February 28, 1999
Wesley, Doncaster East
© John M. Connan
Love is costly. It always has been. It always will be. You can’t have love on the cheap. Love on the cheap isn’t love at all. You can’t have love without risk. Love without risk isn’t love at all. You can’t have all the benefits of love without paying a price. You can’t have all the joys of love without taking risks. Problems arise when you want love, but you’re not willing to pay the price. Problems compound, when you must have love, but you’re not prepared to take risks.
Why is it that we understand that about our relationships with one another, particularly family relationships, but don’t understand the same thing about God’s love for us and our love for God?
“God so loved the world,” John wrote, “that he gave his one and only Son, so that by believing in him anyone can have a full life forever.”
Forget about the Cross for a moment. That sounds good, doesn’t it? Believe in Jesus and you can have a full and worthwhile life! God’s overwhelmingly gracious and forgiving love! Forever! And all it takes is a little bit of love and a little bit of trust on our part.
But we can’t forget the Cross. That’s where God’s love is seen in its most vivid blood-red colours. That’s where it’s heard at its most heart-piercing through Jesus’ agonized cry of dereliction. That’s where it’s felt most sharply in the crude nail thrusts through wrist and ankle.
God’s overwhelming declaration of love came at a price. God’s openhearted offer of forgiveness was given at the risk of being ignored. A price paid. A risk taken.
And all the response we ever need to make takes a little bit of love and a little bit of trust on our part.
But that “little” bit of love does not come without a price for us. And that “little” bit of trust does involve an enormous amount of risk for us. Love is costly and has its price! Trust always has its risks.
We want all the benefits of the Cross. We want love. We want forgiveness. We want reconciliation and peace. We want wholeness and health. We want fullness of life. We want joy and contentment. The Cross we don’t want at all. That’s not the price we want to pay. That’s not the risk we want to take.
I’ve quoted this before, and I’m sure to quote it again, “.. the chief business of religion is to keep crosses far away. We want a Christ who suffers that we may not have to, a Christ who lays himself down that we may be undisturbed. The call... to take up the cross and follow remains mysterious and offensive to us” (John Bright, The Kingdom of God. Abingdon: Nashville. 1993. p.154).
It’s alright for God to pay the price. It’s okay for God to take the risk. But the idea that God’s love and God’s gift of real life should require of us anything costly or risky offends us. God’s love free. That’s true. God’s forgiveness and acceptance unconditional. That’s true. God’s offer of his Son Jesus for us with no strings attached. That’s true. But it doesn’t leave us without some cost to pay, some risk to take.
Whether we give or receive love, love always has its costs; love always has its risks.
Yes, we want all the benefits of the new relationship with God and the new life that comes from that relationship. We want it free. We don’t want any cost or risk involved. In fact, we don’t want our lives greatly changed. Some habits that make us uncomfortable can go. Some little luxuries can go. We’ll gladly give up some of the conditions of life that make it hard to live decent, orderly, fulfilling lives. But changes that are too radical are too unsettling.
Or so we think, until we let God take over and make over both our world and us.
The newness of life we long for, we must crave for with all our being, not because our lives will be more comfortable, but because that new life is right. The facts are that the newness of life that Jesus makes possible may seem to make life much more uncomfortable. But when you experience for yourself the newness of life that Jesus brings, all that matters is that it is right.
The changes that we hope for in ourselves and in the world around us, we must want not because they’ll make our lives less painful or any easier, but because the changes that Jesus brings to us change our outlook and our attitude.
When we fall in love with Jesus and risk everything for love of him, our lives may not look as good as they once were – or that’s how other might see it. Our living conditions and our living standards may not be as high. Our future prospects may not be as assured. We may find ourselves living one day at a time – “Give us today the bread we need for tomorrow.” But none of that will matter. The cost we paid won’t matter in the least. The risks we take will seem no risk at all – merely putting our trust in God, really believing God is God.
Do you really want all the benefits of God’s love for you? Do you really want all the benefits of the Cross? Do you really want all the benefits that new life can bring? Are you really prepared to pay the full price? Are you ready to take the outrageous risks?
Can you answer Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes, Yes? These are Lenten questions. Those ought to be Lenten answers.
My life – life as an individual, life as a couple, life as a family – has not been without its price and its risks. Maybe we’ve not always been as faithful as we might have been. Maybe we’ve not always paid the full price. Maybe we’ve not always taken the greatest risks. But we’ve certainly paid the price in many ways. We’ve certainly not always opted for the most secure paths. But I’ve never regretted offering and being accepted for full-time ministry. We’ve never regretted being missionaries. In fact, we’re absolutely sure that our very beings have been enriched in many, many ways by our life in and for the Church.
We’ve accepted God’s love. We know what the Cross cost God. We acknowledge the risk he took for people like us. And it feels as if there’s been no cost to us at all. It seems that we’ve never taken risks. That’s just the way it is, when God is God in your life.
I have no idea where all the changes in our Uniting Church life will take us. Inevitably, there’s what feels like pain associated with the changes that are going on. I’m sure that there’s going to be much more of the same feeling in the not-too-distant future.
In Lewis Carol’s Alice through the Looking Glass there’s a line for us today. The ground on which Alice is standing seems to be sweeping her backwards. She’s told, “If you want to stand still, you’ve got to run. And if you want to get anywhere else, you’ve got to run even harder.”
That’s our world today. We can’t stand still otherwise we’ll go backwards. If we want to get anywhere else, if we want the benefits of new life, there are costs to be paid and risks to be taken.
As Christians we stand on the Easter side of Good Friday. We know that Good Friday was the risk and the cost: Easter the proof of the benefits of the Cross. There may be costs and risks in achieving the new life we want, but they may be the only means of the new life we need.
God loved the world so much. God changed the world so much. Are we prepared to be part of the change that we still need, that the world still needs?
What’s your Lenten answer?