Tuesday, October 31, 2006

31 October 2006

More on the meaning of the body of Christ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

For the first disciples the bodily community with Jesus did not mean anything different or anything more than what we have today. Indeed, for us this community is even more definite, more complete, and more certain that it was for them, since we live in full community with the bodily presence of the glorified Lord. Our faith must become fully aware of the magnitude of this gift. The body of Jesus Christ is the ground of our faith and the source of its certainty; the body of Jesus Christ is the one and perfect gift through which we receive our salvation; the body of Jesus Christ is our new life. It is in the body of Jesus Christ that we are accepted by God from eternity.

As you can see here, the body of Christ is being held in high regard and because of this, the community is being encouraged to be just who we are when we are bound together through baptism into the church. It is quite shocking to hear that we today more than those first disciple who were present with Jesus along the way of his life. The first kind of image that comes to mind is how we (within Lutheran circles) explain our participation in the Lord's Supper. We say that Jesus is really present in the meal. With that being said, we must look up from the cup and see the shape of our Lord brought to life in the gathering of saints within the sanctuary and at the meal. Spread across those faces and those lives is the mosaic of Jesus' presence among us. Therefore, we are to remember that we are being called to walk in Jesus' way even now. More importantly, we are that bodily presence of Jesus for the world around us. That is both a gift given to us and a life into which we are called to live. The body of Christ has an opportunity to be quite available to the world as we take on that call. When we allow ourselves to see that power given to us, it will be a dynamic force for the healing of the world - just as we hear it was for Jesus and his first disciples.

Connection: It is so important not to ignore the "being" verb when we talk about the church. We are the body of Christ in the world. Imagine that as you go out and about today.

As you are present with us, O God, you begin to pull us within your life of peace and justice, mercy and hope. By your Spirit, strengthen us as we begin again to follow you this day. It is so easy to forget about how - through us - your presence come to life for all to see. Walk with us. Amen.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

30 October 2006

Today we will begin a series focusing on "The Body of Christ" in "Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The first disciples lived in the bodily presence of and in communion with Jesus. What is the significance of this fact, and in what way does this community still exist for us? Paul states that through baptism we have become members of the body of Christ....
It tells us that those who are baptized are still meant to live, even after the Lord's death and resurrection, in the bodily presence of and community with Jesus. For those who belong to him, Jesus' departure does not mean a loss but rather a new gift.

I have been very attracted to the description of the community as one meant to live "in the bodily presence of and community with Jesus." This is no shelter or withdrawal from the middle of the everyday life of the world. Rather, if we are the bodily "presence of...Jesus" our life together is the life of the one we call Jesus for we are, after the resurrection, his body. Now that would be a radical notion for a mission statement of a congregation. And yet, I don't think we consider ourselves as living in the presence of Jesus. Too often, Jesus' presence and being in community with Jesus comes to mean that we are forgiven of sins and now can go about our business as usual. And yes, we are a forgiven people. That is because we are baptized in Christ, Jesus. We have moved into and through his death and now we live on the other side - within the resurrection presence of our Lord. The church therefore - the local community of Jesus - the congregation, is called to be alive in the way Jesus was among us - and still is...in, with, and under the life of the body of Christ. Too often people will say that we cannot be like Jesus. That usually means I, personally, cannot be like Jesus. Well, we are quite blessed because it is the whole community that is that body. It is the whole gathering of the followers of Jesus that present us with such an amazing potential and grace.

Connection: Life within the local congregation is a life shaped through the action of the whole body that follows Jesus. Such a image calls forth a bit of risk - like a lead of faith - as we do not shy away from the way Jesus would have us be present to others.

We gather under the name of the Lord, Jesus, and are called to walk within the pathway of the cross. Lord of all hopefulness, encourage us and remind us to look beyond ourselves to see how your loving presence is made known through the whole body. Amen.

Friday, October 27, 2006

27 October 2006

We touch the end of the week with a final look at simple obedience with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

After telling the parable of the kingdom of God and it being easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the the kingdom of God, Bonhoeffer writes:
It can be inferred from the perplexity of the disciples about Jesus' word and from their question - "Who, then, can be saved?" - that they believe that the case of the rich young man is not an individual case, but the most general case possible. They do not ask, "Which rich person?" Instead they ask the general question, "Who, then, can be saved?" This is because everyone, even the disciples, forms part of those rich people, for whom it is so difficult to enter heaven. Jesus' answer confirms this interpretation of his words by his disciples. Being saved by discipleship is not a human possibility, but for God all things are possible.

And God is with us...on our side...standing with us...and going through all that must be entered as we would - so that it is possible to walk within the bounds of the "kingdom of God." In Christ, Jesus, what is impossible becomes a part of the way we walk. It is not because we are able to gain the appropriate skill to somehow move through that eye of the needle. Rather, we trust - like Jesus trusted God each day - that the life handed to us is life, indeed - life for living now. Could it be that we do not need to focus on a way to "get in" but rather can be assured that when we are called to follow Jesus, the way within God's Reign will unfold and we will be placed into the fullness of its life. Instead of worrying about "getting in" we are encouraged to live within the promise and in that promise there is no need to worry about entry - there is simply a freedom to live.

Connection: I imagine that it is much more liberating to begin the day knowing that our God will pull us into a whole new world today...rather than thinking about whether or not we will do the right things that will please God and others. Life may turn out to be more pleasing to everyone.

We praise you, O God, for never leaving us up to our own ways of running through this day. By your grace you offer us a new life and you show us the way to take on the events of this day with new eyes so the this day will be like a gift that we have been given for life. Amen.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

26 October 2006

I found this piece on simple obedience by Bonhoeffer to be something to consider more deeply.

Obedience to Jesus' call is never an autonomous human deed. Thus, not even something like actually giving away one's wealth is the obedience required. It could be that such a step would not be obedience to Jesus at all, but instead, a free choice of one's own lifestyle. It could be a Christian ideal, a Franciscan ideal of poverty. It could be that by giving away wealth, people affirm themselves and an ideal, and not Jesus' command. It could be that they do not become free from themselves, but even more trapped in themselves. The step into the situation is not something people offer Jesus; it is always Jesus' gracious offer to people. It is legitimate only when it is done that way, but then it is no longer a free human possibility.

They become "even more trapped in themselves." Giving as we want to give and following as we want to follow brings us into our own little world - created and entered by me alone. Even if I say it is in the name of Jesus, it is still my call to myself to do what I am willing to do. There seems to be a common theme in that last sentence - I. Jesus offers Peter and the rich man a life. It is free and it is ready for them to enter - it is a gift. We do not enter into that offer singing "I'll do it my way." Rather, we are called to bring who we are into this way that is set before us. We take our gifts and our whole lives and we become shaped by the call to follow. We usually say that it is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we move into the place into which Jesus calls us. In that place and along that way, we are called out beyond our schemes and plans. My vision becomes the vision of the one calling and that is the power that makes things new and strange and out of my control.

Connection: Sometimes I wonder if we recognized when we are walking along a path that is of our own choosing or one that is a part of this call to come within the Reign of God. I don't like that much introspection because often we never leave it. But I do think we need others to help us discern how the Spirit is guiding us...and where.

Lord of the New Day, we will follow you and yet we need your Spirit to be alongside as the power of new life that brings our actions and desires into question and lifts up for us the opportunities available to us as we follow you. Lead us into your Reign and encourage us as we go. Amen.

25 October 2006

Again, simple obedience in "Discipleship."

Jesus' concrete call and simple obedience have their own irrevocable meaning. Jesus calls us into a concrete situation in which we can believe in him. That is why he calls us in such a concrete way and wants to be so understood, because he knows that people will become free for faith only in concrete obedience.

In a footnote from another writing by Bonhoeffer it reads, "The rich young man receives the commandment in order to do it (sell!). Do it. Follow by doing it. Follow by taking the step toward that to which we are being called. We are being called into the Reign of God and the life that is within that domain. We are called to do it - sell - move - give - step aside - step into - heal - stand alongside...die. This is a call into something as concrete as the the day unfolding here even as I write. The only way we can start or stop is to be free from what may be the powers that are trying to move us and control us and seduce us into a way that is foreign to the simplicity of that call to "follow." It is a simple call that demands everything of us - our whole world changes and our vision is changed as dramatically as when I put my glasses on in the morning and I can see that the red blob of light on the dress is really the time of day. We are called into that time - that moment. It is something quite concrete and it calls me into some kind of concrete action. Everyday, for a person of faith, that action is that which flows from our baptism. Now...we will see how that unfolds as our Lord pulls us into the day.

Connection: What a strange thing it is to have our lives be the next scene within the unfolding of God's Reign . And yet, today is just that. Faithfulness is never a mind journey alone. It is always a real journey that shapes each and every step we take.

Come, Lord, Jesus, be our guest and take hold of our lives that today we will again find in your promises life eternal...life incarnate. Amen.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

24 October 2006

More on discipleship and "simple obedience by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

If Jesus Christ were to speak this way (like to Peter, Levi, & the rich man) to one of us today through the Holy Scriptures, then we would probably argue thus: Jesus is making a special commandment; that's true. But when Jesus commands, then I should know that he never demands legalistic obedience. Instead, he has only one expectation of me, namely, that I believe. My faith, however, is not tied to poverty or wealth or some such thing. On the contrary, in faith I can be both - rich and poor. The main concern is not whether or not I have any worldly goods, but that I should possess goods as if I did not possess them, and inwardly I should be free of them. I should not set my heart on my possessions. Thus, Jesus says, "Sell your possessions!" But what he intends is that it is not important if you actually do this literally, ourtwardly. You are free to keep your possessions, but have them as if you did not have them. Do not set your heart on your possessions.

Sometimes I think this leave open the door for those who want to simply say, "We don't have to give up our possessions - it is just a way to stress a point." So...does that mean we really don't have to follow Jesus. We can simply follow along his way by reading about it - Right!?! We follow along as though we were really following along but we really don't need to do that...but we must be ready to if we ever have to follow.
What seems to be a bit more real is that our possession do not have the winning hold on us...the final word...the directing seat for the playing out of our lives. There is one that we follow. We do not pay allegiance to two or three masters. That which we have is a part of the "we" that goes along and follows Jesus. For the rich and the poor and the many who fall in between, there is one way we are called to walk. Along the way what we have becomes a part of the way we follow. For the rich it will be to use our position and wealth as though it was not controlling us - rather it is like any other gift that we use in the service of others. So too with the poor - in the service of others we share and bid others well as in the way of Jesus. And too, the mass of people who often claim to be poor but really have plenty...come and follow and stop making excuses. At times I think this last group has the toughest time with following Jesus and turning following into something that takes place when it is convenient for us and when we have extra to share.

Connection: We are so bless - all of us. In the middle of that reality, the day opens up in new ways and we are asked to bring our lives into focus and act. Go for it...follow Jesus as we are called within the whole of our lives - when we are at want and when we are in the midst of plenty.

Benevolent Lord, it is by you alone that we are able to walk into this day. In many ways we are able to be followers of our Lord, Jesus, and yet we so often turn away and find other lords to follow because we hear their desires and feel their threats and then we give in to what is immediate rather than what is promised by you alone. Encourage us Lord. Amen.

Monday, October 23, 2006

23 October 2006

This week we will continue to look at "Simple Obedience" in "Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

When Jesus demanded voluntary poverty of the rich young man, the young man knew that his only choices were obedience or disobedience. When Levi was called from tax collecting and Peter from his nets, there was no doubt that Jesus was serious about those calls. They were supposed to leave everything and follow him. When Peter was called to step out onto the stormy sea, he had to get up and risk taking the step. Only on thing was demanded of each of these cases. That was their entrusting themselves to the word of Jesus Christ, believing it to be a stronger foundation than all the securities of the world. The forces that wanted to get between the word of Jesus and obedience were just as great back then as they are today.

As I was reading through this again I realized that there really could be a difference between these cases and the ones in which we find ourselves today. Jesus! Jesus is making this request of these people. Today, we have many people wearing the masks of "Jesus" faith and trying to move people to do something along the way of "masked" religious leaders who have gifted ways of persuading people to give up all things for "Jesus." I remember a woman talking about how a friend gave up her teachers' retirement because she was told to give more money to the church she was attending and to begin attending their bible school. This language of obedience can be use to beat the brow of others and thus wound them through guilt and even shame.
Then again, this is all the more reason to have around us people who are willing to question and read and call one another to accountability and question motives. It takes community work to come up with what Jesus is calling us to do today. And yet, there is still the call for obedience at the word of Jesus. We must help one another hear that word and not fall for the many words of religious leaders who can be so full of themselves and the need for security, they only know Jesus words and not his life.

Connection: By being a part of a community of faith, we are helped for the moments throughout the day when we here Jesus call us into new life. For in those moments, we have been "trained up" to know that voice - like lambs who know the voice of the shepherd.

When you call us to follow, O God, give us others who will help us hear your voice and to discern when we are being seduced by other words. We count on your Spirit to be our guide. Amen.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

19 October 2006

Bonhoeffer takes a farther along this look at the call to Discipleship. There will be no devotion sent out tomorrow, Friday, October 20.

...it is not the works which create faith. Instead, you are given a situation in which you can have faith. The point is to get into such a situation, so that faith is true faith and not self-deception. Because the only goal is to have true faith in Jesus Christ, because faith alone is and remains goal ("out of faith into faith" Romans 1:17), this is an indispensable situation. Anyone who protests too quickly and in too Protestant a manner should be asked whether or not they are defending cheap grace. In fact the two statements , if they remain juxtaposed, will not offend the true faith, but if each is take alone it would cause serious offense. Only the believers obey - that is said to the obedient person inside the believer. Only the obedient believe - that is said to the believer in their obeying. If the first statement remains alone, the believer is prey to cheap grace, that is, damnation. If the second statement stands alone, the believers are prey to their works, that is, damnation.

The more I read Bonhoeffer the more I see the need for being connected to others who walk along this way of Jesus. Self-deception will win us over every time we attempt to go alone for no one ever goes alone along this way. The Lord of the Church leads "us." Sure we may sing "he leadeth me" but it there is no one walking with us that has no meaning. A lone Christian is an impossibility - except to him/her self. The tension held up between the two sentences underlined in the above quote throw us into a tension in which we must give up the notion of one or the other "faith or works". Rather we are thrown into the moment of life that comes upon us at the call of Jesus. Does the call come again if we stay back and contemplate the meaning of life and what it would be to follow Jesus? Of course! The call to follow continues to be an invitation into life. Faith and action become one experience. There is not the need to have "enough faith" to act and there is not the need to act to prove that one has faith. I suppose this means that no one else can judge my stance or my action. The call is directed to me. I am called to act. I am called to trust the one who calls. In the midst of all that, each of us finds out that there is a community that forms around such tension and life - the church.

Connection: Today will be just what is promised - an opportunity to be the followers of Jesus. We will each enter that way differently - and yet, in faith and through our action, we enter it together.

Take us by the hand, O God, and stir up our hearts that will will see the day unfold within your invitation to come and walk within a life that holds the promises of your Reign. Amen.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

18 October 2006

The discussion about obedience and call continues - from "Discipleship" by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

...the gracious call of Jesus Christ to discipleship becomes a strick law: Do this! Stop that! Come out of the boat to Jesus! Jesus says to anyone who uses their faith or lack of faith to excuse their acts of disobedience to his call: First obey, do the external works, let go of what binds you, give up what is separating you from God's will! Do not say, I do not have the faith for that. You will not have it so long as you remain disobedient, so long as you will not take the first step Do not say, I have faith so I do not have to take the first step. You do not have faith, because and so long as you will not take that first step.

Sounds like law doesn't it. To some that is the worst thing in the world. And yet, the call to come and follow Jesus does mean we follow...we go...we take that first step. I'm one who always defines repentance (turning around) as turning to that which call us. When we repent we "get on board the train that's a-coming." We hear and see the life within the Reign of God - the Good News - and we turn to grab hold and go with it. I have this view because in my history, repentance was simply a word of "Stop doing that!" In essence there was nothing beyond that - simply stop doing that or don't do that anymore. There was no Good News. Or...maybe, there was Good News but it was so under-played that I never heard it. Well, when I heard it, it had the power to pull and bring life. It is a power that shouts out, "Get on board...let's go!" Having said all of that, we do let go. We are called to stop clinging to that which demanded the attention and devotion of our lives. Could this be the obedience of faith!?!

Connection: The power that keeps us just as we are is quite powerful and it make tremendous sense - good old commoon sense, some would say. But in this day, we will be called to live within that Good News domain that may appear to be quite a bit of non-sense.

By your grace, O God, you take us by the hand and lead us into the life within your Reign. When we pull back and turn away from you to go our own way, do not forsake us. By the power of the Holy Spirit, touch our hearts so that we may see the brilliant light of your love and turn around to walk within it. Amen.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

17 October 2007

Again, Bonhoeffer writes of the external work of taking the first step in following Jesus.

...the external works have to take place; we have to get into the situation of being able to believe. We have to take the first step. What does that mean? It means that we take this step in the right way only when we do not look to the necessity of our works, but solely with a view to the word of Jesus Christ, which calls us to take the step. Peter knows that he cannot climb out of the boat (and across the water) by his own power. His first step would already be his downfall, so he calls, "Command me to come to you on the water." Christ answers, "Come." Christ has to have called; the step can be taken only at his word. This is his grace, which calls us out of death into the new life of obedience. But now that Christ has called, Peter has to get out of the boat to come to Christ. So it is, indeed, the case that the first step of obedience is itself an act of faith in Christ's word.

How many times have I tried to get out of the boat on my own - do you know that situation in your life? I can do this...I can handle this...I will take this on and get it done. And yet, we are not called into the life of Jesus according to what we can or cannot do. If that was the case, nothing would be new and everything would run according to the way things have always been run. That step out of the boat means I'm going down - sinking. And yet, when we are called to follow Jesus, the way has already been set...Jesus is already ahead of us on the water and it is not my ability to do some water dance that keeps me afloat, it is that call to come to where Jesus is - already. But when we are not taking about boats and Peter, the whole story turns to us. The great fear about taking that step is that we have never been there previously. It is out of our domain. The promise is that when we go...when we follow, the Christ who calls will make all things happen. In this story, Peter eventually sinks when he sees what he is doing through the eyes of what he knows he can do. Sinking down in our lives can be a frightening experience - something we try to avoid. And yet, Jesus calls us out to follow him along a way we cannot comprehend completely. What will it bring? What happens when we become water-walkers - followers of the one who will go to the cross? I may just change how the day ahead of us turns around and looks at everything quite differently than in the boat or sinking beneath the waves.

Connection: The community of the church can be the environment that enables us to discern how we are stepping out within our lives. Is it under our own power to control and conquer and keep things as we know them...or...is it because we are being called forth within a new purpose that takes on the form of the cross?

When we are able to control what will happen to us, O Lord, we fall down for we really are not able to do what we promise ourselves. Remind us to look up to you and listen to your call that bids us to live beyond ourselves and yet always within your promise for life. Amen.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

16 October 2006

My records show that Friday's devotion did not go out even though I recall what I wrote about the piece by Bonhoeffer. Odd what stress and grief can do to one's memory. So today we continue with obedience and believing and the strange tension in which we find ourselves.

Only the obedient believe. A concrete commandment has to be obeyed, in order to come to believe. A first step of obedience has to be taken, so that faith does not become pious self-deception, cheap grace. The first step is crucial. It is qualitatively different from all others that follow. The first step of obedience has to lead Peter away from his nets and out of the boat; it has to lead the young man away from his wealth. Faith is possible only in this new state of existence created by obedience.

My mother died and we buried her ashes this past June. It was an observable fact - she was no longer at the other end of the phone - her e-mail would bring no reply - the house was up for sale. Usually people will say, "Life must go on!" But does life go on if there is dis-belief? I suppose another way to ask that question is "What kind of life goes on when we try to live within dis-belief?" This weekend up in Cleveland - my first trip back up to the hometown - was a clear situation of dis-belief and I didn't even know I was living in that empty place. Life...was going forward...wasn't it? And yet, much to my surprise, in some way I was trying to live without stepping forward into new life. I have been living as though death was not real and life could be as it always has been. If you would have asked me that a week ago I would have disagreed and said I have stepped beyond that power of death. But with tears flowing as freely as the rain falling on the umbrella as I stood at the grave of my father and mother, I realized that I wasn't only holding onto that umbrella. I was holding onto what was...I was holding onto my mother. I was staying in the boat. I was clutching onto my prized possession. I was living in dis-belief - un-faith. In other words, I was attempting to live as though I was in control of life - of what is and what was and what will be.
Jesus invites me - and all of us - to take that step into new life where Jesus is Lord, even when we don't think we need to be stepping anywhere at all! How am I to take the next steps in following Jesus after my mother's death if I have not been willing to take the first one. I was holding on so tightly to what was, my body is literally sore today - two days after that gravesite visit. Saying good bye in the middle of that gravesite rain has made me realize how hard it is to let go of what is so beloved and risk what will come.
The promise is for new life. The new life will be just that..."new." What I will need to learn along the way is how I will view this great gift given to me in my mother even as I go ahead and follow the one who calls me into a life I have yet experience. Dis-belief is not easily turned into belief. It takes a real step...a real turning...a real release. Then, in that new life the promise is for life that will bring forth life beyond my control and expectations. That is a helpful way for me to understand just how my mother will be returned to me - fresh, new, a gift that only comes as I let go and take the next steps within the Reign that is promised today and always.

Connection: The discipline of stepping is not always easy. It is always necessary. I wonder what will be within the next steps that will be taken today. What will yours be?

Come, Lord, Jesus, and be the life that brings peace in the midst of the storms that rage around us even when we are unaware of their presence. Amen.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

13 October 2006

More on following the call by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

The first step puts the follower into the situation of being able to believe. If people do not follow, they remain behind, then they do not learn to believe. Those called must get out of their situations, in which they cannot believe, into a situation in which faith can begin. This step has no intrinsic worth of its own; it is justified only by the community with Jesus Christ that is attained. As long as Levi sits in the tax collector's booth and Peter at his nets, they would do their work honestly and loyally, they would have old or new knowledge about God. But if they want to learn to believe in God, they have to follow the Son of God incarnate and walk with him.

This has nothing to do with being "left behind" like the series of books that try to make something of the way the authors interpret scripture. The step to which Bonhoeffer refers is simply the act of following. It would be what is traditionally called the power of the Holy Spirit that pulls us beyond our ways and our demands. As we all know, there can be any number of things in our lives that keep us in a state of what we perceive as comfort. This is the place in which we generally know where the day will go and how we will fit in and how we will be able to move it in our way and according to our desires. And yet, to take that step to follow Jesus, we move outside everything that is so easily used as an excuse to be just where we are and no place else. I especially like the note that this step has no "intrinsic worth of its own." It is simply what the call of Jesus creates. We are pulled into it and we move trusting that it will become our way.

Connection: Take the step...make the leap. Who knows what will take place when we take the next step!?!

When you move us, O God, you stir us up so that we can go beyond ourselves and take in the domain of your grace that transforms all things. We give you thanks for this daily gift. Amen.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

12 October 2006

This is the final day to look at part three of Bonhoeffer's reflections on a parable.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." and Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, " Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:57-62).
The third one called, like the first, understands discipleship as an offer made only by him, as his own self-chosen program for life. But in contrast to the first, he thinks he is justified in setting his own conditions... He wants to follow, but he wants to set his own conditions for following.

Noted in a footnote, it says in Bonhoeffer's book Creation and Fall, "the expression 'Let me first...,' is used to characterize a potential disciple's fleeing into mere possibility of following Jesus." This possibility of doing something first makes the reality of following not a reality. For first, there are conditions. What will that say about later...will there be more conditions. Also, we must consider that the call to follow is the only reality within the Reign of God. If there are to be prerequisites then how do we come around to the way of following Jesus. How many conditions will be put on us before we follow? In this third disciple there is voice I hear in myself when I know the way to go and yet I come up with one, or two, or a whole basket full of things that must be done first. When these are met...when I am in the right place....when the conditions are fitting...then I will follow. Unfortunately, conditions keep us from catching the train or the chariot or taking up our cross. I find this whole parable a hard saying when I allow myself to hear me in each of the roles and speaking from my own predicament and in my own voice.

Connection: What agenda today is standing in the way of being a part of that gracious Reign that bids us to come and live?

We are a people who hesitate and want to control the way in which we move through our lives. By the power of your Holy Spirit, O God, stir up our hearts that we will act and move and face what is promised when we do leave all things to follow you. Amen.

11 October 2006

This is day two of Bonhoeffer's comments on a familiar parable.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." and Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, " Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:57-62).
The second disciple...knows what he wants to do and has to do. First he must fulfill the law; then he will follow. Here a clear command of the law stands between the one called and Jesus. Jesus' call forcefully challenges this gap. Under no circumstances is anything permitted to come between Jesus and the one called, even that which is greatest and holiest, even the law.

Bonhoeffer goes on to say that "Jesus here opposes the law and bids the man follow him." Remember this is not a suggestion that the law can be thrown out. Rather the radical call of Jesus is the last word. It is grace beyond anyone's comprehension. As we have heard previously, the call comes before any act of obedience to the law. The call demand obedience to whatever will be the way Jesus calls us to go. It is that call into the gracious Reign of God that comes before any attempt to fulfill a law - no matter how strong and central that law may be. It is like the first commandment that first states the ground of all the commandments: I am the Lord, your God. From that point on, the only reality is the one in which God is Lord of all. So to with this call of Jesus. Everything must be viewed from the life that is and will be shaped by Jesus. Fulfilling the law - doing what is thought to be right - will always pull us away from the gracious call of Jesus and when doing the right thing according to the law pulls us, there is no following that will take place. Next, there will be another rule or law to fulfill and the call is put on hold.

Connection: We are a called people. We live within a new reality and we are invited to make that our day. That call may run in a different direction than the way we have always thought is the way we must go no matter what.

Be for us a Light, O God. A light that will show us the way when we are pulled to move away from you. Bring us into your Reign and empower us to walk and live within this domain. Amen.

10 October 2006

Today is day one in three comments about following Jesus as Bonhoeffer turns to the following parable.

Then they went on to another village. As they were going along the road, someone said to him, "I will follow you wherever you go." and Jesus said to him, "Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head." To another he said, "Follow me." But he said, " Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus said to him, "Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for your, go and proclaim the kingdom of God." Another said, "I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home." Jesus said to him, "No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God" (Luke 9:57-62).
The first disciple took the initiative to follow Jesus. He was not called and Jesus' answer shows the enthusiastic man that he does not know what he is doing. He cannot know at all.

Bonhoeffer says that Jesus answer to this person shows the disciple the reality of life with Jesus. It is a demonstration of the way of following - a following that goes with this Lord, right to the cross. This person quite literally called himself. "It looks like a good thing to do. Maybe by following this Jesus I will become a teacher like him or a wise person or a healer. This could be very good!" And yet, it is not the call of Jesus that brings him forward. Would this one be following Jesus? No. This person is following his/her ideas and visions and plans for the way things will be. Bonhoeffer makes the point that the "free offer of discipleship and real discipleship remains wide open. For us, it is quite important that as we consider this call to follow Jesus through our baptism or through a call we experienced in our life that led to the life within the gathering of saints called the church, we take note of what the way is to be. Following Jesus according to what we want following to be is most often quite off the mark. We may be following, but it is not Jesus. Jesus calls us to follow him. To this person - and to all of us - Jesus tries to spell out the way so that we will come to see our call as one by the Lord...and it means come along the way of the Lord - alone.

Connection: One of the hardest things for me to deal with are those times when I see that I am choosing to follow the way I would like to follow. I forget the way of Jesus within the day and who knows what path I turn down for what I think is my own good...my own call.

You have called us to follow your beloved, Jesus, and to walk along his way. So often we come prepared to walk as we would walk and therefore attempt to turn the way of the cross into a way that will fit us best. By the power of your Holy Spirit pull us along your way in this day. Amen.

Monday, October 9, 2006

9 October 2006

We begin this week continuing with Dietrich Bonhoeffer's writing on "Discipleship."

So the call to discipleship is a commitment solely to the person of Jesus Christ, a breaking through all legalisms by the grace of him who calls. It is a gracious call, a gracious commandment. It is beyond enmity between law and gospel. Christ calls; the disciple follows. That is grace and commandment in one. "I walk joyfully, for I seek your command" (Psalm 119:45).

I like to use the language of a new reality. This call by the person of Jesus is a call to us to enter into the new reality that is "following Jesus" or discipleship. There are many other ways of living that pull us and demand our attention and attempt to convince us of their importance and necessity. And yet, when Jesus calls us to follow, everything about is is taken up and graciously lifted into a whole new way of living. I may remain a teacher or a business person, but I am a follower of Jesus. I will live within the joy and freedom of that reality as I teach and interact with others through the business I do. Following Jesus shapes our lives. It is not a path that has marks we must reach in order to follow...marks by which we are to be judged and scored along the way. Rather, the reality of following Jesus brings into all the events of our lives a vision that is shaped by the gracious call of Jesus. There is no coercion. There is no threat. This is invitation and then the one who invites goes before us showing us the way - we follow.

Connection: When Jesus goes before us, it is so that our going out into all that we do will have the flavor of his leading. Fresh in his tracks of doing the will of God, we continue on through the day within the realm of that same will. By following Jesus today, we stayed focused on the will that make this day a new reality.

When you lead us, O God, take us through this day and remind us of the many ways your Reign unfolds for us. Too often we do not look up and see that you go before us and therefore, our day does not reflect the new life you have promised for all your followers. Amen.

Friday, October 6, 2006

6 October 2006

We continue with the action of following Jesus - discipleship - with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Going after him (Jesus) is something without specific content. It is truly not a program for one's life which would be sensible to implement. It is neither a goal nor an ideal to be sought. It is not even a matter for which, according to human inclination, it would be worth investing anything at all, much less oneself. And what happens? Those called leave everything they have, not in order to do something valuable. Instead, they do it simply for the sake of the call itself, because otherwise they could not walk behind Jesus. Nothing of importance is attached to this action in itself. It remains something completely insignificant, unworthy of notice. The bridges are simply torn down, and the followers simply move ahead. They are called away and are supposed to "step out" of the previous existence, that are supposed to "exist" in the strict sense of the word.

The call has an impact on our whole life - our existence. I am often afraid that when people read these lessons about the call of Jesus' disciples that folk will take that to mean that they are called into the ministry of serving as a pastor or a some other kind of rostered leader in the church. But rather, it has to do with being called into that whole life existence of following Jesus. Following will take many shapes of work and skill - but it will be known most for the authentic life that give ground and purpose and worth to whatever is being accomplished. Jesus calls us into a "way." It may be that it brings to us a whole new way of seeing...of relating...of walking alongside the world in which we live. Within the call to follow Jesus is nothing more than the next step within our lives. And yet, within that step is the transformation of all things for now we walk outside of ourselves and within the adventure of that call. From that point, we look forward to where Jesus walks and we follow. Where that will take me...or you...is not known in specifics - as in a plan of attack. Rather, we begin each day with the call beckoning us to step forward and come to life in the way of Jesus.

Connection: The call to follow Jesus will be wrapped up within this day. Keep awake. Watch how things unfold and as we all keep in mind the Christ of God, Jesus, the day will present itself with new life.

O God of All Days, we can so easily become overwhelmed with just the day at hand. Remind us of your presence and repeat your call to us so that in your voice we will hear an assurance that makes even this day - that may have looked worthless - as a day of new life. Amen.

Wednesday, October 4, 2006

5 October 2006

More on Discipleship from Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

What is said about the content of discipleship? Follow me, walk behind me! That is all.

We will pick up with what comes next tomorrow. As for now, this is enough...maybe too much. Follow me!?! How quickly I want to ask what that means...what will be the cost...how much of the way things have been will I be able to continue doing...etc? And yet, there is never a time for discussion after Jesus says, "Follow me." In fact, when there are questions and doubts and debates, Jesus is already moving on and those who do not take the step...walk behind him are...missing out on the journey within the Reign of God. What we want to hole onto to...all of us...no matter how big or little it may be...is hell compared to the promise. I find this beyond my comprehension. And yet, that is the point!!! This way of Jesus is beyond our comprehension otherwise we would simply receive it as teaching and argument and rules for change rather than something new - like being born again...an odd image.

Connection: Whose leading the way today!?

Come, Lord, Jesus, lead us through this day and into the experience of the unfolding of your Reign. Amen.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

4 October 2006

We move today to Bonhoeffer's discussion of the Call to Discipleship.

"As Jesus was walking along, he saw Levi son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, 'Follow me.' And he got up and followed him." (Mark 2:14)

The call goes out, and without any further ado the obedient deed of the one called follows. The disciple's answer is not a spoken confession of faith in Jesus. Instead, it is the obedient deed. How is this direct relation between call and obedience possible? It is quite offensive to natural reason. Reason is impelled to reject the abruptness of the response. It seeks something to mediate it; it seeks an explanation...
But the text is stubbornly silent on this point; in it, everything depends on call and deed directly facing each other. The text is not interested in psychological explanations for the faithful decisions of a person. Why not? Because there is only one good for the proximity of call and deed: Jesus Christ himself.

Levi got up. Levi got up and followed. Was there a time of deliberation and debate about whether this was an appropriate act? The story simply gives us the kernel of the event. Call...deed. They are not two actions. It is one reality. When Jesus, the Christ of God calls, we are within the realm of a whole new world and new life. Do we live within it...do we follow? Or do we stay in place and contemplate whether it is the best thing to do? The story says we go...we follow...we take the step. It is not about us and what we have been able to put together so that it makes sense to us. It is all about the Reign of God - at hand - now. If we are there in that domain, we reflect it because we trust that it is indeed a call from the one we call Lord. We are being called - all of us - into a life. That means action...that means movement...that means discipline...that means a vision...that means leaping beyond what we control and living within that which Jesus sets before us. The call and the deed.

Connection: So as followers of Jesus, what do we know about what that means as we hit the road today. Is it simply a sweet kiss on the cheek that says do what ever you want because you will be always be my beloved....or does it mean that we are beloved...so be beloved. There is quite a bit of life packed within that gracious status.

When we fall down, O Lord, you are there to pick us up - that is a promise. And yet, before we have anything over which we trip, you are there also, bidding us to come and follow. Let your promised Spirit of life shine on us so we may take part in the life that is promise and reality. Amen.

Monday, October 2, 2006

3 October 2006

Today's quote again comes from Bonhoeffer in "Discipleship" - again he distinguishes between cheap and costly grace.

When Faust says at the end of his life of seeking knowledge, "I see that we can know nothing," then that is a conclusion, a result. It is something entirely different than when a student repeats this statement in the first semester to justify his laziness (Kierkegaard). Used as a conclusion, the sentence is true; as a presupposition, it is self-deception. That means that knowledge cannot be separated from the existence in which it was acquired. Only those who in following Christ leave everything they have can stand and say that they are justified solely by grace. They recognized the call to discipleship itself as grace and grace as that call. But those who want to use this grace to excuse themselves from discipleship are deceiving themselves.

These illustrations are so helpful when it comes to trying to explain how grace can be considered cheap or costly. In one case, the race has been run...the journey taken on...the path followed and all that matters is the promise that was giving from the very first day - beloved are you. In such a case as this, within the realm of this grace, we risk to be who we are and to be the one beloved of God. In the other, we dare not live or risk or leap because there is no use to it - life is as we have it and want it...there is no need to experience what is not already in hand. The graciousness of our God in Christ, Jesus, is the power that grabs our heart and convinces us of a life to live that may take us beyond anything we would consider for ourselves. We follow Jesus because we see clearly the way Jesus goes and where he bids us to come. That will always take us outside of our self-centered world and into new life - unknown for now...but bursting open before us.

Connection: There is someone in need around us - what do we do. We could say we need not do anything because we do not need to do anything to live within the gracious realm of God. Then again, we can also turn that around and say because we live within this gracious realm of God we will respond to the need of those around us.

Come, Lord, Jesus, and be the one who guides our daily routines so that we find joy in the simple ways that your grace takes us and shapes us and uses the events of our lives as opportunities to follow you alone. Amen.

2 October 2006

After a retreat and some illness, it is back to Dietrich Bonhoeffer on grace.

I am liberated from following Jesus - by cheap grace, which has to be the bitterest enemy of discipleship, which has to hate and despise true discipleship. Grace as presupposition is grace at its cheapest; grace as a conclusion is costly grace. It is appalling to see what is at stake in the way in which a gospel truth is expressed and used. It is the same word of the justification by grace alone, and yet false use of the same statement can lead to the complete destruction of its essence.

Grace pulls us into the life of following - discipleship. If everything is simply thought of as white washed before we even act...as though we can go ahead and act as we please because we are justified by grace...then we will not follow Jesus. We will follow whatever we want to follow. One of the aspects of protestantism that has done us no good at all is a sense of rejection of discipline - following. Cheap grace has nothing to do with calling us to follow Jesus. It is a pronouncement made to us that seems to say "now go your own way...you have been saved." And yet, we are never called to go our own way. To do that is nothing more than idolatry - my way and my views and my life becomes the god to which I bow down. Costly grace encourages us to come and follow Jesus and to be bold about that following. It is not something that "let's us off the hook." Rather it is the power that see us through to the cross...and new life.

Connection: When grace is seen as something that is all about me...it is very easy to forget about the way of life Jesus calls us to walk. The power of the Good News is that we are freed up from our self centered ways and able to consider and enter the many ways of living in relationship to others in a way that is guided by the love of God. It is still a strange discipline.

Again we ask that you, O Lord of Life, be the encouragement of this day so that as we walk along the way of your beloved, Jesus, we will be find within our lives the joy of being a gift to others and we will also enjoy the gifts of life freely given to us by others. It makes us a community of great expectation and freedom. Amen.