Summary: In losing life for the sake of Christ and the gospel we gain life. Do you live by cheap grace or costly grace? Have you counted the cost of true discipleship?
Sermon for 2 Lent Yr B, 16/03/2003
Based on Mk. 8: 31-38
"Are you losing or gaining?"
Grace Lutheran Church, Medicine Hat, Alberta
By Pastor Garth Wehrfritz-Hanson
Someone (I’ve unfortunately lost the source) tells the following humorous story: When Ole quit farming, he discovered that he was the only Lutheran in his new little town of all Catholics. That was okay, but the neighbours had a problem with his barbecuing beef every Friday. Since they couldn’t eat meat on Friday, the tempting aroma was getting the best of them. Hoping they could do something to stop this, the neighbours got together and went over to talk to Ole. ‘Ole,’ they said, ‘since you are the only Lutheran in this whole town and there’s not a Lutheran church for many kilometres, we think you should join our church and become a Catholic.’
Ole thought about it for a minute and decided they were probably right. Ole talked to the priest, and they arranged it. The big day came and the priest had Ole kneel. He put his hand on Ole’s head and said, ‘Ole, you were born a Lutheran, you were raised a Lutheran, and now...’ he said as he sprinkled some incense over Ole’s head, ‘now you are a Catholic!’
Ole was happy and the neighbours were happy. But the following Friday evening at suppertime, there was again the aroma of grilled beef coming from Ole’s yard. The neighbours went to talk to him about this and as they approached the fence, they heard Ole saying to the steak: ‘You were born a cow, you were raised a cow,’ and as he sprinkled salt over the meat he said, ‘and now you are A FISH!’
This humorous story is actually quite insightful about the creativity of human beings. Sometimes when we do not like the way things are, we invent other ways and means to get around what we don’t like. Worse yet, like Ole in the story, we try to convince ourselves and others that something is true when it really is not. As Martin Luther stated in thesis 21 of the Heidelberg Disputation: “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”
Take our gospel today as an example. When Jesus told his disciples that he was about to suffer, die, and three days later rise again; PETER WOULD HAVE NONE OF THAT! NO WAY! He, and most likely the other disciples, COULD NOT ACCEPT OR BELIEVE WHAT JESUS TOLD THEM. Jesus responds in a rather forceful manner and lets Peter know that he’s really fallen off the rails BIG TIME, telling him: "Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things."
After that, we learn how the logic of the cross works. It is a logic that seems most offensive and illogical to us. How can people gain life from losing life? Does that make any sense? The wisdom of this world would have us believe that we all need to look out for number one--OURSELVES. People in our society are most likely quite scandalized by Jesus’ question: "For what will it profit (a person) to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?" Is not gaining the whole world so deeply ingrained into us in our society--especially from the advertising industry--that we’ve turned it into a means to salvation, a god, a fundamental creed to replace Christ and Christianity?
Lutheran theologian and martyr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer described our situation very well when he spoke of how people prefer "cheap grace" to real, "costly grace:
"Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner.
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.
We Lutherans have gathered like eagles round the carcass of cheap grace, and there we have drunk the poison which has killed the life of following Christ. It is true of course that we have paid the doctrine of pure grace divine honours unparalleled in Christendom, in fact we have exalted that doctrine to the position of God himself. Everywhere Luther’s formula has been repeated, but it’s truth perverted into self-deception. "So long as our church holds the correct doctrine of justification, there is no doubt that she is a justified church!" To be "Lutheran" must mean that we leave the following of Christ to legalists, Calvinists, and enthusiasts--and all this for the sake of grace. We justified the world, and condemned as heretics those who tried to follow Christ. But the call to follow Jesus in the narrow way was hardly ever heard. What has happened to all those warnings of Luther’s against preaching the gospel in such a manner as to make (people) rest secure in their ungodly living?