It has been stated that we live in a society of being insurance poor. That we carry so many insurance policies to cover every possible scenario that could happen in our lives that we barely have enough money to meet our daily needs. Thus it should come as no surprise that everyone loves a good insurance policy that doesn’t cost much. I know that I do. I have insurance policies that cover my house, my automobiles, my health, my teeth, my eyes, in case of accidents, my life, and I can even get policies to cover having to go into a nursing home . . . none of them are cheap. They cost a lot of money . . . but, they make me feel safe . . . make me feel protected . . . like I have all the bases covered. All because I throw some money into a pot and it is all taken care of.
There are those among the faithful who live their faith in the same manner. Those who believe that once they made their declaration of faith . . . declared Jesus their Lord and Savior . . . that they were covered . . . that they had just received that ultimate insurance policy that would cover them in all things they do to get themselves into the pearly gates of heaven. That they had received grace. Because they have received such grace they continue to go about their lives as if nothing ever changed. They are protected . . . covered . . . and safe to do whatever it is that they want to do . . . and, all they had to do was to open up their mouths and receive Jesus into their lives.
This is the sort of insurance . . . and at the right price—free for the asking—that any of us would want. Isn’t that what it is saying in John 3:16? “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Isn’t that what the Apostle Paul is saying in Romans 10:9? “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” Isn’t that grace pure and simple . . . and, free?
That is “cheap grace”. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a pastor in Germany during the late 1930s and into the Second World War, would tell you that this is nothing more than “cheap grace”. And, he would know. As Adolf Hitler and his Nazi regime rose up in power in Germany they began instituting their own version of ethnic cleansing to create what they deemed the “perfect race”. The greatest part of this cleansing movement is one most familiar to the world . . . the Holocaust in which Hitler and the Nazi regime attempted to wipe out a whole race of people from the face of the earth. Yet, what we forget is that it was not just the Jews that Hitler and the regime wanted gone . . . there were those who were disabled, those who were homosexual, those who were gypsies, and many others.
Slowly and with great stealth the “unwanted” we gathered and removed in Germany . . . and, no one said anything. Not even the clergy. No, many of the clergy left the country to safety in other countries. Those who stayed behind to protest the “cleansing” found themselves arrested, thrown into concentration camps and prisons, and eventually eliminated with the rest. Among them was Bonhoeffer. His faith would not allow him to sit idly by, banking on his insurance policy of grace, and not say or do anything. His faith called him to action . . . called him to speak out . . . called him to put his life on the line . . . to follow in the footsteps of Jesus. In the end, it cost him his life as he was executed hours before the Allied forces freed the prison where he was at.
It was while he was imprisoned that he wrote his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship—smuggled out in bits and pieces from the prison before eventually being published after his death. In that book he confronts this idea of “cheap grace” . . . grace comes with a price.
In continuing our story from last Sunday, Joseph—the dreamer—has now established himself as a powerful leader in Egypt as the “number two” guy below the Pharaoh. He has created a plan to keep Egypt safe from the famine and drought that is effecting the world . . . while the rest of the world struggles to survive, Egypt is sitting pretty. Jacob, Joseph’s father, sends his sons to Egypt to negotiate for some food to provide relief to their hungry families. Little did they realize that the person they would have to deal with was their brother . . . the brother they had sold off as a slave and told their father he was dead. But they trudge over to Egypt and put their fate into the hands of a person they knew nothing about to grovel for food in order to survive.
Of course Joseph recognizes them, though they do not recognize him. Before him are the ones who sold him off to be a slave in a foreign land. Before him are the ones who had even considered killing him. Before him were the bullies who had made his life hell. Before him was his opportunity to get back at them . . . to make them pay . . . and, for a few moments, he does. He toys with them. Accuses one of them of stealing. Threatens to send them back empty-handed and without their brother. He makes them grovel and beg for mercy . . .
. . . he makes them suffer.
And, who wouldn’t? Who among us would not want to make the life of our persecutors miserable for the hurt they have inflicted upon us? Who among us wouldn’t want to get our revenge? Joseph teaches his brothers a lesson before he reveals himself, but he does not stop there . . . no, he imparts grace. He imparts something that is unwarranted . . . something that is undeserved . . . upon his brothers. He forgives them, welcomes them back into his life, and provides to them and all their family refuge in a time of great famine . . . he rescues them despite being well in his rights of inflicting punishment for how they have treated him.
That is the sort of “grace” we receive from God through Jesus . . . unwarranted and undeserved . . . freely given . . . because God loves us. Because God desires us. Because God wants us in God’s life . . . to claim our rightful places in the family. Though it seems as if it is freely given . . . and, in a matter of words it is . . . it demands of each of us a cost. For what we have received . . . on the open market . . . what would we be willing to pay? What would we be willing to return for such love and grace in our lives?
In the minds and hearts of many—including Bonhoeffer—it is simple . . . we are to walk where Jesus walks . . . we are to do as Jesus does. What Jesus does is not always easy . . . is not always without cost. Sometimes it even means laying down our lives. When coming to understand “grace” we realize that there is no “cheap grace”, but that grace is costly. Grace asks for our lives and the way that we love and live. All of us.
The prophet Isaiah tells us what we must do for the sake of “grace”: “Maintain justice and do what is right . . .” And, the prophet reminds us that this grace is greater than any of us could ever imagine . . . that it is not just for our select group, but that it is for everyone who binds themselves to the Lord to “maintain justice and do what is right.”
We are living in a time in which our “grace” is being challenged . . . a time in which we are being asked to pay up or shut up. We are living in a time when we look about ourselves and the world we see the suffering of many at the hands of great persecution . . . in the midst of starvation and famine and disease . . . in the throes of wars. We live in a time in which we witness great injustice at home and abroad. We live in a time when we need to step up and speak out . . . in a time in which we need to discover the true cost of discipleship . . . the true cost of walking with Jesus.
We live in a time where we cannot afford to be silent in our faith, assured that we have our insurance plan all paid up—that we have everything covered for ourselves—that we have our ticket to heaven punched. Bonhoeffer would point at history and proclaim, “This is what happens when we refuse to pay the price of grace we have received in our lives.” The Kingdom of God can ill-afford us grace if it is ever to come into being.
I share the words of Martin Niemoller , a German pastor who wrote them about the cowardice of the German intellectuals following the Nazis’ rise to power and the subsequent purging of their chosen target, group after group . . . no one said a word. No one stood up. No one protested. He says:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Grace is not cheap . . . it calls for our lives in love and service to God and others. Amen.