“And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” –Mark 1:17
When we were called by Christ to follow him, we may have had the same reaction as the disciples in Mark 1:18. It says, they just dropped everything and followed him. Or, maybe we were like me, I was asked by my choir director to fill in at church and I was overwhelmed by God’s grace.
Grace is the “unmerited love of God, given freely.” That is true and it blew me away. I grew up thinking I was just a bad kid, that I was never going to amount to much. So, the idea that God loved me even though I was a bad kid and wasn’t going to amount to much was such a relief, a joy, an unspeakable gift. I am thankful that the Lord had sent me my grandfather in a dream to let me know that wasn’t the end of the story. I had an inkling there was more than just the joy of forgiveness.
At the church I attended, the priest invited me to read a book by the saint Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the underground Christian who worked to fight off the Nazis in Germany. He died just days before the concentration camp where he was held was liberated. Bonhoeffer’s book was important because he was a Protestant (German Lutheran) who introduced me to the idea of “Cheap Grace” in his book “The Cost of Discipleship.” I could not but be in awe of a man whose life lived out his words. The grace of God was certainly not cheap for Bonhoeffer. He gave with his life.
Bonhoeffer wrote the following about grace in that book:
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 treasure hidden in the field;
for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has.
It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods.
It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye
which causes him to stumble;
it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.
It was Brother Dietrich who convicted me that to be a disciple gives us grace for which we are thankful, but then enters us into a life that is about a constant project of holiness, asking forgiveness, being subjected to fraternal correction, striving for perfection. We do not work, ask, get corrected, and strive to earn the grace. No, it is the opposite, because we have received forgiveness, we repent. Because we have been baptized we allow our priests, deacons, and bishops to correct us, because we have Communion we confess our sins.
Cheap grace would let us slide. We would get all the benefits of being loved by God without loving him back. It would be like getting married but not giving love to the one who is committed to us. When we become Christians, we give up such talk as “my rights,” for example. That is talk we use sparingly because to be Baptized into Christ is to be of service to God and the world.
Being of service to God and to my neighbor has taken me to places I would have never gone to serve people who are beautiful and have blessed me richly. That is the nature of grace that is not treated cheaply, it keeps on giving as we give. Grace that is treated cheaply is narcissistic and only leads to sin and our destruction.
This coming September 26, we will have Baptisms, Confirmations, and Receptions into the Church from our New Members Class. These are people who are beginning their lives among us with a first time commitment and a renewed commitment to not treat grace cheaply. I am very excited about this bunch and what they bring to the community and the mission of Jesus Christ. I hope you will join us on that day to celebrate with them and Welcome them Home to Christ the King.