THE SECOND SUNDAY IN LENT
MARCH 4, 2012
Being a disciple of Jesus was not for sissies, Peter found out in the Gospel account today. Jesus was telling him that he (Jesus) must greatly suffer, be rejected by all of the officials and important people of their society, and that he would be killed. While he said he would rise again after three days, what Peter mainly heard was the suffering and death of this man whom he loved and for whom he had given up everything to follow. In Peter’s usual blustery way, he declared that he would never let that happen and he rebuked Jesus for even thinking it, much less saying it.Then Jesus said a remarkable thing to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan. For you are setting your mind not on divine things, but on human things.” Then Jesus said to everyone a remarkable and scary thing, “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, the those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Whoa! That is not what most had bargained for and, I suspect, a number who were following Jesus left about that time. It seemed there would be a high price, a great cost, to being a disciple of Jesus. This is a feature of being a Christian that today we pretty much ignore and try to look the other way. We are sure that being a Christian is about being good, moral, kindly to others, patient, generous, and showing up at church every Sunday. Those are most certainly good things and important to our lives as Christians. Jesus would not disparage such behavior, but Jesus is calling for something more, something more weighty and challenging, and, often, far more difficult. You can even be a very nice and caring person without believing in Jesus or even God, but we really cannot faithfully be a follower of Christ without being a person of conversion: your heart must be where God’s heart is, as well as your hands and your feet. This takes great courage. It is far easier said than done. I have not gotten it right, yet, but we begin with our desire. Our desire to follow Christ, to take up the cross lies at the heart of discipleship. To do it it right, to take seriously the words of Jesus in the Gospel today, there is a price to pay.Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the martyred German theologian and pastor, who was executed by the Nazis in 1945, wrote in his great book, The Cost of Discipleship, about the contrast between “cheap grace” and “costly grace:”
Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.
Cheap grace means a grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system . . . Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without Church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate . . .
Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again . . . Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our life, and it is grace because it gives us the only true life . . .
Grace is costly because it compels us 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.”
I have a confession to make: I was not sure that I believed that Jesus’ yoke was easy or his burden light. I did not understand that assurance from Jesus until one memorable day many years ago in Costa Rica. When I was first ordained I went to Costa Rica as a missionary and I was there for six wonderful years. I was at one of our missions for a couple of days and was staying in a small little room at the back of the church. One morning, I opened the shutter to see a teenage boy across the way hitching up a team of oxen to pull some huge mahogany logs from out of the edge of the jungle. He placed a large heavy yoke across their necks and tied it to the oxen. He then connected a large chain from the yoke to the logs and started beating on the oxen to pull the heavy load. The oxen strained and pulled against each other and made all sorts of unhappy noises as the boy continued beating on them. About the time, the boy’s father came running out of their small house and he pushed the boy aside and he tied the heavy yoke to the oxen by lashing it to them so tightly that I thought he would pop their horns off. Then an amazing thing happened. The oxen settled right down. With a very light tap on their rumps the oxen pulled the huge log out of the field towards the lumber mill like it was a match stick.Watching this scenario, it all dawned on me about what Jesus meant when he said, “My yoke is easy.” By attaching the yoke so tightly, instead of it being a burden it became a source of strength and power. That is what Jesus meant when he said, “Take up my cross.” When we attach ourselves so closely and tightly to the cross of Christ, then in place of it being a fearful burden, the cross becomes a source of great strength and power.
This is the great invitation to follow Christ. To so bind ourselves to him then, even in our own weakness and flawed humanity, we are infused with the power and grace of Christ and we make our journey towards God, serving God and God’s people and creation with Jesus’ obedience and courage.Being a Christian means that our desire is to be like Christ (even though we are far from fulfilling that desire) and to seek to live a life with new and , at times, countercultural commitment to his mission to bring others into this family of God: to care for the sick, the outcasts, the poor, the elderly, the lonely, and the fearful in such a way that they know the grace and love of God. This can be a lonely and confusing task, but being a follower of Jesus means that we embrace this loneliness. As God came to be fully human in Jesus, so we too, understand what is means to be fully human through Jesus. This is where we find glimpses of grace.
How do we even begin such a journey? We begin with a life of prayer – not just the saying of our prayers, even though that is how we start – but living in an awareness of the presence of God in our lives and in the lives of every person. We seek to see and know the power of God in all places. We live this life together with others of faith as we support one another, together we offer worship and praise to God, and we live as grateful, thankful, eucharistic people. With that foundation, we reach out to everyone in the world around us, caring for and loving one another, seeking peace, working for justice and the well-being of others.We began Lent with a reminder that we are but dust and to dust we shall return. But even in the reality of our limitations and our mortality, we have been empowered by the cross of Christ to be like him. Yes, to be like him! Leave behind our fears and our notions of inadequacy and take up the cross and follow him in order to become who God would have us be. The more we know God, the closer we come to Christ, the more we become ourselves. There is true freedom in what Jesus asks of us – the freedom to draw near to God, to love and accept one another and ourselves, as well, without constraint.
Let us always ask, and listen, “where is Jesus asking me to follow him in my life today?” Perhaps it is time to take that step of faithfulness, of vulnerability, of be being loved by God, of living and sharing the Good News, to reach out in love and compassion to everyone, and to know that in this body we call, “the Church,” there are no outcasts. Here we are trying to serve Christ in all persons, striving for justice and peace among all people, and respecting the dignity of every human being.