Scripture: Preached at Monroe Congregational UCC
March 24, 2002
Pastor Tom Sorenson

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.

This is a true story. There was a man named Dietrich Bonhoeffer. He was a theologian, indeed, one of the most important Protestant theologians of the twentieth century. As a Protestant he believed that grace is God's free gift to us, but he taught that grace while free is not cheap. "The Cost of Discipleship," the title of this meditation and a phrase from the UCC Statement of Faith, is in fact the title of the English translation of one of his most important works. Grace, he said, cost a man his life. It cost Jesus his life, and it can cost us our lives. Dietrich lived in Germany under the Nazis. He was a man of peace, a pacifist at heart. He came to America in 1939 to teach. He could have stayed here. He could have been safe. His friends urged him to do so; but he didn't do that. He went home. And when he went home he joined a conspiracy to assassinate Adolph Hitler. The conspiracy was discovered, and Dietrich was arrested. A few days before the war ended,, the Nazis killed him.

This is a true story. There was a man named Mohandas Gandhi. He was a Hindu who followed Jesus' way of nonviolence. He lived in India under British imperialism. He was a lawyer, and he could have chosen a safe and prosperous life in the British controlled legal system. Perhaps his friends urged him to do so; but he didn't do that. He saw the oppression of his people, and he had to act. He led the Indian resistance movement to British colonialism. He led it nonviolently, and he taught others the way of nonviolence. He believed in tolerance for all religions and peace between all peoples. As he worked peacefully to end violence between Hindus and Moslems in newly independent India, his enemies killed him.

This is a true story. There was a man named Martin Luther King, Jr. He lived in the United States of America under a system of racism and segregation. He was a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, an educated man with a Ph.D. He could have led a comfortable and secure life preaching and teaching. Perhaps his friends urged him to do so; but he didn't do that. He saw the suffering of the African-American people, and he led a nonviolent resistance movement for their liberation. He preached justice and peace with passion and power, and people listened. In the end, his enemies killed him.

This is a true story. There was a man named Jesus of Nazareth. He lived in Palestine under the brutal and oppressive military occupation of the Roman Empire and under the rigid purity system of the religious establishment of his day. He was a carpenter, and he became a teacher. He could have lived a safe and secure life as a tradesman and teacher in the synagogue. Perhaps his friends urged him to do so; but he didn't do that. He saw the injustice in the world, he say the suffering of the people, he had a vision from God of a better way, a way of peace, justice, liberty, equality, and inclusiveness for all. He left his home and led a wandering life preaching about the Kingdom of God. He spoke with passion and power. He was filled with the Spirit of God. Indeed, he was Immanuel, God With Us. People listened to him and believed. His enemies could not bear what he had to say. They tried to silence him. He kept on preaching. His friends tried to dissuade him, saying "do not go to Jerusalem." They will kill you if you do. But he went to Jerusalem, into the heart of the political and religious system of his time, the seat of power and privilege. And there he preached God's truth to the powerful. And they killed him.

Friends, grace is free, but it is not cheap. Discipleship has a cost. If our discipleship is authentic, it costs us our lives. It can cost us our lives literally, as it did our brothers Dietrich, Mohandas, Martin, and Jesus, although we know, of course, that for Jesus death wasn't the end. Or it can cost us our lives metaphorically. When we truly feel and understand the power of God's grace, our lives are transformed. We are born again. St. Paul said that if any one is in Christ, she or he is a new person. The old has passed away and something new has come to be. Our old self has died, and a new, transformed self has risen in its place. That's what authentic, costly grace does. It costs us our old lives and gives us new ones.

Today and throughout this coming week we journey with Jesus to the cross. We share in his final ministry, his betrayal, anguish, despair, and death. Many of us perhaps find this focus on Jesus' death uncomfortable. Maybe we don't even like the idea that he died for us. No, for many of us, Good Friday is a day we would rather not deal with.

We would rather jump right to the joy of Easter. Easter is a lot more fun. We would rather shout for joy than cry out in pain. We would rather celebrate new life than mourn the death of the one we call Lord and Savior. But without the pain of Good Friday, Easter loses its meaning. Next week we celebrate the triumph. This week have to understand what it is that God triumphs over. We have to understand that sin, betrayal, violence, injustice, pain, and death are part of life too. We have to be reminded that while God's grace is free because we cannot and do not have to earn it, it is not cheap. We have it through the death as well as through the resurrection of our Lord. Grace makes demands on us. It transforms us. It costs us our old lives, which we must lose before we can grow into the new lives of grace that God offers us. The joy of discipleship comes next week. This week is our time to experience its cost.

Let us pray: God, we don't want to go where you went when Jesus went to the cross. We are like Peter and the other disciples. We want to run and hide from pain and death. We like our grace cheap. We want to rejoice in it, but we don't want to face its demands on us. Give us courage Lord, to go with you to Gethsemane and Golgotha. Help us to stay awake through this week of suffering. Help us to understand its meaning. Make us worthy disciples, willing to accept the cost of following you so that next week we may truly celebrate the joy of the Resurrection. We pray in the name of Jesus, who paid the ultimate price of discipleship for himself--and for us. Amen.