03 March 2010

Meditation: "When Faith Bears a Cost"

"When they heard [all that Jesus had to say], all were filled with rage. They got up, drove him out of the town, and led him to the brow of the hill...so that they might hurl him off the cliff." --Luke 4:28-29 (how the crowd responds to Jesus' first sermon in his hometown of Nazareth)

Jesus said, "Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." --Luke 14:26-27

"Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate." --Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Dear Friends,

Last week was a tough week. It's a long story, so I'll keep to the very short version. Our local ministerial association was largely in agreement that it felt called to help provide transitional housing for men being released from prison into our community. Every year, men are released from jail on parole into our community--but they have no place to go, and so end up homeless on the streets. Seeing this need and truly believing that men trying to get on a better path after being in prison would benefit from housing and support, our ministerial association wanted to help. A rental house became available and the landlord really wanted the house to be used for this kind of purpose. So our ministerial association began to move forward with plans to utilize this house as a transitional home for men being released from prison on parole. Last week we had a community notification meeting to let the surrounding neighborhood know about the plan and to hear their concerns and questions. We knew it would be contentious. What we didn't realize was just how contentious.

It blew up like a 2-liter of shaken soda pop. Only it wasn't funny and lasted 2 hours.

The hostility of many in the crowd was intense and vocal. Questions could not be answered because of shouting and name calling. People did not listen and only heard what they wanted to hear. People leaped to wild assumptions: "If we let this transitional house go in, our children's throats are going to be slashed" (no joke, one person made that connection) or "If we these people move into our neighborhood, then my kids are going to be exposed to drugs." More than one sentence began, "I'm a Christian, BUT..." More than one sentence ended, "...BUT not in my neighborhood." You get the idea. Though several people asked excellent questions (and actually listened to the response) and others raised very valid concerns, by and large, the tenor of the crowd was extremely hostile and fearful.

I left that meeting shaken and greatly disturbed in Spirit. I've had many thoughts swirling around my head and heart since then. And the question that I have had to ask myself over and over again is this: "Would I want seven men just released from prison to live next door to me?" (To be clear, this proposed transitional house was not in my neighborhood.) On the one hand, like others I would want to say, "No way!" And I'd use the same reasoning: the safety of my children, property values, and all the rest.

But on the other hand, as a person who claims to follow Jesus, I need to think about this differently. I can't just say "No!" Jesus made it clear that being his disciple would bear a cost. That it wouldn't be easy. That it would involve sacrifice. The quote from Luke 14 above is a very hard saying by Jesus--maybe the hardest for me right now. What he seems to be saying is that absolutely nothing, not even family or our own safety, ought to get in the way of being faithful to him. It might just be that faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ means that I must be very careful before I stand in the way of this kind of a project. Should I raise concerns? Yes. Should I ask tough questions? Yes. But I cannot oppose a project that is at its heart a compassionate ministry to people on the margins (the kind of folks Jesus had a special affinity for) without any acknowledgment that my Christian faith may require a different response from me--even if it bears a cost, so to speak. In this case, that cost would be a lower property value and a decreased sense of safety for me and my family.

This gets taken to another level, though. Not only do I think that we can't oppose something like this without considering the cost of discipleship, but I think we also need to consider how we can respond in a more Christ-like manner. So, for instance, if the house next door to mine is used as transitional housing for men being released from prison, the question isn't just, "How do I keep these guys from harming me and my family?" but "How can I offer Christian hospitality to these men--no matter what they've done in the past? How can I reach out in ways that will contribute to their success in getting on a better path in life?" That's the harder question that Jesus-followers must consider.

Too often we forget that living as a faithful disciple of Jesus Christ may demand something from us that is truly costly and difficult. That's tough for me--and many others--to accept. But at the same time, there's something profoundly satisfying and deeply meaningful about living our lives without compromising our faith commitments--living utterly committed to the way of Jesus Christ. That's what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called "costly grace."

During this Lenten season, I pray that God will instill in you the courage to live out your faith commitments to the max.



Prayer: God of Power and Might, grant us courage and wisdom to be faithful disciples of Jesus Christ, and help us to remember that--in all things--you are our refuge and our rock. Amen.

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