Collect for II Lent: O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
The Gospel: Mark 8:31-38
Jesus began to teach his disciples that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”
- Open your gathering with the appropriate Daily Office for the hour of the day
- Hold silent prayer for 3-5 minutes
- One person reads the Collect for the Week, and then all pause to reflect on the prayer (23 minutes)
- Another person reads the lesson for the evening
- After a short period of quiet meditation (3-5 minutes), all recite the Lord’s Prayer and then discuss:
- How have your own life decisions deepened your awareness living life carries a cost?
- What does the word “Disciple” mean to you and to your group? Are you a “Disciple?” Do you know someone who embodies the definition of the word as your group has defined it?
- When you answer the call of Jesus to be a disciple, what costs can you imagine that there will be?
- Re-read the Gospel passage and ask this question of the group: “What are the costs of discipleship in Jesus? How has my understanding of the cost of discipleship changed this evening?”
- Close your time together with the next Daily Office liturgy
Reckoning the Cost
Managing risk as a disciple of Jesus is something that we know is antithetical to being a follower of the Savior. At the same time we too often do not hesitate to, well, hesitate when it comes to taking that risk. We pull back from making a conscious sacrifice of our life, our time, the things we value in exchange for a deeper and more profound encounter with the holy.
Part of that pulling back from accepting the cost of discipleship is that we are deeply invested in the short-term benefits of a Christ-life in which we are in control of our choices as people of professed faith. We keep our time with God sequestered to Sunday mornings. We restrict our mindfulness of God being with us in the moment to those moments when we CHOOSE to welcome it. We embrace the scrutiny of the world when it looks to the example we set as we ostensibly proclaim Jesus when we are feeling like we are at our best. We hide the rest.
We hide our fear. We hide out anxiety. We hide our lack of confidence. We hide out lack of formation and preparation. We hide our selves, from each other and from God in Christ.
Jesus does not love us less in our falling short in our embrace of the costs of discipleship. He actually loves us more, more because he is with us as we struggle with the weakness and worry of being human. He knows we worry about having enough to get through today, much less tomorrow. He knows our fear of not being able to provide well enough for those over whom we have responsibility. He knows what it is like to fail to rise to people's expectations. He knows what it is like to brace under the weight of the crosses we bear...because he bears his, and does so with the full knowledge of self that comes with being a son of a human being and in being the Son of Man.
Our challenge, the one Christ himself lays at our feet, is simply to be willing to let go of the things that hold us back from embracing the life-giving cost of being a disciple of Jesus. When he calls Simon, Andrew, James and John to come and follow, he is asking them to first let go of the nets that bind them to the daily struggles of being fishermen. Then he asks them to take up nets that will now catch people for the kingdom. The cost to them is real. They have to give up one way of being in order to embrace another.
The call has not changed. The challenge is to be willing to answer this question: Just what is God asking you to let go of, in order to use those now-freed hands for the work of beckoning others to the undertaking of proclaiming, and serving, God's kingdom?
I have seen this happen again and again in my own life and ministry. The life of Christ is wonderful and life-giving. It is also a life that inevitably leads us to a point when we are faced with a choice: If I say yes to Christ, then I must say no to the world. If I say yes to following Jesus, then I must accept that something else must be released. If I say yes to taking up my own cross, then I must let go of the thing, the desire, the expectation that I was holding on to in its place.
It is more than all right to feel grief and anxiety at the thought, much less the reality, of facing that choice, that moment. It is the very beginning of our deeper participation in the life of Christ, and the very moment when our existence begins to true itself to God's will for the world. It only means we have to give up on our delusional idea that we are somehow able to persist as disciples above or apart from making decisions that never entail inevitable sacrifice.
Or that sacrifices are somehow, well.....bad for us.
Real sacrifice brings clarity. It reorders our awareness of what is truly precious, truly important.
I have seen it again and again....when the cost of discipleship is embraced, when the godly sacrifice is made....that is when the heart lifts. That is when the concept of taking up a cross to follow Jesus becomes less about shouldering a weight, and more about casting off burdens.
It's the first step in that direction that is always the hardest.
Perhaps in this Lent, as we ponder our own reckoned costs, we might also take a moment embrace them, to welcome them. They are invitations to clarify our vision, our direction, our bearing in the journey to follow the Christ, to follow Jesus.