his followers to make him King he certainly would have entertained the thought, “Why should I die when my people need me?” And once that thought surfaced, God’s plan for salvation would have suffered a dramatic turn for the worse.

But Jesus turned his back on fame. Instead of listening to the crowds, he ran into the hills, leaving the disciples to fend for themselves. I imagine this must have been a bit confusing to Peter and the others. Jesus was always dropping hints about heading for Jerusalem. Now the way appeared clear for Jesus to march right into the Temple and bring about his holy crusade. With thousands of loyal followers, who could stop them?

Confused and perhaps a bit disillusioned the disciples retreated to the safe confines of their boat on the lake. With Jesus still in the hills, I imagine they began to speculate over the entire proposition. Why had Jesus fled? Was he shy? Was he afraid? Or worse yet, was he really the Messiah? Was the feeding of the 5,000 just some neat parlor trick to appease the crowd? Jesus talked about being the Son of God, but perhaps it was no more than just idle chatter.

Then the most amazing thing happened. The wind started to blow indicating a storm might be on the horizon. Being good sailors, the disciples realized they needed to get off the water. They began to row for shore but the direction of the wind kept them from safety. They were absolutely terrified.

Suddenly, just off the bow of the boat, they saw Jesus coming toward them. They rubbed their eyes to see if it was their imagination. But there he was, walking on the water. Jesus took one giant step in their direction and he was beside the boat. With absolutely no panic in his voice he said to the disciples, “It is I. Do not be afraid.” As soon as he had spoken the boat touched land and the disciples were rescued from certain death. All doubts evaporated. The man who feeds 5,000 also walks on water. The man who fled to the mountain had no fear in the middle of the storm. The man headed to Jerusalem would do so on his own terms, one giant step at a time.

One giant step for humankind. That was the mission of Jesus. One giant step toward Calvary; One giant step toward death; one giant step toward redemption; One giant step toward grace. God’s plan to save the world had to be done without the glitz and celebrity that we crave. It had to be done alone, by the one who was willing to suffer on our behalf, by the one who had no self-illusions or ambitions.

I suspect that is one of the reasons we are faithfully here each Sunday. All of us have had the seas of life try to swamp our boat. It seems as if nothing will allow us to return to solid ground. And then, just off the bow of our vessel, we see Jesus. We watch as he takes one giant step in our direction, and delivers those life saving words, “It is I. Do not be afraid.”

For Christ, it has never been about himself; it has always been about the kingdom of God. For Christ, it has never been about the glory, but rather the glory of God. Feast on his words; feast of his promises. Feast of his everlasting grace.


Sunday, July 22, 2012

Divine Pathos

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

        The text this morning would be a lot more fun if it were Mark 6:35-52.   That text contains the story of the feeding of the 5,000.  It is one of those great stories shared in each of the Gospels, which in and of itself is quite remarkable.  Only two of the Gospels have birth narratives and while all four gospels record the Passion of Christ, each gospel differs with the others in the details.  This is not the case with this miracle.  Each gospel agrees there were 5,000 men; each gospel agrees Jesus started with five loaves of bread and two fish; each gospel agrees everyone got enough to eat.  We could do some amazing stuff with that story and maybe one day we will, but not this morning.  We are stuck with the book-ends, the scriptures just before and just after the great miracle.  What we have are the texts that hold that great story in place.  While they are not nearly as exciting as the feeding of the 5,000, I do believe they impart some critical insights about God and perhaps about us.
        Jesus and the disciples had put in more than a few days of hard work. Jesus had been preaching and healing to the point of exhaustion.  The work has been productive but some well earned relaxation was needed.  Jesus turned to the disciples and said, “Let’s get in the boat, find a deserted place away from the crowds and take a break.”   No one objected.
        But a respite was not what they received.  Some folks recognized Jesus as soon as he came on shore and immediately a crowd began to gather.  Despite the disciples exhaustion you know what happened.  The writer of Mark wrote, “Jesus had compassion on them because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”  Once again, they were back at work.
        Douglas John Hall, a fine biblical scholar from Canada claims two fundamental questions are emerging out of our global religious experience.  The first is, “How does your God view the world?”  The second is “How does your God ask you to view the world?”  Probing Hall’s first question, how would we rate our God’s view of the world?  We need go any further than verse 34 of Mark 6.  “Jesus had compassion on them.”  This one word, this intriguing emotion, seems to have played a major role in all of the ministry of Jesus.  I did my homework.  In the Gospel of Mark alone Jesus stopped what he was doing eight different times and moved in a different direction because and I quote, “Jesus had compassion on them.”  I suspect if I had continued my research I would have found the other gospels excessively report this quality in Jesus.
        I don’t think this is any great revelation.  Few would suggest that the ministry of Jesus suffered from lack of compassion.  But if we compare this “trait” with some of the other “gods” allegedly active during the time of Jesus, our savior’s response is nothing short of amazing.  Was Zeus compassionate?   How about Jupiter, or Adramelech or Ra?  In Greek, Roman, Persian and Egyptian literature each of these gods was depicted as wrathful, vengeful, angry and vindictive.  Some folks who haven’t spent a great deal of time reading the whole Old Testament might even suggest Yahweh lacked compassion.  Let me suggest something that might shock you.  Who do you think taught Jesus the very essence of compassion?
        Abraham Heschel, my favorite Jewish Biblical scholar wrote, “God is not revealed in abstract absolutes, but in a personal and intimate relation to the world.  God does not simply command and expect obedience; God is concerned about the world and shares its fate.  Indeed this is the very moral essence of God. God is willing to be intimately involved in the history of humanity because God is filled with divine pathos.”
        I like the idea of linking compassion with pathos.  My compassion for someone could easily be misunderstood as pity.  Let’s say I am walking in downtown Charlottesville and a homeless person is sitting on the sidewalk.  A sign resting on his knee informs me that his family is suffering greatly because he has been out of work.  I look at the man and see no evidence of inebriation.  I imagine that he has a wife looking after one or more children.  I am taken with his plight and out of pity I reach into my wallet and slip a couple of dollars into his can.  It is not the first or last time I will perform such a deed.  Anyway, it only took a second and now I can be on my way to enjoy a guilt free bagel sandwich at Bodo’s.
        Imagine if God were satisfied by just slipping a couple of bucks our way. The very thought makes me incredible nervous.  Thankfully God’s track record points in another direction.  To borrow the term introduced by Heschel, the compassion of God is instigated by God’s pathos or to be more exact, God’s willingness to suffer with us.  Heschel believed God’s precondition for compassion is unconditional solidarity with those upon whom you have compassion.  That is a radical thought that raises all kinds of discussions on how we treat the poor, how treat our neighbors and how we respond to folks we don’t particularly like.  It also brings us full circle to Hall’s question, “How does your God ask you to view the world?”
        While I enjoy living here in Nelson County, perhaps one of my favorite places to visit is Washington DC.  I have been to all the major attractions and walked through Arlington during the day and Georgetown at night more times than I can remember.  But I think my favorite spot is located northeast of DuPont Circle.  It is a very eclectic area where the east, west, north and south of the world seems to converge.  For decades well meaning groups have gathered here to deal with the poverty that seems have taken root in this area of our capital.  I have taken many a youth group to this community that you might know as Columbia Heights.  There was one housing project there that seemed to always need work.  It had been an old hotel which a group of well meaning folks had bought and turned into low rent apartments.  People would move in and out, always leaving the place worse than they found it.   I would bring young folks and for a week we would patch walls, clean floors and do all those things that are a part of inner city ministries.  It was quite discouraging because each time I visited, the condition of the hotel, as well as the spirits of the owners, seemed to be in an endless downward spiral.  Then one summer, as I was setting up a trip to DC, I called my friends in Columbia Heights and asked if they had some work we could do.  As usual they were most gracious and mentioned a number of places that could use a helping hand.  The hotel was not mentioned.  It made me believe the project had proved too costly and the folks given up.  On arriving at one of the work sites, I carefully inquired about the hotel.  The man smiled and said, “It is going great.  Last year we decided to take a new approach.  Instead of running the hotel, we moved into the hotel.  Fifteen families from our church are living there permanently.  Together we are working with our new neighbors to create a new life.”
        Some would call those folks crazy; some would suggest there actions a bit drastic; and a few might suggest they are living in unconditional solidarity with those upon whom they have shown compassion.  I believe they comprehend the radical pathos of God and responded in a way that perhaps only a handful of folks can fully understand.
        Jesus was certainly among that handful. Jesus saw physical and spiritually hungry people and had compassion on them.  Seeing that they were starved for some good news Jesus sat down among them. Taking two fish and five loaves of bread, he fed them.  That is an incredible miracle, but so is the miracle of Columbia Heights.  Both Jesus and the members of The Church of the Savior base their lives on the good news that God is a compassionate God.  Jesus the obedient servant did not cling to his divinity but emptied himself for the sake of all humankind.  Likewise we, God’s obedient servants, can live as a manifestation of God’s compassion by emptying our lives for the sake of another.  This compassion will become the foundation of our faith, the basis of our hope and the source of our love.  Through our grateful actions, those around us will see a glimpse of God’s new heaven and new earth.  We will give them a taste of living bread. We will give them a vision that will last longer than a meal.
                        To God be the Glory,   Amen.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Dancing in Your Ephod

II Samuel 6:1-19

        The scripture this morning is such an incredible story it screams out for any number of headlines.  “Man touches holy relic and dies”.  “Husband embarrasses wife while dancing in his underwear”.  Whichever way you look at it, this is an incredible story.  The question is what significance does it have for us?  The Ark of the Covenant is a Jewish, not Christian relic.  Dancing, if one is properly dressed, doesn’t seem to be a theological issue for most Presbyterians.  Perhaps this is an interesting moment in the history of Israel, but what difference does it make where the Ark resides?
        First, we have to move past the idea that the Old Testament is no more than an account of the history of Israel.  The Bible is a theological, not historical book.  The writers of the Old Testament were trying to understand the presence of God in the midst of their confused lives.  Therefore the books of Samuel are not an account of the house of David as much as they are an attempt to legitimize the actions of David with the desires of God. The Books of Samuel are the blue print of how to be a faithful, God-fearing monarch.   Even more important, this is a theological treatise, which takes seriously the holiness and mystery of a God.
        Let’s begin with the obvious questions.  What the heck is the Ark of the Covenant?  Why did David want to move it to Jerusalem?  Why did Uzzah die?  Why was Michal critical of David’s moves on the dance floor?
        Thanks to Harrison Ford and Stephen Spielberg I suspect most of you know quite a bit about the Ark of the Covenant.  Biblical Scholars are not certain when the Ark came into existence but it plays a major role in the Israelites understanding of Yahweh.  Some feel the Ark contained the original Laws of Moses.  Others believe that its origin was during the period of the Judges.  Regardless, all agree that the Ark was significant in three distinct ways. (1) There is essential association with Yahweh and the Ark.  It is seen as the resting place of God. It was believed that God never strayed far from this box.  If the Ark traveled with the people, God was with them. (2) The Ark had the power to win victories in battle.  In FIrst Samuel 4 Israel is defeated by the Philistines. It was believed the battle was lost because the Ark had been left behind.  (3) The Ark had the power to unify or destroy a nation.  In First Samuel, the Philistines captured the Ark and had it removed from its initial resting place at Shiloh.  Soon after they captured the Holy Relic, a plague broke out in the Philistine camp. Afraid for their lives, they took it to the Beth-shemesh and left it to be reclaimed by Israel.  David seized this opportunity to have the Ark placed in Jerusalem.
        Why was the relocation of the Ark so important to David?  The new King was trying to do all the right things to establish his monarchy.  Modeling himself after the other kings in the region David creates a bureaucracy, a mercenary army and even a harem.  He has all the trappings of a mid-eastern monarch.  But there were still folks in Israel, followers of the prophet Samuel, who did not like the idea of a king.  They felt the emphasis on the palace would distract from dependence on Yahweh.  In a move to unify the nation, David turned to the Ark.  It stood at the center of the old ideology of “holy war”.  To bring the Ark to Jerusalem would also bring the dangerous and critical presence of Yahweh to the center of David’s court.  Bringing the Ark to Jerusalem meant two things: (1) David must give into the power of God to rule the nation, and (2) The old guard must come to Jerusalem to worship.  It was a remarkable move to bring the nation together.  The only problem was getting the Ark to Jerusalem.
        Central to Old Testament theology is the belief that Yahweh is a jealous God and does not like to be taken lightly.  The legends that surrounded the Ark amplified the holiness of God.  The Hebrews believed that no one could touch this holiness without grave consequences.  Even looking upon God would result in death.  God will not be taken for granted or used as a motto or prop for our adventures, no matter how noble.  God must remain Holy.
        Preparations were made for the transport.  David’s best men were given the honor of carrying the Ark.  Something happened and the Ark began to shift.  In a natural reaction, Uzzah reached out to keep the Ark from falling. His act of courage was his last.  When he touched the Ark, Uzzah instantly died.  What a strange occurrence.  How do we explain it?  We don’t.  But we pay careful attention to the significance of the event.  In verses 8 & 9 we read, “David was angry because of Yahweh’s actions. Then David became very afraid.”  Water Brueggemann comments, “When people are no longer awed, respectful, or fearful of God’s holiness, the community is put at risk.” It appeared David was doing a good thing.  He was bringing the nation together.  But he was also using God for his own political gain.  Anyone choosing to run for public office would do well to remember God is not a convenient tool we display in order to make us look good.  God does not play second fiddle.
        The death of Uzzah had a sobering effect on David.  The ark remained at the house of Obed-edom for three months.  When it was reported to David that the house of Obed-edom had been blessed it became appropriate to once again begin the procession of the Ark to Jerusalem.  Now it appeared that the decision to go to Jerusalem was God’s and not David’s. Almost everyone felt the priorities of the nation were in proper perspective.  Celebrations followed the Ark all the way to Jerusalem.  When the Ark reached the capital we are told that David danced before all the people with great joy.  It is said that he was completely out of control.  He stripped down to his BVD’s and led what must have resembled a conga line. All people rejoiced to see their king suddenly become human.  Every one was ecstatic except his wife Michal.  She practically blew a gasket. What made her so angry?
        Perhaps she felt David’s behavior was unbecoming for a King.  Perhaps as the daughter of Saul, she resented the success of her husband.  We are told Michal despised David and the incident created irreversible damage in their relationship. Michal claimed David had no idea how to act as a King. He had forfeited the respect he must have to be a ruler.  David retorted by saying he was contemptible only in her eyes, but not in the eyes of the nation or the eyes of Yahweh.  The story ends by stating that Michel never bore David a child.  In other words, the Queen exploited her position of strength and was left barren and hopeless.  But David, who humbled himself before God, was exalted.
        What significance could this moment in the history of Israel have for us?  Perhaps it is suggesting that next Sunday I should dance around the Communion Table in my ephod.  It certainly raises some interesting questions concerning the legitimacy of Liturgical dance.  Both neither of those take us to the heart of the text.  To understand the significance of this scripture we must return to the question of Psalm 24, “Who is the King of Glory?”
        Psalm 24 reminds us that the ultimate King is not David or the thousands who have followed him but rather God.  The Psalm begins by declaring that the world exists because God is sovereign.  Even in the midst of chaos, the stability of the world is dependent on the reign of the Lord.  We often become confused and think the David’s, the nations, the multi-national corporations own the world.  But the Psalmist is absolute in his belief.  “The earth is the Lord’s and all who live in it are God’s.”
        The second part of the Psalm identifies the congregation who makes this confession.  They are the ones who come to the sanctuary seeking blessing and righteousness.  They are the ones acknowledging that God is Holy, God is Jealous, and yet God is the author of all sacred possibilities.  They are the ones who come seeking the presence of the mysterious King of Glory.
        The third part of the Psalm identifies the sovereign of the world. “Who is the King of glory?”  God is the one who is righteous, just, faithful, and steadfast in love.  “Who is the King of Glory?”  God is the one we worship and adore.  God is the one who causes us to stop, push all the other stuff in our life aside, and offer a deep and heart felt Amen.     This Psalm announces that if we live a life which focuses on the Almighty, the one who is the creator and sustainer of life, we shall live a life that always sees possibilities even in the midst of chaos.  
        When the Ark came to Jerusalem, it was not a confirmation of David’s reign; it was an affirmation of God’s sovereignty.  David, overcome with joy, put all his dignity aside, and danced. 
        As much as I love music, I confess I am not much of a dancer.  Truth is I never had many opportunities to show off my talents.  In my prime dancing years, the music that was popular did not exactly translate into tunes that allowed one to gracefully glide across the floor. Ever try to dance to Iron Butterfly?  Now I seldom indulge in the wonder of dance because I am fearful folks will look my way and chuckle.   Yet ten years ago, in front of friends and family, I offered my daughter my hand and we danced to that wonderful tune, “You are the sunshine of my life.”  I guess you do things like that when it is your daughter’s wedding and you are overcome with joy.  You dance, and it doesn’t matter what the world thinks. You dance, because your heart is full and your soul is on fire.
        Perhaps, every once in while, regardless what our neighbors think, what the rules of proper etiquette imply, or what the time honored traditions of a church might be, we need to come to worship and dance.  God knows we are dignified.  But does God even have a clue that we are ecstatically joyful to be God’s children?  Perhaps once in while we should put on our dancing shoes and prance around to God’s glory.  But let’s keep our clothes on.  After all, what would the Baptist say?       
                                                 To God be the glory,                       Amen.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

God's Grace is Sufficient

II Cor. 12:9b-10; Mark 6:6-13

        Slaid Cleaves, a favorite song writer, sings songs about loggers, coalminers wives, and folks who are down to one key on their key-ring.  Slaid has been writing songs most of his life and bases his characters on folks he heard about while playing checkers with men twice his age or sipping beer with self proclaimed desperadoes.  Slaid sometimes even writes about himself.  He and his wife travel from town to town, singing his stories and selling CD’s out of the back of their trunk.  When times got really bad, they had been known to sell their blood for gas money. My favorite line in a Slaid Cleves song is, “Just give me one good year, to get my feet back on the ground; I am searching for grace and grace ain’t so easily found.” 
        That is the motto for many folks and rightly so.  Life is not easy.  I imagine our friends that just got back from Mexico chuckled when they heard our tales of woe brought about by a few days without electricity.  If you have ventured south of the border, or even south of Massies Mill, you will find situations that most of us would declare impossible.  And yet everything, including grace, seems to be in the eye of the beholder.
        When Paul wrote the words, “God’s grace is sufficient”, he was sharing a heavenly response to his earthly burden.  Paul called this burden the “thorn in his side”.  No one knows what his thorn was and he only mentions it briefly in the letter to the church in Corinth.  It might have been physical, it was probably emotional, but we know that Paul says it kept him from being the person he wanted to be.  He pleaded with God to remove the thorn but to no avail.  Instead Paul was given a promise, a Godly assurance that Paul has been passed down to us, “God’s grace is sufficient”.  For someone like Slaid Cleaves, or someone who lost not only their electricity but their home, or even for someone that seems completely over burdened by the events of a particular day, that answer might not be totally sufficient.
        What is grace?  Alan Richardson, professor of Christian Theology at the University of Nottingham writes, “Grace is God’s redemptive love which is always active to save sinners and maintain them in a proper relationship with God.  Grace represents God’s continual covenant of loving kindness.  It is a free gift given through the sacrifice and redemption of Christ.”
        Van Harvey, Professor of Religious Thought at the University of Pennsylvania adds, “Grace is the most crucial concept in Christian theology because it refers to an unmerited act through which God restores humankind to God’s self.”
        Hearing grace spoken of in this way one might question Slaid Cleaves quandary and suggested poor Slaid just needs to suck it up and understand somedays are just better than others.  On the other hand, I suspect most of you have been in those dark places where, at least for a moment, grace is not so easily found.  The harder we wished our world would be restored the more discouraged we end up becoming.  Early last week I was visiting an 82 year old woman who is three weeks this side of a hip replacement.  She lives by herself up on the mountain near Waynesboro.  On the night of the storm a floor to ceiling window exploded exposing a good portion of her house to the elements.  She was sure rain would follow the wind.  She somehow managed to find a hammer and nails and attach a huge blanket in front of the window.  Then she went to bed.  All night she prayed that God would either fix the window or send someone who would.  On Saturday she received no answer to her prayer and spent the whole day worrying about the hole in her house.  Sunday night she offered the same prayer and to her surprise, the next morning a contractor came by to visit.  He told her there was no way he could fix the window.  Wednesday, with the window still partially exposed and still without electricity she candidly said to me, “I’ve given up on prayer.  I think I’ll try the yellow pages.”  Then she laughed.  I should send Kitty’s story to Slaid.  He would turn it into a song. 
        I suspect most prayers remain unanswered. I would agree a prayer for a window no matter how large is a bit trivial, unless you are 82, just out of the hospital, and living by yourself without electricity. Besides, how does this story help us in our conversation about grace?  Maybe there is a separation between grace in the afterlife and grace in the life in which we now live?  That would certainly make for an interesting discussion in the halls of the University of Nottingham, but I am not sure it is real helpful right here where we all live.  Anne Lamotte observed, “I wish grace was more an abracadabra sort of thing.  I also wish there were silver bells to announce grace’s arrival.  The awful truth is grace seems to scootch along the floor, in the silence, in the dark, somehow on a collision course with the missteps and roadblocks of my faith.”
        What is grace? Can it be found in the midst of our broken windows and lives?  I think there is a clue to be found in our gospel lesson. After the disciples had finished reading Discipleship for Idiots, Jesus divided them into pairs, sent them out into the surrounding small villages, and commanded them to preach the gospel and heal the sick.  Talk about on the job training.  There was absolutely no way they were going to be successful and Jesus knew it.  Ever had a member of the Jehovah’s Witness knock on your door?  Ever opened the door to speak to them?   I had a neighbor once who hated it when they would come.  She was such a nice lady and could not say no to anyone but she made an exception for Jehovah’s Witnesses.  She would point them in my direction.  She would promise them that I was willing to listen to their story.  I even think she gave them my phone number.  She would do anything to get them off her front porch.   Jesus knew nine out of ten folks the disciples met would barely give them the time of day.  He knew they would be discouraged.  He knew they would want to give up.  Jesus knew for the disciples to have any success at all it was going to take a great deal of sacrifice on their part. 
        Remember a few moments ago I read a definition of grace.  Remember the last sentence mentioning sacrifice.  Let me refresh your memories.  Grace is a free gift given through the sacrifice of Christ.  I suspect most of us are willing to acknowledge that grace is a free gift.  I even suspect that most of us link that gift of grace with the atoning sacrifice of Jesus.  So let me take a giant leap here.  In order for the disciples to deliver the message of grace, they had to be willing become a living sacrifice on the behalf of others.  They had to go out on the road taking nothing with them except a story, just like Jesus. They felt rejected, as Jesus was rejected.   They felt great disappointment, as Jesus was disappointed.  They sacrificed their time, their talents, trying to find that one person who would open up his or her heart and invite the disciples in for a cup of water and a conversation.  These disciples became the first to fully understand what Dietrich Bonhoeffer would later call the Cost of Discipleship.  Bonhoeffer wrote, “Cheap grace is preaching forgiveness without repentance, communion without confession, absolution without sacrifice.  Grace is dear and costly.  One must be willing to give up their life if they intend on following Christ.”
        How can something free be costly?  Remember my 82 year old friend on the side of the mountain with a hole in the side of her house.  She has a grandson who lives in Williamsburg.  He and his girl friend had planned to take a couple of days off and go hiking in the mountains.  I suspect when you are a 22 or 23 young man and your girl friend agrees to spend two days with you in the mountains that is a pretty big deal.  Only word gets to him that his grandmother has a hole in her house.  Playful excursions are put on hold and the day suddenly turns into ways of creatively extinguishing grandma’s worries.  With the help of duct tape, card board and a lot of hours, the act of grace was complete.  But it was not consummated without sacrifice.
        God’s grace was not easily accomplished.  It certainly was not without cost.  But it is sufficient.
         Perhaps the same goes for us.  Our acts of grace are not always easily accomplished.  They often come with a degree of sacrifice.  But sometimes our sacrifice proves sufficient.
        Slaid Cleaves will always have stories about folks looking for that elusive character called grace.  Perhaps, two by two, we can take it upon ourselves, to make the sacrifice to fill the hole in someone’s roof, or perhaps even their soul.