042411 Easter Sermon
32They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.” 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, “Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.” 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, “Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.”
- The Cost of Discipleship
This morning’s message comes to us by way of the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, whose book ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ provided me with the background for today’s message. I’ve included a footnote in the bulletin that refers to the book and also a web link to a biography of Pastor Bonhoeffer.
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dietrich Bonhoeffer was born in Germany in 1906 and studied theology both in Germany and in New York, at Union Seminary. He served as a pastor in Germany, London and in the United States. He had left Germany in 1939, fleeing the Gestapo who were hounding him, and took at teaching job at Union Seminary, but immediately returned to Germany to be there for the struggle against the Nazi’s. In October, 1940 Bonhoeffer Gestapo surveillance and traveled throughout Europe raising money for the Nazi resistance.
In early 1943, the Gestapo had traced large sums of money to Bonhoeffer, his sister and brother-in-law who were smuggling Jews to Switzerland, providing the resistance with information and assisted in the long-term plot to depose Hitler and end the war.
He, his sister and brother-in-law were arrested by the Gestapo in 1943 and eventually sent to Buchenwald in 1945, where he was hanged shortly before the Allies liberated the death camp.
While in prison Bonhoeffer continued to minister to fellow death camp prisoners until each’s execution, and then his own. His guards became his friends even, and smuggled his letters from prison out to the world.
We ended last week’s sermon and service with this question. We had been talking about what it means and what it feels like to be a Christian disciple. Sometimes people mention exhilaration, or peace, or calm, or assurance. I often feel as though I’m walking through life 6 inches off the ground.
These feelings, along with the clear and perceived feeling of being forgiven and loved by God are what we call grace. Grace is freely given from God; we cannot earn it, or bargain for it, grace is not part of a business transaction. It is always a freely given gift from God. It is difficult to always remember this, because we are used to trying to earn everything, or to act so as to have a certain ownership and security in everything. Receiving something freely given, and something we can never earn or deserve is very difficult and we may find ourselves falling back into a pattern of doing something for God to guarantee our prayers our answered and we get what we ask for….etc
But our question from last week was….what of being a disciple was not pleasurable, not motivating, not exhilarating? What if being a disciple meant suffering. We have this week the example of Jesus suffering because of his belief. What if we also are bound to suffer because of our own discipleship?
Bonhoeffer’s idea about grace goes something like this: As Christianity spread, the church became more ‘secularized’, accommodating the demands of obedience to Jesus to the demands of society. In this way the world, or the western world, became Christianized and grace became its common property, so that grace and salvation became common property. The hazard of this was that the gospel became cheapened and obedience to the living Christ was gradually lost beneath formula and ritual, so that in the end grace could be sold for monetary gain, and grace has been sold actually during the history of the church. For a tithe, you can receive grace.
At the same time, there continued a living protest against this secular movement: the monastic movement, where the older vision of discipleship was kept alive. But monasticism was seen as only an individual achievement in rare circumstances and not something expected of common laity like you and me. We as individuals were not expected to give away all we own and follow Jesus like a monk or nun. Instead, the church had ‘specialists’ the monks and nuns who carried forward the original vision of discipleship.
- Cheap Grace
Bonehoeffer reffered to this watered down version of secularized discipleship as ‘cheap grace’. In Bonhoeffer’s words ‘cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness withour requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.’
What these words call us to is to move beyond cheap grace, beyond the secularized church and move back to the original church, the church of disciples.
Sometimes we hear the gospel preached as ‘Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness’. The problem with this proclamation is that is contains no demand for discipleship. In contrast with this is costly grace:
From Bonhoeffer again:
‘costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man 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’.
One may ask ‘if I become a disciple of Jesus, not just ‘saved’ but a real disciple of Jesus, what will I have to do? Will I have to sell my Porsche and give money to the poor, or sell my investments and give the money to the poor or to the church?’
Well, I can’t say and it’s not my place to say. We all get accustomed to what we think discipleship looks like—like we all must dress in black and drive buggies, or stand on street corners and give out pamphlets, or something. But that is doing what we have decided it is best to do and it is not what we have individually been told by Jesus.
Instead, discipleship is not deciding any more. It is giving up control of your life and soul to God, and becoming an obedient disciple. Jesus asks that we follow his commandments, not follow a set of rules that applied to Pharisees or Sadducees two thousand years ago. So, our old notions of what is expected of disciples cannot be reduced to a set of specific rules of ‘do and don’t’.
Instead, discipleship means first to enter into a spiritual relationship with Jesus and with God, and develop that relationship over a period of time. It means allow the spirit of Christ to grow in your life, and small step by small step listening for what God wants of your life.
Bonhoeffer makes the surprising observation that when the world suffers, when humankind suffers, God also suffers. God suffers the plight of earth and humankind. Jesus also, we know, this Easter morning, suffered and died. Jesus was executed because he spoke the truth to power. If we as disciples are obedient and speak the truth to the suffering of the earth and of humankind, we also will suffer, if God commands us to do so. Discipleship is not just about feeling great as a saved Christian, it is to also to suffer with those suffering and doing the will of God.
- Spiritual Formation
We’ve focused often in our church here about spiritual formation, so we don’t just talk about what Jesus did, and what the disciples did, or didn’t do. We also try to bring this all back home to us, and learn what this means to our spiritual formation as individual disciples.
First, do we want to be disciples of Jesus? It is voluntary. I think it was voluntary for Jesus even. Recall our scripture for this morning—recall Jesus pleading with God in prayer for God to take this cup from him. In other words, Jesus was praying ‘God, I don’t want to die on the cross. But I will if you want me to….’ Jesus is submitting his will to God—even at this late hour, Jesus is a volunteer—he is a willing, voluntary disciple and not bund by God or fate to die.
If we also want to become disciples of Christ, real, costly grace type disciples, then we need to first, develop a relationship with God and Jesus in prayer, and see how it flows daily into our lives. Then, as we listen to God, we begin to become real disciples who are obedient to God and Jesus, and disciples who seek to relieve God of a suffering humankind, and a suffering world. We begin to seek, as we are directed, to bring the Kingdom of God, a universe without suffering, to reality on earth.
As Mennonite Christians and as disciples it becomes our life’s work to bring this Kingdom of God to this place and time. We all share in this Kingdom, but we share the work, the suffering and death even to bring joy and glory to all of existence.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother, Lord, we are just beginners in this path of learning about Jesus and learning about you Lord God. Help us as we seek to become obedient diciples, and help us as we learn to say in our hearts ‘Not my will Lord, but your will be done. Amen
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German Lutheran pastor, theologian and martyr (gsb3.net)
- Rebirth (confessingchurch.wordpress.com)
- Poor Judas! (confessingchurch.wordpress.com)
- Day 28 (umcvblog.org)
- The Man Who Defeated Hitler (foxnews.com)
- The people of the United Methodist Church: An Easter Series, Part 1 (gsb3.net)
- Cost of Discipleship Book Review (mryoumrsme.wordpress.com)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer: From Breslau to the Abwehr (thewalkwithgod.wordpress.com)
- Dietrich Bonhoeffer (confessingchurch.wordpress.com)
- Confessing Church (roemerbrief.wordpress.com)