Say Their Names

a sermon for the sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 21C/Lectionary 26]

Luke 16:19-31

“Say their names.”

We often hear that phrase in the aftermath of certain tragedies or injustices, especially when there have been victims of violence or hatred. We often rather look away in these instances, or ignore that the event happened, but saying the name seems to keep the issue in the forefront. Maybe its George Floyd, or maybe it’s the children killed in the Uvalde, Texas, school shooting, or the Ukrainians furiously trying to dig up mass graves so they can identify bodies before it’s too late. Look at what’s happening in Iran as people say the name Mahsa Amini. She was the otherwise ordinary 22-year-old Iranian woman who died last week after being detained by the country’s morality police for not wearing a headscarf in public. Those in power would rather her name be forgotten, dismissed, not spoken, because it might cast the might down from their thrones.

a protester holds up a photo of Mahsa Amini

I know I’m often challenged to utter these folks’ names but the truth is that all too often the world dismisses overlooks, or discounts the existence and personhood of people like this. We tend to lump them into one big category—the orphaned, the disabled, the poor, the elderly, the immigrants—so that we won’t have to deal with the sorrow of their individual stories and recognize their meaningfulness. Naming those at the margins takes special effort and involves special pain. Let’s be honest: we’re much more ready to remember and say the names of the wealthy, the powerful, the beautiful, the gifted.

And so this morning Jesus helps us in this task. Jesus says Lazarus’ name, the man in his story who is the very definition of living at the margins in every way you can possibly imagine. Jesus says Lazarus’ name even though most of his listeners would have found that strange. In fact, in all of the 40 or so parables that Jesus tells in the gospels, only one character gets a name. Not the Good Samaritan, not the prodigal son who famously wastes his dad’s inheritance and who shamefully plods back home. Only Lazarus—the man who is so hungry he wants to eat table scraps, the guy who is so dirty and nasty that he’s covered with festering sores, the fellow who is so exhausted he lets dogs lick his wounds because he can’t kick them away. This sad man is the world’s ultimate “nobody,” a victim of the worst kind of neglect, and yet Jesus says his name.

And then, on the other hand, there’s the world’s ultimate Somebody: this rich man, at whose mansion’s front door Lazarus lies. If we told this story, the rich man would have a name, and we’d know his net worth and just how many billions he lost in last week’s stock market downturn. We’d be following him on Instagram along with 40 million other people. But in Jesus’ parable, in the scenario Jesus illustrates, this rich guy is the nameless one. As Jesus tells it, it is this wealthy, no-doubt influential guy who is left without the dignity of individual identity.

Jesus doesn’t give him a name because this is a story about how God envisions the world. This is a window into how God turns the tables on everything, making the last first and the first last. Furthermore, this is a warning, especially for the Pharisees, about how wealth actually has the power to take away our personhood, our humanity, even more than poverty does. This is a parable about how money and luxury build real walls around us and can warp our minds into objectifying the people who are right in our path. This is a reminder of how affluence can cut us off from the particular kind of suffering that would actually allow us to connect us to others. This is Jesus’ lesson about materialism and how God has constantly, from day one, been trying to tear down the barriers it creates to human community.

An enormous study published last month by researchers at Harvard, Stanford, and New York Universities showed fairly conclusively that friendships across social classes have a strong influence on things like increased rates high school completion, reduced rates of teenage pregnancy, and increased income for those born poorer. Said differently, interconnectedness, especially across different income and social levels, is always better for everyone, especially those at the bottom. Interestingly enough, the study also looked at different places in society where people tend to mix across socio-economic lines. In universities, for example, cross-class friendships form at a rate 5% lower than would be expected. In fact, none of our educational settings or workplaces currently promote this kind of mixing at a rate better than average, which is somewhat of an indictment. In religious settings, however, the study revealed friendships between people of different social classes form at a rate 3% higher than expected.[1]

Other studies conducted on human tears, of all things, reveal that tears we shed as a result of our emotions have a higher protein content than tears we shed when our eyes are just irritated by dust or allergies. Higher protein content makes them roll down our cheeks more slowly, increasing the chance they’ll be seen and cause people to care for us. Some scientists see this as proof that our body is built for community.

All this is to say, God created the rich man and Lazarus to live in community, to pay attention to each other, to notice each others’ tears and what they mean. This is to say God creates our communities to be interconnected, that the blessings of God’s good creation may be enjoyed by all. This is the vision that Jesus has for the world, and Jesus comes to share that vision in all that he says and does. And a clownish story about flipping the social structures upside down, about making his hearers notice the people at the bottom, will help his hearers understand that vision.

Jesus is not the first to explain or articulate this vision, and that’s really the thrust of Jesus’ message this morning. This is nothing new, he says. The prophets like Amos mention it, over and over. And the psalms repeatedly, like Psalm 146 this morning, praise God precisely because he lifts up those who are bowed down and sustains the orphan and the widow because too often no one else will.

Reading the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as a real example of what happens to people when they die is to miss the point of the parable entirely. This is not a lesson about what happens to us after we die, and this is not the Lazarus that Jesus raises from the dead in John’s gospel. Only according to some ancient Jewish traditions do people believe they are “rocked in the bosom of Abraham” in the afterlife, and Jesus is borrowing on that as he tells this parable.

Parables typically have an element of exaggeration and embellishment in them, and this great reversal between life now and the life hereafter for Lazarus and the rich man is part of that exaggeration. The rich man’s fortunes are so terrible now after his death that he can’t even get a drop of water to slake his thirst. And lo and behold for the first time we hear evidence he finally sees Lazarus! With his riches pulled away and now experiencing suffering himself, the rich man’s eyes are opened to see someone else, even though the rich man is still only focused on his own needs. God’s hope for us is that our eyes would be opened to see others, and in seeing them, show compassion to them and hear their cries. God’s hope is that we could have our barriers of money and privilege stripped away so that we can be aware of needs other than our own.

Jesus directs this parable at the Pharisees, whom Luke describes as lovers of money. The Pharisees ascribed to a strand of ancient Judaism that God financially blesses those who are faithful. Poverty, on the other hand, was a sign of God’s curse. The Pharisees justified their love of wealth through a corrupt understanding of God’s law Jesus explains that this interpretation of God’s law was never the intention for God’s people.

In the punchline of the parable, the rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead to his brothers so that they will change their ways. This may remind you of the beginning of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol when the ghost of Jacob Marley, draped in the chains of his earthly riches, visits his still-living business partner, Ebenezer Scrooge, and warns him he will be visited by the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Yet to Come in order to learn a lesson about generosity. In fact, Dickens based his famous story on this parable. But unlike Scrooge, who is given a chance to learn from the ghost, and does, Abraham says that if those who love their wealth cannot learn from Moses and the prophets that God takes care of the poor, then someone rising from the dead won’t change their minds either. For right now, God is on the side of the Lazaruses. For right now, God’s vision is for people’s tears of suffering to be honored, for true community to be built, for those who have to be warned of the decay that infests their hearts.

And as it turns out, Jesus is so determined to get that point across, Jesus is so insistent that this world get turned upside down, for the good of us all, that he offers his own life to bridge every chasm—the chasm between you and me, the chasms between rich and poor, the chasm between the West End and eastern Henrico, the chasm between black and white. The chasms that separate our schools and our politics and our neighborhoods and our families. Jesus dies and rises to build bridges between them all and raise us to new life, and new respect for all. And when you are feeling bowed low, forgotten by the world, Jesus proudly and boldly says your name.

Ben Rector

My family loves the singer-songwriter Ben Rector, and we came across one song this summer that appears on album he released several years ago The song is called “The Men That Drive Me Places” and it’s really simple—just two verses, a chorus and a bridge, and him on piano—but it too, like a parable, tells a story. It’s the story of him, as a world famous musician, reflecting on the men who taxi him around. It communicates a profound message that Ben sings about his own privileged life, and it contains a nuanced twist on how best to respond to these chasm between the Lazaruses and the rich men that Jesus comes to close:

Danny showed up early, fifteen minutes till five thirty
Making sure that I’d be on my morning flight
He said he’d love to fix computers, but that he can’t until he’s fluent
So he spends his driving money taking class at night
He wore a neatly ironed dress shirt, and he helps his kids with homework
Deep inside I couldn’t help but ask myself
Why that at night I’m up on stage, everybody knows my name
While Danny’s early picking up somebody else

Oh isn’t that just the way it goes
You’re dealt a good hand and you get celebrated
Oh, how am I the only one who knows
I’m half the man of the men that drive me places.

Dear Lord Jesus, you have dealt us an unbelievably good hand. You have died for us, and we are children of your resurrection. Free us from the bonds our riches have on us, from the pride that holds us back. Send us forth again. Send us forth into this broken world with eyes to see the ones you see—the ones who drive us places, the ones who serve us, the ones who cry to be noticed.

And, Lord, give us lips that speak so as to honor them as your children too: Lazarus, Lazarus, Lazarus.


The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

[1] “Friendship across class lines may boost social mobility and decrease poverty” in The Economist. August 11, 2022

The God Who Finds

a sermon for the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 19C/Lectionary 24]

Luke 15:1-10

I spent most of my summers during college working on staff at a Lutheran camp in the mountains of North Carolina called Lutheridge. One of those years on staff I ended up staying extra week after the last campers had gone home. I discovered that one of the end-of-summer tasks that had to be undertaken before camp was closed up involved going through the giant pile of lost and found items that had accumulated over the course of the summer. You would probably guess that a camp which hosts well over a thousand children, youth, and adults over the course of eight crazy, chaotic and fun weeks amasses a lot of lost items, and you would be right.

The real pile was much larger than this.

We marveled at this pile as we sorted through it that week. There were dozens of towels—damp, musty towels that had been left at the pool or at the lake. There were items of unclaimed clothing, most of which were dirty, single socks. And Bibles! You would be surprised at how many people end up leaving their Bible at church camp and then not realize it was missing. Since we rarely had any idea whom the items actually belonged to, we would often argue over which things we wanted. One of my co-workers found a sweatshirt she liked. She put it on. It looked…familiar. I went back and checked my own suitcase and noticed one of my sweatshirts was missing and actually had been for a while. I was too embarrassed to ask for it back, so I let her have it.

I don’t know whatever happened to everything in that that pile of lost and found, but it ended up being someone’s responsibility to get rid of it, and I guess the socks were thrown away and the towels cut up and re-purposed as rags. Every once in a while the camp would figure out the proper owner of an item and do their best to return it.

Well, about a week ago a package arrived on our front porch. The return address label said it was from Lutheridge. We opened it to find not one but two water bottles that my daughters had lost at camp not last summer, but two summers ago! Someone up there had taken the time to research our address based on the name label on the bottom. They had taken the time to find a box and get it to the post office. And the really funny thing about all of this is that the water bottles aren’t even ours! They actually belong to Hanne, our Office Administrator, who had let our daughters borrow them that summer because they forgot to pack their own.

Jesus wants us to know that God goes through great lengths to find and return what belongs to him. That is you and me. There are many ways that people perceive God and images that come to mind when they think what God might be like. For Jesus the images are this: God is like a shepherd who risks life and limb, climbing over rocks and down cliffs, if he has too, wrestling the thorny branches of thickets and fighting off wolves in order to retrieve just one of his missing sheep.

And here’s another image: for Jesus, God is like a woman who turns her house upside down in order to find one coin that has gotten kicked or dropped somewhere. She moves furniture out of the way, she gets down on her hands and knees, she gets out the broom, then the metal detector, and turns on every light in the house to help her track it down. And when she finally gets it, she is so overjoyed that she calls together the other women in the neighborhood, some of whom she doesn’t even know very well. But that’s OK. This is a great day! She invites them into her house, which is now clean, if not a little disheveled, and makes some mimosas and lays out a charcuterie board, since that’s trendy these days, and says, “Alexa, play some party music.”

And her friends, curiously holding their glasses of bubbly, are like, “What is going on? Do you have news of another grandchild? Did you get a job promotion? No? Then what’s all this about?”

And she’s like, “I found this twenty dollar bill that I had lost!”

And so Jesus might say this morning God is like the worn-out summer camp office worker who loathes going through dirty stinky socks and moldy towels and who still knows water bottles are a dime a dozen—water bottles that no one has even reported missing, by the way—but who still finds a thrill in tracking down the address in the database from two summers ago, and then finding a box in which they will fit perfectly, and taking them to the post office in the off-chance that two girls living a state away might want to see them again.

God is like that, Jesus says, and God’s kingdom is about lost and found—not being lost forever or cutting your losses or writing things off because they don’t matter. Everyone matters. Every single sheep, every single coin, every single sinner, no matter how insignificant we try to make them feel. These are the images of God Jesus leaves with his audience.

And it’s especially important because the audience is the scribes and the Pharisees, the super-religious people, because they seem to operate with a very different image of God. We never hear them share their image of God, to be sure. We might be surprised Pharisees and scribes would even work with images or their imagination at all because they are a very by-the-book, letter-of-the-law type of religious people. I can’t base this on anything, but they don’t seem to use images and stories to talk about God. They use rules.

They are upset, for example, that Jesus is playing with the rules by eating with people who are clearly lost, people who don’t, in the Pharisees’ eyes, matter. Sharing a table with someone was one of the most intimate things you could do. It was a way of embracing them, of making them a part of your life, and Jesus is embracing and making dirty and forgotten people like rule-breakers a part of his life.

One commentator I read says that these two particular images in these parables this morning would have been especially irritating for Pharisees because they considered shepherds low-class, irreligious folk and women were viewed as second-class. But these are the stories Jesus mines for impact. He has to drive the point home somehow. God is a finder. God is a seeker-outer. God wants to have everyone in his embrace and God is willing to go to great lengths and even make a fool of himself about it if God has to.

And God is not just willing to go to the great lengths to bring people back. God finds joy in it. Drinks on the house! God feels like partying, like clinking the wineglasses together whenever just one person is turned again with his mercy and brought back to his kingdom of love.

For years and years Epiphany and many other Lutheran congregations have used a book in Holy Communion class with the fourth graders called A Place For You, by the Lutheran pastor Daniel Erlander. He used images, too—simple, black and white drawings—and his books come across as babyish at first because they have far more pictures than they do words. But once you look at his books, you realize they are brilliant drawings that speak to both kids and adults. We used them at seminary as textbooks, in fact.

In A Place For You, the scribes and the Pharisees are depicted as “crabby people” and you can find the crabby people on just about every page. They are crabby because they are not happy with how Jesus welcomes people. One of my favorite pages in A Place for You depicts Jesus feeding the 5000. He is seated on a blanket in the middle, with bread and fish lying there in front of him. The multitudes are seated all around them, the ones in the distance drawn as just little faceless shapes. One person in the way back says, “Next time let’s get here on time.” (Can relate). And there are the crabby people, for sure, amidst the crowd of hungry people and they are saying, “I’m upset. Some of these people don’t deserve free food. Disgusting.”

But on every page, Jesus keeps at it, almost ignoring the crabby people, but never shunning or shaming them. He just pulls them in, like Daniel Erlander, trying to redraw their understanding of God with new images and new situations. This is especially poignant today because Pastor Daniel Erlander died just two Sundays ago at the age of 83. The church and especially the crabby people like me give thanks for the ways he redrew understandings of theology and Bible stories by giving us images instead of rules.

How do you imagine God? Do you understand him as a seeker, as a shepherd, as a woman who pops the bubbly when find a coin? Do you hear that God values you—that as lost as you may be you will never be so lost that Jesus can’t reach you? Do you see on the cross how God redraws where God will go and how he reaches out? In his death and suffering, can you see that Jesus draws a circle of love and forgiveness so big that no one is forgotten, no one is left out? And that all the while he is excited to have you back?

Today our congregation comes together to celebrate how God helped us redraw some of the lines in our own church building with the hopes people would feel more included, that someone lost might come here at feel found. We literally redrew the lines of the parking lot, adding more official handicap parking spaces that are closer to the building. We redrew office spaces so that some church staff were no longer left working in offices and closets in a distant part of the building but grouped together in one common area. We redrew classroom spaces so that we could add more Sunday School classes. Perhaps most notably, we redrew the entrance and gathering spaces so that should people wander in here, especially for the first time, they may sense welcome and “being found”—that there is a place for them.

The Building Team did not sit down and read Jesus’ parable of the lost sheep and the lost coin but that was their goal—to move the congregation towards growth in openness, to let this congregation’s space be an image of God’s embrace. Now as we give thanks that those blueprint lines have been redrawn we continue to let Jesus, with his amazing grace, redraw those images of our hearts and minds. Over and over again.

In the past two or so years, as we’ve endured the COVID pandemic, some people may have felt distanced or lost from Christ’s church. Some have wondered when the right time to return is. Some may have fallen out of the habit and wonder if they will be questioned or stared at if they come back. Now more than ever we remember and proclaim to everyone that, in the words of Daniel Erlander, there is a place for you.

And we also remember that the new lines Jesus draws are so big, that the reality of God’s love is so all-encompassing, his mercy so far-reaching, that even the crabby people end up inside at the end. That may be the best part of Erlander’s book—there, on the last page, as on the last day, whenever it should come, situated right in with all the millions as they “join the theme,” sit the over-religious crabby people.

And…look! They’re no longer crabby!

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.

Choices and Calculations

a sermon for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost [Proper 18C/Lectionary 23]

Deuteronomy 30:15-20 and Philemon 1-21 and Luke 14:25-33

“I have set before you life and death,” says the Lord, “blessings and curses. Choose life so that you and your descendants may live.”

Choose life. Ha! If only it were that easy, right?

There is a famous psychological experiment using children called the Stanford Marshmallow Experiment. Perhaps you’ve heard of it. This experiment has been studied and referenced for decades and has spawned countless memes on social media. The Stanford Marshmallow Experiment is actually a name given to a series of similar tests that were first conducted at Stanford University in 1972.They were devised to study the development of long-term thinking, decision-making, and delayed gratification in young children. The experiments all centered on the same simple strategy: a child about the age of 4 or 5 would be brought into a room and sat at a table where they were offered some kind of treat—usually a marshmallow but sometimes animal cracker. The person conducting the experiment would tell them they could have that treat then—the one laid before them—or wait another fifteen minutes and receive even more treats. They were allowed to play with toys while they waited or they could just sit still, but if they went ahead and helped themselves to the marshmallow before fifteen minutes was up, they would not get the additional treat.

As it turns out, waiting for even fifteen minutes was much too hard for many of the children. Many of them just went ahead and chose the marshmallow that was already before them, tempting as it was, even if it meant losing out on two marshmallows later. You know what that sounds like? That sounds like I should be wary of any children’s sermons from Stanford University.

But it also sounds like the Israelites when we meet them this morning. Poised at the edge of the Promised Land, they are presented with a choice. God has led them to this point so that they may wisely choose to life. God has steadfastly guided them through forty years in the wilderness,(and they’re going to have to wait just a little more before they’re done), and now God has brought them here, at the edge of the land, so that they may consider their options. God encourages them to hold back from following other gods and serving them, as tempting as they will be, seeing as how those other gods will be right in front of them all the time, and instead choose to love and serve God. If they do that, it will mean life and length of days. And, of course, we know how the story goes. They eventually enter their Promised Land and right off the bat struggle to choose life and keep God’s commandments.

When we meet Philemon today, by way of Paul’s letter to him, we find him being presented with a choice, too. Philemon is a relatively well-off and well-connected guy, known well to Paul, and we learn that Onesimus, Philemon’s slave, has run away. Somewhere along the line, Onesimus has bumped into Paul and become a follower of Christ. Unfortunately we don’t have any backstory hereabout why Onesimus ran away from Philemon, or how Onesimus came under the care and friendship of Paul. All we know is that Onesimus has somehow become a spiritual child to Paul while Paul was in prison. It’s like Paul is Onesimus’ confirmation mentor.

In a play on words of Onesimus’ name in the Greek, Paul says that Onesimus is now finally “useful” because he is no longer enslaved, but treated as a full human. Now it’s time for Paul to send Onesimus back to Philemon hoping that Philemon will receive his former slave as a brother in Christ. That is, Philemon will receive Onesimus not as someone he still owns and is in a position of authority over, but as someone he loves as a fellow Christian and is now equal to.

And there, we discover, is Philemon’s choice: take Onesimus back as he formerly was, a slave, as someone lesser-than, or receive him as a brother and see Onesimus as someone whose true worth is not bound up in what kind of work he can do under compulsion, but instead through the gifts that the Spirit has given him to share freely with the world. Can Philemon see past, perhaps, his own status and embrace Onesimus as a true equal? Let the old arrangement go and make room for new life? We never know what happens to Philemon and Onesimus and their relationship, but I imagine that it was pretty difficult for Philemon, given what social pressures he might have been under, to receive Onesimus as a free man.

In so many case, scenarios like this make choices about faith and life seem so easy, don’t they? Here’s one option…and then here’s the other. Now it’s your turn: just make a choice. Easy peasy. But if there is anything that I have observed throughout my days is that it’s so hard to make that choice. I have learned from people in recovery from the disease of addiction are very wise about this matter—that the act of choosing life and prosperity and health is a lot more difficult than most of us would care to admit.

One TikTok influencer I’ve run across several times is a woman in recovery from alcohol abuse. Just the other day she hit day 365 of sobriety—one whole year—and to mark it she made a post just sitting in her car talking about how she’s not going to make a big to-do about it because the next—day 366—will be another day to make the difficult but life-freeing choice to stay sober. She explains how she uses her TikTok followers as a community that helps hold her accountable. In the post she holds up the little token she received from her AA meeting as the humble prize that reminds her the journey will continue the next day and the day after that. Choices of faith can be difficult, even when they are framed in such basic and easy terms.

That’s why we should like how Jesus talks to the crowds in this morning’s gospel even though he says so many things that don’t initially sit well with us. We are to hate our family and even our very life to follow him. We are to carry the cross. We must give up all our possessions. What Jesus is doing is being honest about how hard it actually is to make choices. He’s being forthright with us about how the act of faith is arduous. It’s a procession, but not a parade. It’s a type of contest, but not a game. Jesus is getting real here about the choices and the calculations that necessarily come when one joins up for his journey, and while it sounds off-putting, it is ultimately to our benefit. It is to our benefit because all we often see in the moment is the sweet marshmallow of a charismatic leader forgetting something far better is to come.

That’s the issue with the crowds at this juncture in the story. They are ready to march right on into Jerusalem and take what they see is theirs, stick it to the Roman occupiers. More and more are signing on because Jesus feels like the popular and attractive option at this point.

And Jesus is now leveling with them…and with us. When he says we have to hate our father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, he doesn’t mean that in the emotional angry way that we usually imply with the word “hate.” It’s just a middle-eastern way of saying that in following Jesus we must be willing to detach ourselves from some of these other ties. We will find ourselves in situations where our faith will call our other relationships into question, kind of like Philemon and his relationship with Onesimus.

When he says we must hate our life he doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy a hot coffee, or a good beer, or the way our lover’s body feels, or the other things God has given us to enjoy in this good creation. What it means is that our devotion to Jesus will redefine and recalibrate our attachments and affiliations to all other things in life. It will change how we spend our money, how we use our voice in society, how we prioritize our time and talent. Our following Jesus will influence how we regard other people, people the world tricks us into viewing primarily through the lens of our privilege and status. The call to follow, you see, involves calculations, some long-term thinking that can take us off guard.

Here’s my question, though: But can we really calculate it all? Can we ever be sure of our abilities to account for all of the costs beforehand? Can we, standing in this moment in time, predict all the twists and turns that the journey of discipleship might take? Can little Eliza, or her parents, with the water still moistening her head, have a clue what all her faith will get her into throughout her life? Can the couple I married last weekend, standing in the most beautiful of settings, on the eighteenth green of a golf course, before their friends and family, have any clue about all the twists and turns their marriage will inevitably take, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health?

baptismal journey begins for Eliza

Can the congregation, emerging groggily out of two long years of a pandemic, have a clue what the new normal of ministry and church life will look like? Can we know every little detail, for example, what Sunday School for kids will look and feel like with a third of the teachers and half the kids we once had? There is some anxiety about this, perhaps, but this week several teacher volunteers emailed Pastor Sarah and said, “We’re ready to try this, no matter how different it will be.” As for confirmation mentors, this is the first year I’ve never had to go out and beat the bushes. We actually had two more sign up than we needed! In all of these cases, and in each of our choices of faith and following, Jesus today just asks us to stop and consider the work and suffering and prayer that will be involved.

And all of that will be possible because we’re following the one who does know the ultimate cost and he’s willing to pay it. All of the joys and new discoveries of these endeavors will come because Jesus will never abandon us. Jesus has you and me in his long-term thinking from the word go. That we can make these choices is a fact because Jesus has first chosen us. He is the man who builds the tower to protect us and he is the king who sends in his army of mercy and love to conquer us. It takes all he has, but he has calculated in his love that we are worth it. On the cross he offers his life to free us from all the bad choices we’ve made and declare us to be, like Onesimus, truly useful. In God’s eyes, we are always useful, always beloved, always a prize.

And when the going gets tough, and we feel in over our heads, and the choice seems too much to bear—the blessings, the curses, the life, the death, we meet Jesus again. We meet him again today and he comes along side us and reminds us: “you are a blessing, not a curse. Again today I choose you. Now get up, and let’s go.”

Thanks be to God!

The Reverend Phillip W. Martin, Jr.