Friday, January 15, 2010
The Marine Corps unveiled a new ad campaign last week. It represents a departure from the pitch for new recruits the Corps has used in the past. It emphasizes how difficult, first of all, it is just to become a Marine. A bracing exposure to the realities of what's involved for those who make a commitment to join up will undoubtedly cause some to opt out of the service and will probably incite others to sign on.I love the original Star Trek series - in it there are endless speeches by Kirk about how man was made to struggle, not enjoy paradise. A theologian would tell us that is that Kirk is right, but that such is a result of our sin, and not God's created order. Fair enough, but we are in a sinful world, so like Kirk, we might as well get used to the idea and learn to claim it as our own.
This development particularly caught my eye when I saw it last Saturday because, in considering today’s Gospel lesson, I've also been considering what's involved in being a disciple of Jesus Christ. The fact is that we in the Church sometimes sugar coat things, trying to be palatable to our world, trying to make following Jesus like a trip to Walt Disney World. “Do anything you want,” we seem to tell an unimpressed world. “God will forgive it all in the end anyway.” The people of the world hear our mushy platitudes and wonder, “If you’re not offering anything new or different from the world, why would I want to be part of the Church?”
Jesus never tries to make following Him sound easy. Yes, Christ has done all that is necessary for us to be forgiven our sins and to have life with God forever. The grace of God, given through Christ, is amazing. That grace is the best news any of us will ever receive!
But though God’s grace is free, it isn't, as the martyred German Lutheran pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote in his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship, "cheap." Jesus says, for example, "Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up the cross and follow me is not worthy of me" (Matthew 10:37-38).
Mark goes on and quite rightfully in his sermon points out how God helps us with the struggle, and provides us with all that we need. Amen to that, but I want to take us one step further. We really do need to embrace the struggle and learn how to enjoy it - it is not a burden, it is a blessing. It is the process by which we shed the old and become the new - it's hard and it hurts, but the results, oh the results.
If you want the perfect house, you better learn to embrace the remodeling or construction process. If you do not the "price," as measured in unhappiness and difficulty, let alone money, of getting to the finished product will grow higher than you are willing to pay.
That is what I think we really need to teach in the church today - not that it is easy, but that it is hard, and that hard is good, and enjoyable.