Spiritual Warfare Week 11: Costly Grace

(September 3, 2017)

Message: By costly grace we conform ourselves to the cross, not to our dominant culture.

This Sunday we wrap up our summer series on spiritual warfare: Strengthening Marriages and Families for Spiritual Warfare. For this final homily I would to take us back to the 1930's when a German pastor named Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote a landmark book - the Cost of Discipleship. He rejected what he called "cheap grace" - the idea that it doesn't matter what a person does as long as he is a nice guy.

Well, it's easy to be a nice guy - at least when things go smoothly. Bonhoeffer showed that Jesus does not call us to be "nice people." Jesus calls us to become disciples - and that may place us in opposition to the dominant culture. Bonhoeffer insists on the cost of discipleship. His life shows the cost. He could have come to America but he stayed in Germany to resist the Nazis from within. Eventually they arrested and executed him.

We need Bonhoeffer today especially as we hear Jesus say, "whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his across and follow me." Discipleship has a cost. It may not mean arrest, torture and execution - but it could. Take up your cross and follow me, says Jesus.

We face what many call "white martyrdom." While we do not have physical attacks as do Christians in other countries, there is another persecution. Our dominant culture has become more openly antagonist to Christians - portraying us as anti-science, narrow-minded, even bigoted or hateful. Those words can sting like in the first reading where Jeremiah says, "I am an object of laughter, everyone mocks me." The derision can make young people reluctant to identify themselves as Christians.

So what should we do? Well, you and I are little people. We can't do much about those distortions. Most of them - like the ones I mentioned regarding faith and science - have been around for a long time. Still we should pray for Christians who do have a role in the media, universities and Hollywood. And in our own families seek out good reading, good entertainment and good schools for our children.

St. Paul tells us to not conform ourselves to this age but be transformed by the renewal of mind. You know, many people avoid eating whatever is convenient, you know, junk food. Shouldn't we take similar care about the media we consume? God wants to transform our minds.

Last week I mentioned the basic principle of body building - no pain, no gain. I haven't made much gain in that department. I do hope to do better in renewal of the mind. This week I'm going to the Shakespeare Festival. It of course is a fun outing, a chance to spend time with my priest friend, Fr. Jim Coleman. About Shakespeare I can only say it does take effort to appreciate him. No pain, no gain. And there is a reason why many modern critics consider him essentially a Catholic playwright.

Even though I love Shakespeare I am not concerned with leading anyone to him - but I do want to lead each one of you to Jesus. I want to help equip you for spiritual warfare. As we've seen it's not about constant combat. We can breathe deeply and rest in Jesus. On a deep level we can relax because Jesus has already won the victory. The powers of hell will not prevail against his community the Church.

Let me sum up with words from Cost of Discipleship: "Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance... Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ."

In contrast to cheap grace, Bonhoeffer writes: "Costly grace confronts us as a gracious call to follow Jesus, it comes as a word of forgiveness to the broken spirit and the contrite heart. It is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him; it is grace because Jesus says: 'My yoke is easy and my burden is light.'

By costly grace we conform ourselves to the cross, not to our dominant culture. "Costly grace," concludes Bonhoeffer, "is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will go and sell all that he has." Amen.

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Spanish Version

From Archives (for Twenty-Second Ordinary Sunday, Year A):

2014: Finding Your Place Week 4
2011: The Real Cross
2008: Not Spiritual, But Religious
2005: Get Behind Me, Satan!
2002: A Satanic Temptation
1999: Mater Sí, Magistra No?

Other Homilies

Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C

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Other Priests' Homilies, Well Worth Listening:
Fr. Frank Schuster
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Fr. Jim Northrop
Fr. Michael White
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