Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021

From our Gospel reading, these exceedingly challenging words: [Jesus] called the crowd with his
disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up
their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life
for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole
world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?” Thus far our text.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ. Amen.

Last Sunday I urged us to consider whether or not our Lenten Journey of 2021 ought to be
unlike any we have ever experienced. I encouraged us all to go deeper than ever before in the
act or discipline of repentance, *of asking the Holy Spirit of God to inspire and empower us to
do the very challenging and quite often painful work of contemplating and confessing the depth
of our sinful woundedness.

It is vitally important to begin this journey, and to continue this journey, with the end in mind.
Our goal is not self-hatred, but self-assessment. Jesus would not call us to repent if this were
something harmful to us. Our goal is to see and experience the full burden and guilt of our sin
only in order to gain a greater appreciation for the amazing grace of God which has removed
sin’s consequences. The Lenten journey leads to Good Friday and to Easter-- to the cross upon
which our Savior bore our sin and punishment, and then to the empty tomb which proclaimed
victory over death.

Therefore, the culmination of this journey has the potential to involve a truly wonderful and
profound experience of grace and of love, and we can anticipate this result: the one who has been
forgiven much, loves much.

It is important for us to recognize that there are two parts of repentance. One side of the coin, if
you will, involves this recognition and confession of the depth and seriousness of our sin,
leading to remorse and preparing us to experience God’s love and grace. This is an important
beginning, but there is still more to the journey of repentance.

Now we must consider what we hear from Jesus in this morning’s text: “If any want to become
my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” This relates in a truly
organic way to the other side of repentance: changing the direction of our lives and following
Jesus. And truth be told, too many Christians have been led to sort of stop at grace, to be happy
about the forgiveness part, but unwilling to take seriously Jesus’ call to follow.

The Greek word for “repent”, metanoia, literally means to “change the mind” and the result of
this changing of our mind is the changing of the direction of our lives. In his commentary on
our text, Ira Briggs Diggers, Professor of New Testament at Lutheran Theological Southern
Seminary, wrote this: Anyone who purports to follow Jesus must understand the sacrifice
involved. For Mark, discipleship is not some comfortable affiliation with Jesus but a life-
changing—and potentially life-threatening—commitment to him.

As I started to work with our text I was led back to this worn book, The Cost of Discipleship, by
the brilliant Lutheran theologian and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who tragically was executed by
the Nazis right at the end of WWII. I have lost track of how many times I’ve read this heavy
and challenging book, but I consider it to be one of the most important I have ever read, one
which has greatly impacted my thinking and living, as well as my preaching and teaching.

One of the most well-known quotes from this book is this: “When Christ calls a man, He bids
him come and die.” In other words, Bonhoeffer would have us take the call Jesus speaks in our
text-- and all of His other calls to follow-- seriously. And this call involves giving up anything
and everything which might hinder our obedience.

I’m not sure if he coined the phrase or not, but a major theme in this book is Bonhoeffer’s attack
on what he calls cheap grace, which he describes as having this mentality: “Instead of following
Christ, let the Christian enjoy the consolations of his grace! That is what we mean by cheap grace, the
grace which amounts to the justification of the sin without the justification of the repentant sinner who
departs from sin and from whom sin departs. … Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without
requiring repentance… cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace
without Jesus Christ living and incarnate.”

Perhaps we can understand what Bonhoeffer is challenging here is the all-too-common belief
among Christians that Christianity is all about worship (i.e. going to church) and not so much
about following Jesus. But in truth, Jesus always comes asking disciples to follow him--not
merely "accept him," not merely "believe in him," not merely "worship him," but to follow him.

Bonhoeffer juxtaposes cheap grace with costly grace, which he describes as being “costly
because it calls us to follow, and grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it
costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it
condemns sin, it is grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because to cost God the
life of His Son… and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us… it is grace because God did not
reckon His Son too dear a price to pay for our life.”

A few minutes ago, I described the relationship between the two sides of the repentance ‘coin’
as being organic. Here is what I mean. When we are led to see that our following of Jesus as
not only our Savior, but also as Lord, has most likely been far from adequate this can create the
remorse side of repentance, which prepares us to experience the healing of grace, which
then—by the power of the Holy Spirit—fills us with gratitude and love and moves us to respond
to grace with a willingness, a desire, to follow and to obey the law of Jesus—the law of love.

This is what some describe as being the circular logic of our theology. It all ties together. One
side of repentance moves us to recognize our great need for grace, and the experiencing of that
grace moves us to follow the One who saved us. In other words, as we experience Jesus as our
Savior, we’re inspired and empowered to follow Him as our Lord, as the One whom we obey.

Finally, here is one more important truth for us to grasp: Jesus does not force or coerce us to
respond to grace by seeking to follow Him with increasing devotion. He calls and invites us,
and He promises to send His Spirit to facilitate our following, but He will not force this to
happen. We must decide. And we must decide over and over and over again.

But we must understand this: Jesus’ call, like everything else He has done and continues to do, is
motivated by His profound love for us. We’ll close with Bonhoeffer’s description of this truth:
“Costly grace confronts us with a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the
broken spirit and the contrite heart. Grace 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.’” We
will focus on the joy and meaning to be found in following Jesus next week. Amen.

  May 2021  
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