We are in Year B of the Revised Common Lectionary, in the segment that many call, “The Difficult Sayings of Jesus.”
I am reminded of a conversation held this week when I shared with a parishioner that I (like many other ministers) either want to use the alternate texts for these Sundays, or will find any way we can to soft-peddle what Jesus is saying. The parishioner rightly reminded me that Jesus does say direct things and the we should deal with them directly, and she followed the remark with something like, “My Baptist friends say Lutherans like to sugar-coat things.” Well——I don’t know if that is true for all Lutherans—-but it is certainly true for me. I come from the Mary Poppins side of the house that really believes, “a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down in the most delightful way.”
But the reality of the matter is this—-Jesus says some very difficult things. And he says them to get us to move—-to grow—-to get beyond simple beliefs and traditions—-to find ourselves “growing into Christ who is our head.” Jesus wants us to embody Him and to be the living, breathing, walking, talking image of His love at work in the world. So he says things to grow us up.
Similarly, Pr. Rick Howerton speaking to pastors says pretty much the same—offering that, “The pastor’s role is to grow mature disciples who make disciples.”
Prominent Lutheran thinkers say it this way—-
“The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obliged to act accordingly.” —-S. Kierkegaard
“Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” ― D. Bonhoeffer
It is so easy to get comfy with the reality of grace—-to let it be our carte blanche excuse to live or do as we please ——for don’t we act as though we know beyond all doubt that God forgives us., maybe even if we never confess our sin, never turn away from it, make only a token effort to lead a sanctified life. In other words to offer a piddling repentance and go on doing as we jolly well please, even when our foundational documents say clearly that…
“…repentance consists properly of these two parts: One is contrition, that is, terrors smiting the conscience through the knowledge of sin; the other is faith, which is born of the Gospel, or of absolution, and believes that for Christ’s sake, sins are forgiven, comforts the conscience, and delivers it from terrors. Then good works are bound to follow, which are the fruits of repentance.” —Augsburg Confession Art. XII
In other words, per Kierkegaard we intentionally act like we don’t get it, and per Bonhoeffer, cheapen it through being false, and per Augsburg XII, act like we don’t know that our turnings from sin and going in other directions are the “fruits of repentance.”
These are difficult sayings from prominent Lutheran voices. And the reason they pain us is because the truth that they contain is real.
Yes, it would be easy and preferable to opt for softer things to teach and preach. But we lose—-aside from our truest identity—–any chance for real growth into a body of believers that incarnate Jesus Christ.
I signed in relief last Sunday when we ended John 6. I totally forgot that we’d enter Mark 7—-where Jesus uses Isaiah to call people, “hypocrites.”
These “Difficult Sayings of Jesus Sundays”…you gotta love ‘em. Peace, JDB+