Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘Ye were bought at 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.
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
Cost and promise
Jesus said: If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell.
-Matthew 5:29, 30
What gets in the way of your spiritual growth?
Over the past years, as we’ve worked with congregations, we’ve posed that question and gotten a lot of different responses. The church can obviously get in the way. Folks often tell me that the church has let them down, that it’s just full of hypocrites, to which I can only reply: “Guilty as charged.” One study indicated that busy schedules impede a deeper relationship with God. Others have given up hope that anything could ever be any different. Some, like me, admit that our lives are filled with competing interests, that devotion to the life of the Spirit competes with other goals and purposes and vocations, e.g., work, success, approval. Love of God is usurped by love of something else.
As we work our way through the Sermon on the Mount, today we come across another rigorous (to put it mildly) passage from Jesus, making me grateful I’m not a biblical literalist. Jesus says that if your eye (the way you look at things) or your hand (the way you grasp at things) cause you to sin, get rid of them. One way to think about sin is to describe it as brokenness in relationship with God. Jesus shows that obstacles to deeper faith, a deeper relationship with God and neighbor are nothing new. He invites disciples, you and me, to get rid of obstacles in the spiritual journey.
I hear Jesus say that we should put first things first (Seek ye first the kingdom of God), that we should make sure the main thing (love of God and neighbor) remains the main thing, that in the words of the Civil Rights movement, we should keep our eyes on the prize. And that often comes with a cost.
Jesus sets a high bar for disciples, not just in this passage but in others. He says that if you want to find your life you have to lose it. Unless a grain of wheat dies it can’t come to life. He asks: What’s the benefit of gaining the whole world if we lose our soul? As he traveled with disciples, he repeatedly told them they were on the road to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die, and they along with him. It’s a marvel they followed at all.
He didn’t hide the cost of discipleship. It reminds me of wise advice I got from a bishop who said that as we journey through life, discerning choices, there is always cost along with promise. That may be what Jesus is getting at, in a most graphic way. What cost have you encountered in your spiritual journey? And what’s the promise?
For many of us, we’ve arranged things so that the cost of discipleship is low. We haven’t had to give up much. But today’s passage asks us to take a hard look at those things in our lives that stand in the way of a deeper life with God and to get rid of those things. They may well be very good things. We need eyes and hands. But Jesus calls us to take a gut check, a fitting thing to do on a holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., someone who knew a lot about the cost of discipleship.
In a 2019 article in Christianity Today, a biblical scholar named Dante Stewart wrote about King’s vision of discipleship: “King lamented that much of American Christianity “often served to crystallize, conserve, and even bless the patterns of majority opinion.” Sanctioning slavery, war, and economic exploitation, “the church has preserved that which is immoral and unethical.” He concludes that “the church must acknowledge its guilt, its weak and vacillating witness, it’s all too frequent failure to obey the call to servanthood.” If the church in any place and any time fails to recapture its prophetic zeal, “it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.”
God sends people like Dr. King to push us to count the cost, to see what we are called to lose in order to gain the kingdom, in order to realize beloved community. It’s hard work. There’s the cost. It’s life-giving, liberating, loving work. There’s the promise.
I invite you to observe this holiday, this holy day, by thinking about your own spiritual journey. What is getting in the way of full expression of your love of God and neighbor? Perhaps with more pertinence, how, in the spirit of Dr. King, can you move out of your comfort zone to do something for the cause of justice and peace? How, in the spirit of Dr. King, can you claim the promise of the power of love at work in the world, even if it comes with a cost?
Good Book Club to start 2022 with Exodus
Start the new year with a renewed spiritual practice of reading God’s Word. Forward Movement, with support from partners from around the Episcopal Church and Anglican Communion, will celebrate the time of Epiphany with a new round of the Good Book Club by reading the first half of the Book of Exodus.
Exodus recounts the journey of the Israelites from slavery to freedom. We hear the great stories of Moses, from his discovery by Pharaoh’s daughter on the bank of the river to the burning bush to his presentation of the Ten Commandments. Along the way, we encounter God’s covenant and explore the grand theme of redemption.
This year, we have a bonus time of scripture engagement: the Good Book Club will dive into the first twenty chapters of Exodus from Epiphany, January 6, to Shrove Tuesday, March 1. For those who want to keep reading, we’ll offer a daily reading guide and an overview of the second half of Exodus. That reading period will conclude on Easter.
Sign up to receive updates on Exodus.
Joining the Good Book Club is easy: Open your Bible and start reading!