Dietrich Bonhoeffer did not have to help Jews escape Nazi Germany and flee to Switzerland. After all, he was safe and sound in New York in the early 1940’s. He was free to stay in America and preach the gospel from the safety of a free church pulpit or teach New Testament in the peace and freedom of a university. But the gospel he preached compelled him to return to Germany and stand against Nazi aggression.
Before he was executed by the Nazis in 1945, he wrote the following words that I believe the American Church that is embedded in a narcissistic society needs to hear again and hear loudly:
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. Costly grace is…the gospel which must be sought again and again. The gift which must be asked for, the door at which one must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs us our lives. It is grace because it gives us the only true life.
The following pastoral prayer was inspired by Bonhoeffer’s timeless words:
O good and gracious God, we come to this place this morning to recommit ourselves to being faithful disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. However, if we are ever going to truly follow Jesus, we will first need to repent of our sins that are derived from our love with what your servant Dietrich Bonhoeffer called “cheap grace.”
We gather in this place Sunday after Sunday to hear preaching that will remind us that we are loved and forgiven; not to hear that we need to change our selfish ways.
We gather to remember the way we came up out of the waters of our baptism to symbolize life abundant and eternal; not to remember our immersion into the waters to symbolize death to self.
We come to gather around a table to receive the gift of Holy Communion; not to confess our sins and our shortcomings.
We come to this place to receive grace and love; not to be encouraged to share grace and love with others.
We come here to worship at the foot of the cross; not to pick it up and carry it ourselves.
We come here to worship Christ in the safety and comfort of this sanctuary; not fully realizing that the Christ is actually alive today, present here, calling us, prodding us, pulling us to follow him out into a risky and uncomfortable world.
So, O God, forgive us of our love for “cheap grace.” Help us to truly repent, turn from our wicked ways and seek to live for a grace, in a grace, and by a grace that is worthy of your sacrificial love for us, even if it is “costly.”
May we come to this place to seek this grace Sunday after Sunday. May we keep asking, keep knocking at your door, keep giving our lives away to you, keep denying ourselves, and keep looking to you for the strength we need to pick up our crosses and follow our Lord and our Savior wherever he leads. Because we know that this grace, although it costs us our very lives, is the only way to true life, abundant and eternal. We pray this in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.