In April of 1945, days before the allies liberated the concentration camp in Flossenburg, on direct orders by Heinrich Himmler, a Lutheran pastor named Dietrich Bonheoffer was executed. In the late 1930’s Bonheoffer had joined the German underground convinced that it was his duty as a Christian to work toward the defeat of the Nazi State. His best known book, The Cost of Discipleship was written in 1937 and published posthumously in 1947. Listen to his words. “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow upon ourselves. We preach forgiveness without requiring repentance, administer baptism without church discipline, serve communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship. Costly grace is a gospel which must be sought over and over; it is the gift that must be asked for; it is the door at which we must knock. It is costly because it cost a man his life. It is grace because it gives us life.
Anytime I read Mark 8:27-38, I pull Cost of Discipleship from my bookshelf to help me comprehend what is a scandalous passage from Mark’s gospel. First there is the startling prediction of Jesus’ suffering and death. Second, Jesus defines discipleship as being one who is willing to lose her life for the sake of another.
Martyrdom is something we uniquely hold up as praiseworthy. On Memorial Day we take a break from the rigors of our labor to remember those whose lives were lost to insure our freedoms. This week, during the 17th anniversary of 9-11, it was announced that due to respiratory disease, the number of first responders who have died since the attack is greater than the number who lost their lives when the twin towers collapsed.
The decision of going to war makes the forfeiture of one’s life a possibility. The only mathematical table used in war is subtraction.
One who rushes toward a collapsing building knows that her life expectancy has been instantly changed.
When a young theologian speaks out against tyranny he is well aware the repercussions can be life changing.
But few folks consider going to church to be dangerous. So why does Jesus insist on talking about self-denial?
It is hard to put others ahead of ourselves. The mantra of the day is, “If I don’t take care of myself, how can I be expected to take care of others.” That is wise saying. But sometimes aren’t we all a little guilty of worrying too much about ourselves. Maybe that is why, from its infancy, the Presbyterian Church has celebrated Elders.
Now I am not just talking about old people. I am speaking about the folks who are elected to serve our congregation. Every year twelve folks take on the obligation of putting you ahead of themselves. Imagine how hard that sometimes can be? Elders have the task of juggling two hundred balls in the air with only twenty four hands. An Elder has to be both the voice of reason and imagination. An Elder has to be able to hear dissenting voices. He has to hear his own voice and wonder for whom he is speaking. She has to have the courage to occasionally confront the minister and question his motivation. In other words, our Elders are charged to further the peace, unity, and purity of the congregation by serving Rockfish Presbyterian with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love.
Anyone who has served as an elder can tell you that can be quite a cross to bear. But I also believe anyone who has served as an elder at Rockfish will confirm that even in those few moments of disagreement or discontent, as you sat around a table with those other eleven people, you never doubted their desire to accomplish God’s will. The greatest compliment I can give our session is it is not identified through individuals but rather as a group known for its extraordinary work.
Peggy, you are returning for a second term. Dana, Ken, and Wendy, I ask you to come forward with Peggy, denying yourself to become part of something greater than us all.
INSTALLATION AND ORDINATION OF ELDERS.