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Costly grace

Reading
Luke 14.25–33

 

Cheap grace is the mortal enemy of our church. Our struggle today is for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace as bargain-basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is doled out by careless hands without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. It is said that the essence of grace is that the bill for it is paid in advance for all time. Everything can be had for free, courtesy of that paid bill. The price paid is infinitely great and, therefore, the possibilities of taking advantage of and wasting grace are also infinitely great. What would grace be, if it were not cheap grace? 

Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God. — Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Discipleship

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There are some easy-to-miss words at the beginning of today’s Gospel Reading. Here they are again:

Now large crowds were travelling with him…

Large crowds were travelling with Jesus. Great numbers of people. You know what can happen when people get together in a crowd? They can become a mob very easily. A mob mentality can take over very quickly. 

Jesus needs to stay on mission. He doesn’t want a mob. He is starting what we could call the ‘Jesus Movement’, and he wants the people with him to stay on mission too.

So what does Jesus do? He gets them to count the cost. He sorts them out. Those who really can’t last the distance need to feel free to leave. So he speaks in the exaggerated way that teachers of his day had: 

Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple. 

Count the cost. In other words; If you follow me, you may find opposition from your family. If you follow me, you may be persecuted. Count the cost before you take another step. 

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Costly grace (Second Sunday in Lent Year B, 4 March 2012)

Costly grace

Readings
Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16
Mark 8.27-38

Create in us a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within us.

 

You know, nothing bad is supposed to happen to messiahs. A ‘messiah’ is someone whom God has anointed and chosen. A messiah stops bullets in his teeth, leaps buildings with a single bound, and puts all the bad guys where they belong. A messiah strides to inevitable victory; he cannot be defeated.

Jesus has created a huge stir in Galilee. He has healed people, touched lepers, confronted forces of demonic proportions, and spoken with authority. People are talking about him. They have all sorts of ideas about who he is: he must be some hero back from the grave, someone like John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets.

So when Jesus asks the disciples who he is, it’s not altogether obvious that he is the One they had been waiting for to deliver Israel: the Messiah. But Peter gets it—or does he?

Peter says the right thing:

You are the Messiah.

But warning bells are ringing for Jesus. He’s not you’re normal kind of messiah. He isn’t a messiah who’ll lead the troops to victory, throw the Romans out and bring in the golden age. Jesus is a messiah who dies in defeat. They’d never heard of such a thing before. So while Peter says Jesus is the Messiah, he is talking about the wrong kind of messiah. Jesus needs to help them all to see what sort of messiah he is.

So he says to them, ‘quite openly’, no secrets:

…the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

They didn’t hear that last bit. It’s like when you go to the doctor, and she says, ‘You’ve got a lump. It might be cancer, but we’ll be able to remove it and you should be ok.’

You’ve stopped listening at the word ‘cancer’. The glimmer of hope the doctor threw out was just white noise. You walk away feeling stunned.

Peter heard words like ‘great suffering’, ‘rejected’ and ‘killed’. Nothing else penetrated.

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