Here is the sermon from the Lucknow Strawberry Fest Service on June 22 2014
Sermon June 22 2014
How many of you remember Greer’s pond? Back in the late 1960’s and the early 1970’s Greer’s pond was the swimming pool for the village of Lucknow. Just outside of the village on what is now called Harper’s line there were two ponds, one for swimming, seemingly open to the public, but without all the signs about using at your own risk, and the other stocked with fish.
The ponds are still there, but I don’t see much swimming there anymore. When I was a kid, on hot summer days, Greer’s pond was full of village kids and we would be there too, a couple of time a week.
My story really isn’t about Greer’s pond though. To be able to enjoy the pond safely one had to know how to swim. Knowing how to swim is a good thing anyway, so my parents enrolled us in swimming lessons. It was a time before a pool in Lucknow, so off we went to Wingham. I have a vague memory that there may have even been a bus to take us there.
I was the biggest kid in Guppies and I was terrified. I’ve looked at the requirements to pass Guppies since then and I’m not sure what my problem was. It all looks pretty simple now. Bobbing twice, opening eyes under water and retrieve two objects, float two body lengths, tread water for 5 seconds (I never really understood the value of treading water). It all seems pretty innocuous now, pretty simple, but I knew I was a land animal and water was not my normal habitat.
The biggest terror though, was the high board. After all of our floating, bobbing and treading, if there was time, the class would be allowed jump off the high board. It wasn’t really that high, six feet off the water maybe, but to an eight year old kid it was enormous. While the other kids in the class weren’t my peers, they were all younger than me, it was peer pressure that got me up the steps and had my toes edging to the end of the board.
Did I mention my problem with heights?
I’d seen the other little kids jump, it seemed easy, but from where I was now there was no way. But, the next kid in line was already standing behind me, there was no way back, at least no way which would preserve any dignity I had left.
The life guard, seeing my predicament, my hesitation, the look of supreme terror that might soon lead to yellow water running down my already wet legs, offered me the end of the hook. This hook was at the end of a long pole and one might imagine it was made specifically for scooping land animals like me off of the bottom of the pool. I took it gratefully, with both hands, and pushing back tears of terror, I jumped.
Our scripture passage this morning is in the middle of a longer conversation Jesus has with his disciples about mission, about how they should share the good news of the gospel with the world around them. About how they need to jump off of the high board into a world that was as foreign to them as water was to me, the land animal. Jesus is clear that this job will not be an easy one, he is sending them, he says, like sheep among the wolves, he tells them that their normal support group, their families will turn against them, points out that they should not expect to be treated any differently than he, their teacher was treated, and that didn’t turn out all that well did it.
Crosses are frightening things.
Jesus recognizes that his disciples will be tempted, to stay on land, not to engage the world, not to step into the world as kingdom builders where building God’s kingdom means running in opposition to the kingdoms already here.
He knows what bringing the message of the gospel and proclaiming a new kingdom will mean for his followers. They will be marginalized, they will come last in popularity contests, they will be pushed to the edges of society, in fact he goes as far as to say some of them will be imprisoned and even killed.
For over 2000 years, disciples of Jesus Christ, when they are carrying out His mission, when they are actively working to bring the kingdom of God into this world, find themselves resisted and marginalized. Many of us resist stepping up to the task put in front of us. We are afraid to climb up onto the high board and content ourselves with merely hanging around the pool. Some of us are good at giving money so that someone else swims in the pool, jumps off the high board, but we really hang on to the fact that we are land animals and are afraid of getting wet.
And we think we are likely ok where we are at the edge of the pool. We know about grace don’t we. We know that Jesus died for us, to bring us back into relationship with God and that there is nothing we can do to arrange our own salvation. Grace comes through Jesus, and it free. We just need to believe and sit back and enjoy the privileges. Jesus, we say, has let us into the fenced area around the pool, paid our admission, but we don’t need to get wet do we?
That’s called cheap grace. Cheap grace is a term coined by Dietrich Bonheoffer. He describes it this way:
Cheap grace means grace as bargain basement goods, cut-rate forgiveness, cut-rate comfort, cut-rate sacrament; grace as the church’s inexhaustible pantry, from which it is poured out without hesitation or limit. It is grace without a price, without costs. . . . Cheap grace means grace as doctrine, as principle, as system. It means forgiveness of sins as a general truth; it means God’s love as merely a Christian idea of God. . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without the living, incarnate Jesus Christ. . . . Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which has to be asked for, the door at which one has to knock again and again.
It is costly, because it calls to discipleship; it is grace, because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly, because it costs people their lives; it is grace, because it gives them their lives. It is costly, because it condemns sin; it is grace, because it justifies the sinner. Above all, grace is costly, because it was costly to God, because it costs God the life of God’s son—”you were brought with a price”—and because nothing can be cheap to us which is costly to God.
This morning we are called to discipleship, we are called to climb up on the high board and to jump in. We are called to jump into a world where justice is often a scarce commodity, where mercy has been replaced with a drive for profits, where folks who walk humbly with their God as seen as losers, outsiders, misfits.
We are called to be kingdom builders this morning, to cast our lot with the poor, the homeless, the mistreated. We are called to advocate for the underdog, the disinfranchised, to care for God’s creation, to stand up for what is right, not what is expedient. We are called to be witnesses to what Jesus has done and what we are called to isn’t popular, isn’t easy, isn’t safe. We are called to get wet in the world, to jump off of that high board, to leap in faith.
But, we don’t leap alone. Just like the lifeguard extended the hook for me to hold on to, Jesus promises not to abandon us, not to leave us, encourages us not to be afraid. We are so important to our Father, God, that even the hairs on our heads are numbered. The most insignificant part of us is known and important. As we make this leap into mission, this step toward discipleship, work that will change us and the world around us, we do not go alone. Just as I grabbed that lifeguard’s hook and held on with both hands as I jumped into a very hostile environment, the water, we can wrap our arms around Jesus, in fact, he wraps his loving arms around us as we leap, sheltering us, watching over us, giving us courage for what is to come, for the work before us. Jesus encourages us as we go, just as that lifeguard long ago did, shouting, don’t be afraid, I’m here, I’ll take care of you.
So, what did Greer’s pond have to do with this whole story anyway. It did give some local flavor to my story, but I think it can be larger than that as well. You see, there were no lifeguards at Greer’s pond. No high board either but there was a diving board, and even though I didn’t pass Guppies that year, I think they gave me a Minnows badge instead, it wasn’t long before I was diving off of that low board at Greer’s pond, by myself and swimming underwater to the other side.
Something that seemed so impossible as I stood trembling and wet on that high board above the chlorinated clarity of that pool, became something of a second nature in the brown murkiness of Greer’s pond. Oh there were still times of panic in the water when rough housing town kids held the little farm kid underwater for just a little to long, the water never really became my friend, I was still a land animal, but because a life guard with a hook on a pole encouraged me, told me not to be afraid I was able to find a place in it.
Many of you here this morning are standing on the edge of the pool, your admission was paid by Jesus Christ, you stand afraid of fully committing to a life of mission, a life of kingdom bringing, a life which makes a difference which brings Jesus into real life through you. You have found it comfortable on the edge, living quietly while injustice and misery go on unchecked around you and around the world. You know you should act, you should jump in, you should do something, but you let fear hold you back.
This morning, hear the voice of Jesus ringing through the litany of bad things that will happen when we truly act as his disciples, with a clear do not be afraid, you are valued, you are loved, you are watched over, now go, jump into the water, jump into the mission I have for you here, share the good news of the gospel and bring change to the world in which you live a change based in loving God and Loving neighbours. It won’t be a popular movement, it won’t be a safe task, but you don’t need to be afraid, because a God who cares about falling sparrows, knows the number of hairs on your head is there to protect you to guide you to watch over you because to this God you are worth more than many sparrows.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2003), Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Volume 4. Fortress Press pg 29