Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Sermon: Wednesday of Reminiscere (Lent 2)

3 March 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: Mark 8:27-38 (Gen 17:1-7, Rom 5:11)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

The German Lutheran theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is often quoted among Lutherans and non-Lutherans alike. For it is a profound and true statement because it is a paraphrase of what our Blessed Lord says to us again today: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it.”

While Christ came to give us life, and give it to us abundantly, and in fact, He gives us a life so gloriously abounding that it never ends – in this broken and fallen world, our Lord calls upon us to deny ourselves, to avoid abundance in fallenness, to flee from the best that this dying world has to begrudgingly offer – which is, in fact, nothing compared to what the living Lord freely lavishes upon us.

And this is why our Lord asks the famous rhetorical question: “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?”

How sad when people give up their precious eternal souls for junk. Beguiled by that which is shiny and enticing today, but is garbage on the heap tomorrow – eaten by moths, oxidized by rust, or even stolen by robbers – we convince ourselves that trash is treasure.

For in chasing after riches, fame, fortune, luxury, respect in this life, and the ever-changing worldly standards of success, we run the risk of losing the very lives that were given to us by our Father in Heaven, being willing to forfeit the redemption freely handed over to us by pure grace at the cross, and spurning the heavenly oversight and calling of the Holy Spirit – all for something that slick experts in marketing have convinced us is important.

And so when Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and take up our crosses, giving up the things this broken world has to offer – He is offering us something of eternal value instead.

Dear friends, our Lord calls you to follow Him and He bids you to come and die – die to sin, die to selfishness, die to unhappiness, brokenness, and disease. Our Blessed Lord invites you to die to death itself.

For at the cross, Jesus died to conquer death. And at your baptism, you drowned in the waters to rise with Jesus to eternal life.

And what is the cost of this eternal life? It costs us nothing. It is free. It is purely by grace. It is a gift. But what did this gift cost the Giver? What did it cost Jesus? What did it cost God the Son? It cost Him His life. Elsewhere, Dr. Bonhoeffer pondered grace being free, but at the same time not being “cheap” but rather “costly”: writing: “it is costly because it cost the life of his Son: ‘ye were brought with a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”

This keen scriptural insight, dear friends, is true – because it is scriptural. Our Lord took up the cross of the Lord’s wrath – so that the only cross we are called to bear is the cross of self-denial, the cross of not holding on to that which is broken. We give up life wallowing in trash for a life of basking in treasure.

Nevertheless, dear brothers and sisters, this life of self-denial is not easy – we being lured in by Satan and tempted by our flesh. We embrace the illusion that the current world is not broken. We deceive ourselves to believe that the trash that we covet is treasure. Our sinful nature hastens to the lie while spurning the Truth – the Way, the Life, and the Truth, in fact, pushing the Truth away at arms length.

Our Lord calls us to follow Him instead. He bids us to die. He offers us costly grace, won for us at the greatest price of all, and yet given to us as a free gift. And having the priceless treasure of salvation, our New Man is free to see just how worthless our trinkets and baubles are – even to the point of knowing that our life in this world is nothing compared to the glorious riches of our Lord’s grace, which He lavishes on us by way of the cross through baptism, continually renewed in the eating of His body and the drinking of His blood. Anything we give up in this life – even life itself – in order to keep this communion with the Triune God – is worth it.

Grace is free, but it is not cheap. For as St. Paul once more preaches to us: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that,” St. Paul says: “we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.”

In light of this reconciliation, and of all the true eternal treasure we enjoy because of it, all other things in this life become cheap: gold, diamonds, houses, cars, and even our very lives.

Pastor Bonhoeffer left Germany when the Nazis took power. He opposed them. But rather than do so safely from the United States, he chose to return home, to fight, to ensure that the light of the Gospel would continue to burn in the land that birthed the Reformation – even in the face of Hitler and his henchmen. Bonhoeffer understood that he was laying down his life for his Lord’s sake, his church’s sake, and for the sake of the Gospel.

On April 9, 1945, Dr. Bonhoeffer found his life by losing it – being hanged by the Nazis in a prison camp just a few weeks before World War II ended. His last words reflected our Lord’s call to discipleship and the meaning of giving up one’s life for the sake of the Gospel, resisting the temptation to gain the whole world yet forfeiting the soul. Just before his death, Blessed Dietrich said: “This is the end – for me the beginning of life.”

For this drawing of life from death is what followers of Jesus Christ do, because this is what we confess: “one will scarcely die for a righteous person – though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die – but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

Let us follow our Lord, brothers and sisters. By free costly grace, let us follow Him to Calvary and to the empty grave. Let us follow Him to the heavens and to the right hand of God. Let us follow Him to eternal glory – not counting the cost, not begrudging our lives – for “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for [Christ’s] sake and the gospel’s will save it.”


In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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