Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Lent (16 March 2014) by the Reverend Canon Philippa Boardman

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7:30am Morning Prayer - transferred to St Martin, Ludgate
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6:30pm A Celebration of Christmas

Sermon preached on the Second Sunday of Lent (16 March 2014) by the Reverend Canon Philippa Boardman

'Counting the Cost'

No disrespect to the reserve team of Doncaster Rovers football club, but they don't get large crowds coming to support them – by all accounts some 40-50 die-hard football fans to their reserve team matches.

But a couple of weeks ago, it was all very different.

Fans came from across Europe, from Denmark, France and Italy as well as all 4 corners of the United Kingdom. One fan even flew in from Michigan in the United States

There were long queues hours before kick off.

Instead of 40-50, the final attendance was nearer 10,000.

And the reason for this, Louis Tomlinson a member of the hugely popular Boy Band, One Direction, was making his debut for Doncaster Rovers reserves.

And when Louis came on the field, his every movement was met by screams of appreciation from his adoring fans who probably knew little about the footballing nuances of 'the offside trap' or the '4-5-1' formation.

What was happening is what could be termed the 'cult of celebrity' – the popular desire to be near famous people, to be associated with them, to follow their every move – even to a Doncaster Rovers reserve team fixture.

The crowds who followed Jesus could also be seen as being caught up in this kind of celebrity cult. The gospels record that huge crowds followed Jesus – with people projecting many different hopes and aspirations upon him

- some joined the crowd hoping he would be a political liberator ridding the land of the hated occupying Roman army

- some joined the crowd seeking healing from all kinds of sickness and disease

- some joined the crowd inspired by the freshness and authority of his teaching

- some probably joined the crowd just to join the crowd, to see the next miracle – it was the place to be.

This is the setting for our Second lesson, Luke 14.

It is in the midst of this cult of celebrity, that Jesus speaks these provoking words which could seem very shocking.

He challenges the crowd.

Are you really serious about following me?

This is also an important question for us, particularly in this season of Lent, a season when we are called to reflect on our faith more deeply, to re-focus and renew it.

Are we really serious about following Jesus?

Jesus shares 3 familiar images with the crowd which they would readily understand:

the cross

the tower

and the war.

First of all, the cross. In Jesus day, the cross was a place of execution. A brutal place. The occupying Roman army were well known for crucifying those who rebelled against them, sometimes with the crosses lining major roadways as a very public warning to others. It was a slow and painful public death.

Yet Jesus is saying – if you're serious about following me, you must carry your cross, you must be ready to bear brutality, to bear the place of public pain, even death

Secondly – the tower. This is probably a watch tower in a vineyard to guard the harvest against robbers. Before building that tower, says Jesus, it's common sense to sit down first and calculate all the costs, make the business plan. If you don't, you may well run out of money before it's completed and end up the but of gossip and public humiliation – he couldn't stick the course, he couldn't complete the job.

Just as in today's world we take out a loan or mortgage at our peril, if we don't really calculate the cost in advance...

Jesus is saying – if you're serious about following me, weigh up what it will mean in your day to day life, what it will 'cost' in terms of your lifestyle your relationships, your finances.

Thirdly – the war. What king says Jesus would go to war without weighing up his chances of survival? And when faced with 20,000 troops and having only 10,000 of his own, it wouldn't take a long meeting with his military advisers to decide that outnumbered 2 to 1, suing for peace was the sensible option!

If you're serious about following me says Jesus, it will be tough, it will be a battle.

Count the cost of that battle before you enter it.

Jesus' words to His followers both then and now is that saying you want to be a disciple of Jesus Christ is not a pronouncement to be made lightly. It is not a decision to sign up for certain benefits. But to a way of life that may challenge every fibre of your being.

It's a challenge which we sometimes shy away from in the church. I know for myself that when I looked at the two Lessons for this Evensong service, my natural preference would have been to major on our First Lesson – a story of grace.

It's the Old Testament story of God's people being led by Moses in the wilderness. There has been moaning and complaining, a terrible plague of poisonous snakes then infiltrates the camp and many of God's people are bitten and die. Moses prays and God tells Moses to put a likeness of one of these serpents on a pole and hold it aloft before God's people.

The only thing that God's people then need to do, is to look up, to look up at the serpent on the pole and they will be healed.

It's a story of grace.

It's not about what God's people do for God but about what God does for them,

And it is a foretaste of Jesus death on the cross.

That on the cross, Jesus battled against all the evil, destructive and corrupt forces of the spiritual realms which hold us and all creation captive, freeing us and all creation to be transformed.

The way to enter this grace-filled freedom is not by anything we can do.

Not by our achievements, our piety, our successes, but only through gazing at the cross

by receiving that new life, full and free.

I love to preach about that message of grace.

But our second lesson is a vital counter-balance. For we need to count the cost.

The German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book 'The Cost of Discipleship' contrasts the 'cheap grace' that is so often preached in the church with the 'costly grace' that Jesus offers people.

As Bonhoeffer puts it: Cheap grace is:

the preaching of forgiveness without repentance

baptism without church discipline,,,,,

Cheap grace is grace without discipleship

grace without the cross

grace without Jesus Christ.

People lured into the church by cheap grace will take their faith very lightly, he says.

Whereas at the heart of our faith is the call to 'come and die'

Bonhoeffer knew this only too well for he took a stand against the tyrannical government of his country during World War Two and was put to death for it.

To quote again from Bonhoeffer:

When Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time – death in Jesus Christ.In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts. But we do not want to die, and therefore Jesus Christ and his call are necessarily our death as well as our life.

Bonhoeffer is one of ten 20th century Christians commemorated at Westminster Abbey.

You can see their statues for free as they are outside above the door at the west end.

His statue stands alongside:

Elizabeth of Russia,

Manche Masemola from South Africa

Maximilian Kolbe from Poland,

Lucian Tapiede from Papua New Guinea,

Esther John from Pakistan

Martin Luther King from the United States,

Wang Zhiming from China,

Janani Luwum from Uganda,

Oscar Romero from El Salvador.

Tragically today, persecuted Christians from Egypt, Syria, south Sudan and Nigeria could be added to that list.

But the call of Jesus Christ is also to us, echoing through the generations.

The call that begins with grace, as with empty hands we simply look up and receive God's mercy.

But will it be a cheap grace? Or a costly grace?.

Transforming how we live and how we work, our decision making, our homes and families, our relationships, our finances, our careers, our priorities?

Are you really serious about following me?

In those words of Bonhoeffer 'when Christ calls someone, he bids them come and die.