Sermon ~ Costly Grace

In 1937, the Lutheran Pastor and Theologian Dietrich Bonheoffer wrote a booked with the title The Cost of Discipleship.  Bonhoeffer’s Germany of 1937 had become secularized and was spinning out of control.  People had stopped going to church, and Hitler’s party was on the rise to power.  This was the dawn of the 2nd World War.  Through this small book, Bonheoffer attempted to call the people back to a sense of what it means to be Christian in what was considered the modern world.  Bonhoeffer would be executed by the SS for his role in the attempted assassination of Hitler, but his work lives on for us today.

What can we learn from these words written so long ago?

There is a cost to being a follower of Jesus Christ, and that cost is our very lives.  For some, it is our physical life, but for the vast majority of us, it is surrendering our will to that of Christ, to be a follower of Jesus we must change the way we think and act.

Bonhoeffer writes of something he calls “cheap grace”

“cheap grace,” Bonheoffer writes,  “is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Sadly the church of his time had fallen into the trap of cheap grace.  People wanted religion, but they wanted it on their own terms.  They wanted to dictate to the church what they will believe, and they will dictate to the church the discipline they are willing to follow.  We see much of the same thing happening today.  Some have watered the faith down so much that there is not much of what the Apostles taught.  There are more than 40,000 Christian denominations today.  That boggles my mind.  We have taken the basic message of grace and reconciliation and love and turned it on its head.  We have taken something so straightforward and made it complicated.  By watering down the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we have cheapened it, and in that it has lost all of its meaning.

Faith comes from obedience to something that is outside of us something that exists in spite of everything we do to try and make it go away.  We cannot have it both ways, we cannot do what we want to do but still call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ.  To be a follower requires obedience to Jesus and His Gospel.

When Jesus called His Apostles they had to leave their possessions and their lives to follow Him.  We see Saint Peter, the future leader of the Apostles, leaving his fishing nets to go and follow Jesus.  St. Matthew, the tax collector, left his coin box at the gate and followed Jesus.  These are concrete examples of how the lives of the followers of Jesus need to change if they are going to be authentic followers.

In the story of the man who comes to Jesus and asks to follow Him but he has to go and bury his father, who has just died, first.  Jesus says to him, “let the dead bury the dead.”  He tells the rich young man to go and sell everything that he has and follow Him.  Lives need to be transformed if we are to be authentic followers of Jesus.

In sharp contrast to “cheap grace” or what I like to call the easy way, Bonheoffer advocates for “Costly Grace.”

“Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” “

Faith comes with obedience and obedience comes with faith.  It was not easy for the Apostles to leave all they had behind, and Jesus is not even asking us to do that, He is asking us to think and act in a certain way, and that way is His way.

Our world is not much different today than it was in Bonheoffer’s day.  Organized religion has done a terrible job, and for that, we are paying the price.  When the leaders go off on a tangent and seem to be more interested in legislation than transformation of lives there is a real problem.  When the concern is more for the institution of the Church then for people who are the church there is a real problem.  When the shepherds forget their job is to protect their sheep and to lay down their lives for them, it is no wonder we see less and less people in the church.  If I require you to be an authentic follower of Jesus, then I need to be an authentic follower of Jesus otherwise I should just shut up!

Obedience to not an easy thing for us.  We are not designed for it if you will.  We have been given free will, but that freedom comes with a cost.  We have the ability to choose the narrow way, the way filled with rocks and crooked paths, the way where the bushes grow over the route and where sometimes we cannot see the road in front of us, the way of Christ, or the wide open, easy way, the way of the smooth way with plenty of pit stops, the way of the world. Jesus never promised His followers that life would be easy.  Jesus told us, clearly told us, that we would be persecuted.

In the 15th chapter of the Gospel of St. John, Jesus tells His followers, “If the world hates you, you know it hated me before it hated you.”  This fallen world we live in hates everything that Christ stands for and will do everything to destroy it.  Evil and hatred exists, but we bring love and compassion to the world, Christ and His Church, are all about love, that is the simple message of Gospel.

“Costly Grace” is the call of all of us, me and you, the call to follow in the footsteps of the Apostles and in the footsteps of Christ.

But what it is not is a throwing off of whatever we have.  Jesus is not calling all of us to sell all we have and give it to the poor.  He is not calling all of us to live in a monastery or something like that.  No, these are not bad things, things are not bad, it is how we use them, and they use us that is bad.  We have been given the capacity to think and to discern those thoughts and beliefs and then we have to choose which way we are to go.  There is a cost associated with being a follower and that cost is not being a slave to our passions.

The fathers and mothers of the church write about how we need to get our passions under control.  Anger is a passion.  We have all been angry, some of us maybe angry right now because I keep going on and on…  But anger is a passion and it can lead us to do some pretty nasty things.  Psychologists will tell us that the passion are irrational, all of the passions and we should not make decisions from a passionate point of view.  When we are angry we are not thinking straight, and we might say or do something that is harmful to ourselves or another person.

But is anger always bad?  No, anger used in the right way can lead to change.  It is all in how we use the passions.  Do they control us or do we control them?

As followers of Jesus, we are called to obedience to the Gospel of Christ.  We are called to obedience to His church, not just the parts we like, but to the whole program.  We cannot have a foot in both the church and the world we need to make a choice between the easy way of cheap grace or the difficult way of Costly Grace.

Let us decide right this minute that we will endeavour to be obedient to What Christ is calling us too.  Let us decide at this moment that we will endeavour to follow the path of Costly Grace and not that of cheap grace.

St. Herman of Alaska summed up our lives as followers of Christ this way, “From this day forth, from this hour, from this minute, let us love God above all, and strive to do His holy will.”

Let us make that our daily prayer!

1 Comment

  1. There’s nothing better than being at Liturgy and hearing this, in person. Thank you, Father, for helping us stay on the straight and narrow! Lord have Mercy on us all.

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