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March 17, 2024

Fifth Sunday in Lent

Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 51:1-12

Hebrews 5:5-10

John 12:20-33

Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,

grace and peace to you

 from the one who continually calls us home. Amen


We are nearing the end of our Lenten journey,

 this is the last week of contemplation

before we join the throngs lauding Jesus

 as he enters Jerusalem next Sunday


so we have one more week

 of wilderness wandering and coming home,

and actually we’re kind of coming full circle,


we started our journey when on Ash Wednesday

 we heard God call us home to the heart of God

 through the transforming of our own hearts.


And in the subsequent weeks

 we heard about the promises,

the covenants all along the way

as at different points in time

 in the relationship between God and humans

 God called the people back to God.


In the first week of Lent

we heard how God tried starting over

 with one righteous man and his family

after humanity was an utter disappointment,


 and how after the flood

 God realized that starting over when the way got tough

was not the answer,

so God made a promise to Noah and all flesh

 with the sign of a rainbow to never do that again.


In the second week of Lent

we heard God come to Noah’s descendant Abram and his wife Sarai,

 promising to create a great nation from them

even though it seemed impossible

and through them we have the promise of God

 that it is never too late

 to start a new journey with God.

 In the third week of Lent

we heard about how wilderness times

often begin with cleaning house,

 getting rid of things

with the intention of returning God to the center of our lives.


Not only did God free the Israelites from slavery in Egypt

 but God gave them the gift of the covenant

 to help teach them how to live as free people with one another,

 as well as providing the time and resources

that allowed them to learn the lessons needed

 before entering the promised land.


 And we heard how Jesus cleansed the temple

 shifting the center of authority from the temple to himself

 with the promise that God is in the world

beyond the temple, among the people.


Last week

we heard about the consequences of impatience

in the midst of the wilderness,

 how when the people complained against God,

they were plagued with poisonous serpents,


and when they repented

and asked God to take away the consequences of their sin,

 God responded not by taking the serpents away

 but providing a way for life in spite of the consequences of sin.

An act which Jesus recalled

 as he predicted and interpreted his own actions on the cross.


And today we come back to the heart of God,

and God once again committing God’s heart to the people.

 We hear in Jeremiah

God promising the people in exile a new covenant,

even though the people broke the last covenant,


 this one will be marked by an inward transformation of the human heart

so that the people might know God intimately

 and God will forgive the people for their past

and forget their sins,

allowing for a fresh start. 


This is the way of God,

 forgiveness and new covenants for a new generation,

 these new covenants don’t nullify the former promises,

God still keeps those,


but God is continually expanding the promises of God

to include more and more people

 and taking on more and more of the burden of action

 to bring people home to the heart of God,

 finally taking the ultimate action in Jesus,

who as we heard in our gospel from John,

purposely goes to his death on the cross,


 and in his subsequent death, resurrection, and ascension

- his lifting up-

 will draw all people to himself.


God does this,

for all people.

This is the grace of God,


 and yet it also seems

 that Jesus has expectations for us as humans,

because in this same passage he tells the disciples

 “Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.”


This begs the question:

Is our salvation dependent upon our service?


 No it is still the work of God,

 but like in other gift giving scenarios,

 once the gift is given

 it is up to the receiver to integrate the gift into their lives.


A car is an amazing and generous gift

but if the one who receives the car

just leaves it in the driveway and doesn’t drive it,

 it doesn’t do a whole lot to change that person’s life.


The gift is still generous and given

but the receiver’s life is not transformed

in any meaningful way.


This is a reality that those of us who love to proclaim

 salvation apart from works must wrestle with,

 that our human response to God’s gift

does make an impact on how we experience it

and we must figure out what to expect of ourselves and others

 all without negating the grace of God.


In his book “The Cost of Discipleship”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer makes a distinction between cheap grace and costly grace

 that I think helps clarify the role of the grace of God

and our human response. He says:


“Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost was infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. What would grace be if it were not cheap?...

Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.


Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought 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.”

Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.


Grace cost God God’s heart,

and God will not let it go to waste,


God doesn’t want us to just leave it in the driveway

 but to take it out for a joy ride,


so God continually offers us this gift,

calling us home to the heart of God,

 through the water and the word,

 through the bread and wine at the table,

through the community

the body of Christ in the world,

through forgiveness and mercy,

through the cross,

drawing us to the life that is true life. Amen


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