The fifth grader was proud of his new coin. It was a rare coin that had been given to him by his father for his coin collection. He was so pleased with his coin that he brought it to school to show to his class. During lunch one of his class mates was hit by the green-eyed monster of envy and decided that he needed that coin. He stole the coin from his classmate. He even tried to cover up his crime by showing his friends the coin the next day at school, saying that his uncle had bought him one just like the other class members.
The parents of the boy whose coin was stolen called up the parents of the boy who stole the coin. They had a big conference. The parents knew the boy did not have an uncle who had given him a coin. They knew he was lying, knew he had stolen the coin. They were so embarrassed. The shame of it all.
They called in their son and for more than an hour the boy denied stealing the coin. The boy refused to admit that he had stolen it. He never acknowledged that he had the other boy's coin, although the parents found the coin in his book bag. The fifth grader never broke down. He had learned the lesson well. Never confess. Never admit guilt. He never seemed to feel any guilt about the stealing, lying and broken trust of his parents.
Now the parents are asking, "If we are Christian people aren't we suppose to forgive people for their sins? Aren't we suppose to hate the sin and love the sinner? Shouldn't they as parents forgive their son?"
There are those who would suggest that story is the story of our times. The story has all the elements of the new times in which we live. There are those who would say that we are producing children who have no sense of guilt. We have been working hard not to make people feel guilt. We don't want to talk about blame. We don't want to talk about responsibility. Don't be laying any guilt trip on me. And what we are getting are young people who do not feel guilty when they do something wrong.
There is a pastoral care professor at Princeton Theological Seminary who suggests that the great sin of our age is shame. The great punishment of the age is embarrassment. "Hasn't Marv Albert suffered enough for his assault on that woman in the motel room?" went the argument. Look how embarrassing it has to be for him. The parents of the young boy were so ashamed of their son. There was no "righteous indignation" as with the prophets. Only the wringing of hands, the dipping of the head and "We are so embarrassed."
Forty years ago Dietrich Bonhoeffer warned the Christian community that what they have been preaching will come back to haunt them and what they have been preaching is nothing but cheap grace. Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our church. We are fighting today for costly grace.
Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjacks' wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sins, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut-rate prices. He suggests that grace seems to mean that all accounts have been paid, so everything can be had for nothing. This cheap grace being preached within the Christian community will be heard as forgiveness of sins declared as an established fact, a general truth, a concept as part of God. In the offering of cheap grace, the world hears a covering of sin which requires nothing. This cheap grace believes God has forgiven sin in Jesus Christ so there is no need for anything on the part of the sinner. No need for contrition; no need for a real desire to be delivered from the sin; no need to make amends for the pain that has been caused; no need to renounce the activities of the sin or to bring one's life into obedience to the goodness of God. God has done it all. Enjoy.