Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Cost of Discipleship…

I first encountered Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a mid-20th century German theologian, the summer following my junior year in college. You see, that summer I had my first “ministry job.” I was a high school ministry intern in San Antonio, and my boss believed Bonhoeffer’s book- “The Cost of Discipleship”- good preparation for youth ministry. It was, then. There was something to his bold, uncompromising ideas that stirred my soul. For, as a youth, I yearned for power and purpose. Thus, while ministering to high schoolers, I found Bonhoeffer a Godsend. Even if my boss made me read him!

Looking back, I’m less impressed now by Bonhoeffer’s dogged certainty in “The Cost of Discipleship”. Nevertheless, I’m still drawn in by much of what he said, did, wrote and questioned, and for the next couple weeks, I want to share that with you.

Recall the project I laid out for our church’s summer. Every couple weeks, we’ll explore writings of selected spiritual gurus, the idea being to dig deep in the rich soil of these “spiritual master gardeners.” And in pairing their work with Bible verses, along with trying out various spiritual practices, perhaps we’ll find new ways to personally achieve that ever-elusive apparition, “spiritual growth.”

And first up - you guessed it- is Dietrich Bonhoeffer. More specifically, his idea in “The Cost of Discipleship” about “cheap v. costly grace.” Now, Christians love to talk about grace, amen?! The free gift of God’s love, revealed by Jesus’ Resurrection, Grace is at the Christian Project’s heart. But nice as that sounds, Bonhoeffer suggests, Grace can also be dangerous. We can get so excited about how free it is, how comfy it seems, we let it justify complacency and spiritual compromise.

But Christian living isn’t simply about believing in God, he goes on. It’s a life of discipleship, an on-going attempt to follow Jesus. Sure, unlike the first disciples, we can’t see Jesus or ask him questions. But we have inklings of what he taught, how he lived, and thus, where he might lead us today. And much evidence points to ways of living that are more full, abundant, profound- but costly- than saying, “I’m Christian 'cause I attend church. Sometimes.”

Rather, Bonhoeffer continues, “When Christ calls a (person), he bids (her) come, and die.” To which I respond, “Yikes! Really, Dietrich?! It’s that hard to follow Jesus?!” And maybe it is; consider where he ended up… But Jesus also claimed, “My yoke is easy. My burden is light.” What’s going on?

Again, Bonhoeffer- “Cheap grace is grace without discipleship…Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again…such grace is costly because it calls us to follow…costs a (person her) life. But it is grace because it gives a (person) the only true life.” I don’t know what you make of that, but I find it…intriguing.

So this week, ponder and chew over that notion. Send an email or call if it sparks an insight. And for our spiritual practice, let’s start at the heart of all spiritual practices: prayer. Simple, easy. Or not. Bonhoeffer warns, “Jesus teaches his disciples to pray…(for) prayer is by no means an obvious or natural activity.” Ever tried to pray and wasn’t sure of what to say? Join the club! So this week- whether prayer’s a daily, weekly or annual event in your life- try this: Every day or two, write a letter to God like you would to a friend overseas. Knowing that friend isn’t close, might need explanation of what’s happening, simply start, “Dear God, I hope you’re well. I’m feeling…” and go from there. I know God’s apparently ‘omnipresent’, but it doesn’t always feel that way, to many. So maybe this ‘prayer letter’ will feel more natural than other forms. And if you normally have a constant, intimate conversation with God, try letter writing to discover alternative prayer practices. After all, the goal of ‘spiritual growth’ is exploring the infinite reality we call God, not “winning a prize” or “arriving at the destination.” Or, as Bonhoeffer says, it’s to simply follow as best we can. Trusting the Guide will guide us where we need go.

Grace and Peace,
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