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Proper 22C; Luke 17:5-10

Christian discipleship is based on invitation. Christ himself never mandated that people follow him, it was always an invitation and people were free to accept or decline. Jesus told the fishermen, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” When Andrew asked where Jesus was staying, he said, “Come and see.” Jesus invites people to follow, and we do the same thing: we invite people into this faith, into discipleship, and into this place.

Out of all the people who were ever invited, not everyone answers the call. Some of those invited follow for a time and then move away. Some of those invited remain for a lifetime. Jesus knew this and gave us the parable of the sower – some seeds fell on rocky ground, some fell on the path, some fell among weeds, and some fell into good soil. He also tells a parable about a king who invites people to a wedding banquet, but those originally invited do not come. So he sends out his slaves into the streets to invite all they find, and the banquet hall was filled with guests, both good and bad.

The invitation to follow Jesus is free and it costs nothing to accept. But while the accepting is free, the actual following comes with a price. The ultimate price, of course, was paid by Jesus as we were bought with his blood. We also pay a personal price when we choose to follow Christ. That personal price comes in many forms.

It can come in following Jesus' command to sell our possessions and give the money to the poor. How many of us have more possessions than we really need? How many of us hang onto things because we might need it someday? Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, look at your checkbook or bank statement. Where are you spending your money? I will never ask anyone to put themselves in danger by pledging more to the church than what they need for food or medicine; but as our pledge drive kicks off, this is a good time to reevaluate our personal budgets. What do we truly treasure?

Another place of personal cost is with our time. Someone said, “I'll follow you, but first let me say farewell to my family.” Jesus responded, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” In other words, where are our priorities?

Do we make time to pray? Do we make time to read/study Scripture? Do we make time to participate in learning opportunities? Do we prioritize worship? Answering the call means that we reorder our priorities. In our baptismal covenant we promise to continue in the apostles' teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of the bread, and in the prayers. One of our hymns reads, “Jesus calls us o'er the tumult, saying, 'Christian, love me more'.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer discussed the cost of discipleship when he wrote about cheap grace. In short, cheap grace says that since Jesus paid for everything through his sacrifice, we can have the benefits for nothing – no confession, no repentance, no discipline, no cross, no discipleship. Costly grace, however, requires all of those. Costly grace requires us to give our own lives for the sake of the gospel.

I mention all this because our gospel today, as well as some of the examples I named, have images of slavery. I know that is not an image we like to dwell on, but slavery was a part of the society Jesus lived in. It's reflected in the last half of today's gospel. And when we talk about the buying and selling of people it is right there; even when talking about Jesus purchasing us with the price of his blood. Through his sacrifice we have been bought and paid for.

Because of this we are slaves to Christ. Paul identifies himself as such in the opening line of his letter to the Romans. If we are slaves to Christ, then we owe all to him. All our lives, our be all and end all, are found in the ultimate master. As earthly slaves are bound to their master's will and do that which they are commanded to do, we slaves of the heavenly realm are bound to our master's will and do that which we are commanded to do. And just what are we commanded to do?

We are commanded to love God with all our heart, mind, body, and soul.

We are commanded to love our neighbors as ourselves.

We are commanded to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God.

We are commanded to feed the hungry, provide water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.

We are commanded to care for the widow and orphan.

We are commanded to respect the dignity of every human being.

We are commanded to proclaim the good news of God in Christ.

These are things which, because we have been bought by Christ, because we have chosen to follow Christ, because we claim the role of disciple, these are things which we ought to be doing; not just out of the goodness of our heart, but because Christ has commanded us to do them.

In the gospel today Jesus asks, “Which of you would say to your slave who has just come in from the field, 'Sit here and take your place at the table.' Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded?”

Yet, embedded at the end of the gospel passage is this: So you also, when you have done all you were asked to do, say, “We have only done what we ought to have done!”

In the end we will be called to the banquet table. In the end it will be the master who serves us. In the end we will be fed from the tree of life. In the end we will inherit the kingdom prepared for us from the foundation of the world. We will respond, “But we are only worthless slaves, doing only what we ought to have done.” And the king will say, “Exactly. Well done good and faithful servant.”

Even though the invitation is free, choosing live into that invitation is costly. Christianity is hard, and discipleship is hard work. May we always remember the price paid for us, and may we choose to live not with the belief we have no obligations, but with the understanding that we have responsibilities to fulfill. We won't always get it right, but let us continually strive first for the kingdom of God by doing those things we ought to do.

This season when we reevaluate where we are on our journey, how will you choose to prioritize Christ in your life?


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