Tenth Sunday after Pentecost
August 9, 2020
This passage feels like a hodgepodge of teachings by Jesus—wise sayings thrown together. And any comfort offered by the part about sparrows and hairs on our head gets drowned out by the notion that Jesus will deny anyone who denies him, that he came to bring a sword instead of peace, and that anyone who values their family over Jesus isn’t worthy of him. And then he tops things off with the point that anyone who wants to find their life will lose it.
The question is, what do we do with these difficult passages and teachings?
It seems, on one hand, Jesus is warning the disciples—letting them know what happens when one preaches the gospel. And on the other hand, Jesus is encouraging them. Do not be afraid. Even those who threaten can only kill the body, not the soul. And you already belong to God, so there is nothing to fear.
But some will live in fear. Some will be captured by the fear of death, of loss, of inconvenience, of challenge, of denial—even by one’s own family, it seems.
We have a tendency, as Christians, to always want to jump from Good Friday to Easter Sunday—from confession straight to forgiveness; from sin straight to grace.
This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer talks about in his book, "The Cost of Discipleship."
"Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?...
"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."
But while forgiveness and grace are free, they are most certainly not cheap. They cost God everything, and in proclaiming them, they will cost us everything, as well. This is Jesus’ point. While we all want peace, as soon as we proclaim the Peace of Christ—truly and without concession—that proclamation will cause division. We see it all over the world.
When grace insists on care for our immigrant and refugee brothers and sisters, others insist that we set up barriers to protect ourselves. When grace insists on repentance by the powers of this world, including the Church, in the practices of systemic racism, others insist that it doesn’t exist, that ‘those people’ have created their situation. When grace insists on cautious practices, others insist it infringes on personal rights.
Grace—practiced and proclaimed—does cost. It is free, but it is not cheap. Debie Thomas says about this passage, “Bottom line? If "tender Jesus, meek and mild" is what we prefer, then this week’s lectionary is not for us. If an unrisky religion is what we feel entitled to practice, we’ve misunderstood Christianity. If neither you nor anyone within your sphere of influence has ever been provoked, disturbed, surprised, or challenged by your life of faith, then things are not okay in your life of faith.”
It sounds harsh, but not every passage is meant to make us feel warm and fuzzy. Sometimes, we need some hard truth—the gospel is good news only when it’s good news for everyone. The gospel is good news, but first it will make you mad. The gospel is good but it isn’t easy, convenient, immediate, or tame.
How do we stand for justice when the world insists that we should go along to get along? How do we proclaim good news when family and friends practice something different? No wonder Jesus said he came to bring a sword. It’s not his desire but a statement of reality. A sword is sharp and divides one from another. The gospel, too, is sharp and often divides one from another—not because the gospel is bad news but because sin refuses to let good news reign.
I have many family and friends at odds with how I understand justice through the lens of the cross. But it is the cross that paid the ultimate price for me to receive grace upon grace. The cross that unjustly claimed the life of the Christ, the cross that revealed the sin of tyranny and nationalism, the cross that rebuked the concept of empire as purveyor of peace. There is only one Prince of Peace, and the peace he offered was thrown in his face because it was inconvenient, challenging, and suggested that worldly power and influence was of absolutely no consequence in the kingdom of heaven. The cross insisted that grace was free but not cheap, that it couldn’t be controlled, distributed, or rationed by others.
Bonhoeffer concludes, “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 a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: "ye were bought at a price," and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”
Pastor Tobi White
Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church