The Shack – 9/08/19

And Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

I had a pastor friend tell me about a young couple who came to join his church a few years ago. They were in the membership class and they had gone through all the foundational beliefs of the United Methodist Church, all of the ways that being a Methodist is different from other churches, and the organizational structure and history. When they were done with the class, the husband sheepishly asked, “How much does it cost to be a member?” And my friend, the pastor, said, “Only everything that you are and all that you have.”

Sometimes you ask the wrong question and you receive the wrong answer, right. This poor man didn’t get the answer that he was hoping for. The man was asking the question of whether there is like $50/mo dues. And my pastor friend answered the question: What is the cost of discipleship? It isn’t $1 and it isn’t $10,000. The answer actually is “everything that you are and all that you have.”

The Cost of Discipleship: Bonhoeffer

And Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a pastor and theologian living in Germany during the rise of Nazism. He wrote his most important book that is actually entitled The Cost of Discipleship during that rise of Hitler and all that Nazism stood for. He looked at his country and his church and realized that the church in Germany was unwilling and would not stand up to Hilter. They realized that the cost was too great. The fear was too much. They could not stand up to him.

But Bonhoeffer believed that the cost of not standing up was too great and his Christian response to this was to create a network of pastors, professors, theologians, and other Christians who opposed what Hitler, their church, and their country was doing to the Jews and to their neighboring nations. This network was called the Confessing Church and its goal in existing was to follow Jesus’ call to pick up our cross even when it’s heavy, to speak up even when it hurts.

Bonhoeffer saw that the cost of following Jesus would cause him to take a lot of personal risks as he spoke out against Hitler’s regime and he was right. He was eventually arrested and placed in a concentration camp. Finally, he was executed just two weeks before Allied Forces liberated the camp in which he was imprisoned. Bonhoeffer saw that cost of discipleship – that everything that you are and all that you have cost – he saw that cost and spoke up to power, and followed Jesus anyway, even when it cost his life.

But, in his book, The Cost of Discipleship, Bonhoeffer shows that grace is either cheap or costly. Cheap grace is an incomplete story. Cheap grace is to say that “God loves you just as you are” and end the sentence there. It’s true, though, isn’t it, to say that God loves you just as you are? But we know that it’s an incomplete truth. God does love you just as you are. But I remember your former pastor, Tim Ellington, always used to say, “God loves you just as you are, but God loves you way too much to let you stay the same.” That’s costly grace. It’s acknowledging that grace is a gift that cost Jesus Christ dearly. It is free, but it cannot be received flippantly, because the truth is, your march toward your cross could be just as difficult and costly as Bonhoeffer’s. You could be called well beyond your current imagination. God loves you… too much… to let you… stay the same.

The Cost of Discipleship: The Shack

And Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

I don’t want to. I don’t want to do it, do you? When I read Jesus and get to the imagery of us climbing up on the cross beside Jesus’ bleeding body – and bleed beside him – I’m just not ready to do that. I don’t want to do that. The deeper truth of Jesus’ statement truth is that it just doesn’t feel natural to do the things that Jesus asks us to do. We’ve got to remember, though we wear crosses around our necks, the cross was an instrument of torture and death. It would be like wearing electric chair necklaces for us today. The cross is not natural for us.

Some people seem so comfortable marching toward their own cross. It looks like extreme bravery. Others struggle to even leave feelings behind in order to move forward, toward the kingdom, because it isn’t natural. One place where I have found our movie for the week, The Shack, to line up with these extreme costs of discipleship is when God (papa) asks Mack to forgive his abusive father. Let’s watch.

Mack had all the baggage of having been in a household with this tyrant of a father who beat him senseless and who often used faith and scripture to abuse him. But for Mack to be able to pick up his cross and move forward toward the kingdom of God, he had to forgive.

This week, a few of us went to visit Cheri in her home in Point Loma and we were sharing what we thought about the movie. I said that I considered it to be a radical call of forgiveness. Because every time God asks Mack to forgive in this movie, when I have my guard down, and I’m left to my own devices, I always think to myself, “Well, that’s stupid; why would he forgive?”

This week I was reading an essay about the devout Roman Catholic director, Martin Scorsese, and the role of faith in his life. Something struck me when he began to talk about forgiveness. He said, “Forgiveness… [is] a perfect response to a moment in time when unforgiving words and actions are not just celebrated but sold as courage…. It takes real courage to forgive.”

That’s the truth of what Jesus says to us today. Because taking up our cross often means doing that which makes no sense, which seems stupid, which seems self-sacrificial, and we’re only doing it because we’re asked to by our God. And often it feels like there is no explanation for why we climb our crosses, even these crosses of forgiveness.

Often, we even need to turn our view of God around with a spirit of forgiveness. One more clip. In this one, Mack is talking to God and says that even Jesus blamed God when he was on the cross. Let’s watch.

Maybe this is the harder truth. We spend a lot of our time moaning “my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” We don’t see God standing beside us, comforting us, and suffering with us. If we did, forgiveness may come more easily.

The Cost of Discipleship: Me and Us

And Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Just like I’m not ready to climb up on the cross and die with Jesus, I’m also not sure I’m as ready to forgive as I should. Worse still, I may not be as ready to be forgiven as I should be. That may seem counterintuitive, but when I receive forgiveness from you, I’m no longer being punished for my wrongdoing. When you let go of something that I’ve done to you, you free me from the weight of what I’ve done, and you start the work to repair our relationship. And most days I’m not sure that I deserve it. And if you release me from the weight of what I have done, the only one punishing me now is me. Often it’s easier to live with that pain than make the relationship right. It feels unnatural. It feels too difficult. But it’s what we’re called to do. Sometimes forgiveness is our cross to bear, whether is giving it or receiving it. [Do I ask for forgiveness here?]

The Cross and its Cost

And Jesus said, “And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”

Jesus is our model for forgiveness. It’s easy to remember, “My God, my God….” It’s harder to remember, him actually being on the cross and begging, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” Can you imagine with me hanging on the cross, your murderers below you, and your prayer is not for you, but for your enemies?

Let this be where we leave this story. Because it best illustrates what we’re being asked. With Jesus on the cross, begging God for humanity’s wellbeing, Jesus, in his forgiving spirit, remains our hope and our help.

And so, as we consider the cost of discipleship and all of the ways that we have been forgiven, all the ways we need to forgive, and all the ways that we need to allow ourselves to be forgiven, may we hear not the words of cheap grace, not words of cheap forgiveness, but the costly grace of our Lord who walks beside us and suffers beside us and forgives beside us.
It’s not us climbing on the cross with him, it’s him climbing upon ours, the crosses we carry, to heal us from our hatred. May we take up our crosses, pile up all of our pain, pile up all of the ways that we have been hurt, and even the ways in which we have been hurtful – and may we take all of that and crucify it, so that we may be freed for the service of our Lord Jesus. May we receive this grace and be freed from all that binds.

Gracious God…