Third Sunday after Pentecost – Genesis 22:1-19; Matthew 10:24-396; Sent by Jesus: Sharing the Cost – I love it when I get a good deal. Clothes at an outlet on clearance, or my recent favorite TJ Maxx(!), at a fraction of the “normal price”—often leftovers, unpopular styles, rejects. My favorite muesli cereal on a big sale this week. Finding a vacation rental that’s beautiful, good location, and very reasonable. Or our last four family cars salvaged, that is, they’re totaled in a wreck and rebuilt—I’ll take an idiosyncrasy or two for half of MSRP! Part of the fun is searching and calculating before purchase. Part of the ongoing satisfaction is wearing the shirt, relaxing on vacation, driving the car, and knowing what it cost, or didn’t. Maybe it’s a spirit bred in my youth when we were certainly comfortable and didn’t really suffer. Still through life with seven siblings, eating all those casseroles, knowing some toys other kids had I didn’t, and a conversation after my first-year in college when my parents didn’t know how they’d make the next tuition payment … let’s just say in our forest where I was raised I knew none of the trunks and leaves were money trees! So, I love it when it feels like I get a good deal. Maybe you know what I mean.
And friends, when it comes to faith I need to give that up. Bible stories tell us time and again that faithful life is not calculated in such commercial value. Jesus gets us to think beyond what’s best for me, like a good sale; beyond calculating money saved or profit gained on investment. Living faith on the way of the Risen Christ is not a consumer cost / benefit equation. Church participation is not simply a matter of what I get, like shopping at a store. God’s motivation is for us to serve Christ, no matter the cost.
Jesus touched, taught and healed all the leftovers and unpopular rejects, salvaging the wrecks of people’s lives, rebuilding them in grace, finding goodness and beauty in all people and places, beyond accepted boundaries. And friends, don’t we all know that often life is not such a good deal. Often the cost doesn’t seem fair—illnesses, consequences devoid of mercy, circumstances beyond our control. Children in poverty so repressive and not their responsibility. Ordinary people working hard, whose longing for basics of life in love and meaning get blown apart by bombs or bullets, swept away by storms or forest fires, or become a statistic of impact from legislative action or public policy. Couldn’t we go on for hours discussing ethical questions? Like how our good deal on clothing is often not such a good deal for someone’s working conditions and compensation in a faraway country. And then something happens to someone we love, a situation arises, a crisis occurs, and we feel we would pay the cost, no question asked, no matter what the calculation, if only it would a make a real difference, take away the pain, heal the hurt, give life.
That’s the Spirit Jesus tries to nurture in us. That’s the Holy Spirit our Bible stories try to convey in laws about leaving the edges of fields unharvested so people in need could glean without cost, or caring for strangers, orphans, widows.
Then there’s Abraham and Isaac. I confess, friends, it’s far from my favorite story in the Bible. Not one I sit on the couch and read with my children just before bed. Our Lectionary has us read it every three years, lest we avoid it altogether. But I really struggle with it. What parent would actually do that to a child? What must Sarah have been feeling, screaming? Let alone Isaac … I mean what fear must have flared in his eyes, burning into Abraham’s heart and mind, branding both of them forever. The thought of it now would get CPS at their door, and likely Abraham behind bars. And any parent who lost a beloved child knows Abraham would suffer dearly. Obviously, the point is not to offer a model for us to emulate. Maybe part of a holy message is to make us feel horrible when children’s well-being in our time gets sacrificed on the altars of parents’ devotion to gods of professional success, addictions, or so many other selfish pursuits. Still, it’s a sacred command? This is a blessed life? Really? This God of Abraham inspires our praise?! I hear scripture clearly affirm that beyond any twisted interpretations, that God really wants our full devotion, withholding nothing, whatever the cost. Our full commitment and trust that, whatever realities we face and consequences we suffer, God loves us still and will provide us strength to endure, grace to be blessed, and some measure of peace through service.
Jesus sends us, like the disciples, to continue his ministry in that promise. To be his presence, to teach and heal, to strengthen others with grace and peace. Last week we read the first part of his instructions—about finding our way. Not really where, rather how we orient our hearts and minds. To act like sheep amid wolves, wise as serpents and innocent as doves. And today we hear Jesus seem to warn us and empower us through dangers and difficulties that lie ahead. Last week, it was all rooted in compassion—connecting with people we serve. This week it’s all about commitment—sharing the burden, the cost, the cross.
Do not think my sole priority is peace, Jesus says—like personal or family bliss. Now wait! Literally two minutes ago in this little chat he said it’s all about God’s reign of peace coming closer—sharing our peace with other people. So what’s up? Jesus isn’t talking about an easy life, pleasure, smiles, sun on the beach, no stress for me regardless of others. Honestly, friends, sometimes I wish I could turn off those ethical questions in my mind about clothes and cars, climate change and community issues.
It’s tiring. Troubling. Jesus knows. After a while, he couldn’t go anywhere without crowds pressing in. In the garden of Gethsemane the night before he died, he prayed: God, won’t you take this cup of suffering from me? Still he went on, he carried the cross. And in the end, really the new beginning, he was raised. Don’t we see, friends, the fullness of God’s peace comes through facing hard realities. Our questions, feelings, effort, service even through great personal expense. And sometimes for the peace we seek, the price we pay that can feel too high is simply to accept that though we pour out our love, our time, our mind, every ounce of energy, the end lies beyond our control, accounted ultimately in scales of Divine Mercy.
You know, it’s not wrong that I, like many of you, want to give others we care for abundant life, maybe even more than we had growing up. Still it’s good to have perspective shaped by awareness of the cost. Living faith is a hard journey sometimes. And we’ll make it to the Promised Land. We’ll share the sanctuary of peace God intends for all, in this city and far beyond. When we give all we are, all we have to trust in God’s will to provide through loving power that raised Christ from death. Loving power that cares for every sparrow and every hair on our head; and that empowers us to rebuild wrecks of our lives when it seems we’re getting a raw deal, after all.
Our family laughs about it now. Though not so much in the moment. Suzanne was on her way home with Gabriel somewhere in Ohio, probably from a soccer tournament. Just on to a local access highway after dinner, talking and pleasantly riding along on a beautiful day, when thunk(!) … black plastic bits of our rebuilt car just started falling off and trailing behind like Hansel and Gretel’s bread crumbs. Suzanne pulled over to find the fender flapping freely—more than a little idiosyncrasy! Not the good deal we thought, after all?! Thank God, for a police officer who stopped. Thank God, for a generous Honda dealer who stayed open. Thank God, for whoever makes duct tape and plastic zip ties used to get the car home. Thank God for other mechanic friends here who identified that whole metal pieces of the frame were missing. It cost us a hassle to get the dealer to admit wrong. And it cost him to fix the car right!
Jesus sends us out and we go, because friends, despite our plans and deals in life, don’t we know what it’s like to have our lives seem to fall apart. Like being stranded on a roadside. Or maybe even more, someone we love. Jesus sends us alongside police officers, car mechanics, and other ordinary friends or strangers to help serve others at some little or large expense. Last week we found our way alongside another disciple, Francis of Assisi. Today, we walk with another saint who knew something about the cost of discipleship.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer cherished what makes life beautiful—love of parents, a twin sister and six other siblings, fiancée; mountains, flowers, animals, music, art, literature. With his charm, readiness to listen, and personal character he made friends easily, everywhere. He had a very good life. And it became great through unselfish courage to help others to point of personal risk and self-sacrifice. Coming of age in Germany between the World Wars, Bonhoeffer was a realist. He got the NAZI threat from its beginning. He could have lived a charmed life teaching theology in New York amid great minds of the day. But he left on the last scheduled steamship to Germany before the outbreak of war. He explained to his colleague, Reinhold Neibuhr that he must share the trials of his people, giving up personal security for the purposes of resistance and reconstruction of Christian life. Years later, branded with a number, in a concentration camp, he wrote: “I am sure of God’s hand and guidance…. thankful and glad to go the way which I am being led … full of God’s mercy…” Through all he suffered, Bonhoeffer believed that we’re called beyond personal piety. We bear profound responsibility to pursue truth and goodness in the just order of love God intends for creation. That is real freedom in obedient service to Christ, to a point of self-sacrifice.[i]
In The Cost of Discipleship, he defines the grace of this living faith. Not cheap grace like a religious market selling cut price blessings, forgiveness, promises, without personal transformation through reflecting on wrongs done. By contrast, costly grace is the hidden treasure, the pearl of greatest price, the way of Christ’s love we seek at whatever the price in our lives—the way that is the “sanctuary of God” (that’s what he calls it) wherever we are in the world.[ii]
Nobody can be forced to come on this way, Bonhoeffer says. Yet, enduring the cross is not a tragedy. It is suffering and rejection as allegiance to Jesus Christ.[iii] Now friends, we don’t accept all suffering as simply part of God’s economy. We don’t justify suffering in someone we love, oppressed peoples, broken families, disasters from nature or human nature, blithely stating God must want it that way. We cry. We grieve. We rage against injustice. And we only celebrate suffering, we lift high the cross, when we choose to walk that way on another’s behalf. We give up goodness of our own lives, so that someone else may be better, precisely because Jesus embodied that’s what living faith in God’s way is all about. That’s what got him to the cross, and makes his death meaningful. That’s what the resurrection of Christ affirms—beyond our own fears. That living faith is the way God wants us to go.
Friends, Bonhoeffer urges us to get serious about discipleship, beyond a watered-down gospel of emotional uplift with no costly demands. Take up the cross, Jesus invites, even at the cost of conflict with those we love, precisely because we seek what’s best for life in love with them. Take up the cross, Bonhoeffer echoes, not as “the terrible end to an otherwise god-fearing and happy life, but … the beginning of our communion with Christ”, answering the call to share in the work of Sacred, costly grace.[iv] We find what this faithful discipleship looks like, he says, in the Beatitudes.
Dear friends, I see what this faithful discipleship looks like in our lives, as we share the cost in so many ways. Blest is she, poor and humble in spirit, who gave up her career to care for her spouse. And blest is he, pure in heart, who gave up his career to care for his infant son and their family. That’s loving sacrifice. That’s the way of the cross. Blest are they who hunger and thirst for fullness of life for all people, and so when surely they could be doing so many other things of pleasure, they tutor, serve meals, and welcome a refugee family for months, and amid many beautiful touching moments, it also begins to wear heavily. That’s loving sacrificial service in the way of the cross. Blest are the youth who go on mission trips. Blest are adults of all ages who move with their families to live with lowly ones in our country and around the world. Blest are we who give money through this congregation, part of which then goes to help them through shared mission support in our Presbyterian Church. Blest are we when we respond with mercy in times of family conflict. Blest are we as we witness to God’s reign of peace amid hateful words we hear. We get the idea? The Spirit? Don’t we, friends?
No one can be forced. Not all of us are Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Each receives a different call through crises of life. Jesus said, take up your cross and follow me. Rejoice and be glad! For those who share the cost, even losing their life for his sake, will find fullness of life in the love of Christ!
Thanks be to God. Amen.
[i] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: The MacMillan Company, 1937 (1959)), 9, 13, 17.
[ii] Ibid., 35-37.
[iii] Ibid., 77-78.
[iv] Ibid., 78-79.