Welcome + Worship + Witness

The Rector: The Cost of Discipleship

The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
12 July 2020
10.30 Morning Service

Revd Nicholas Mercer

I was very taken by an article in the Daily Mail last week which had the heading, “There is nothing normal about the new normal”

The article made reference to Independence Day and contrasted the scenes of revelry in Soho with a wedding in St Anne’s Church, in Liverpool

As the commentator remarked about the wedding

“The bride and groom walked down the aisle watched by a mere couple of dozen guests, in compliance with government diktat.

That’s why the photo of the socially distanced wedding in Liverpool was so sad. The guidelines for holy matrimony are simply baffling, arbitrary and completely unnecessary”.

Whereas I don’t agree with the verdict of the journalist, I do share some of the sentiments about the Church service

Although it was lovely to be back in Church, we celebrated our first service of Holy Communion together on Sunday with a just a handful of guests

Socially distanced, unable to receive the sacrament and devoid of music, it was hard not to feel a sense of disappointment

It was certainly true to say that “there is nothing normal about the new normal”

Today the Gospel reading is about the calling of the first disciples

The story has always struck me as remarkable

The fishermen are, by all accounts, enjoying an unprecedented harvest of fish,

Indeed, it is so huge that it causes the boat to begin to sink

You might think that they would want to consolidate their business advantage and take their catch to market

Instead they bring their boats to shore and, as the Gospel tells us, “Then they left everything and followed him”

It provides an immense challenge to all of us as to what it means to “follow Christ” in our lives

At the time, a disciple of Christ was someone who moved around “with him” on his itinerant ministry

Today the word “disciple” generally means simply those who believe alone.

But irrespective of whether we fit the model of discipleship of the first or the twenty first century, being a disciple means a journey into the unknown

The first disciples had no idea what they were letting themselves in for

There was no way that they could have predicted what was going to unfold

The miraculous healing of the sick, the feeding of the five thousand, the battles with the Church authorities were all unforeseen and unpredictable

But matters were to get so much worse with the Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion only to be dramatically altered, again, by the Resurrection 

We tend to forget the Acts of the Apostles but this too was an integral part of their discipleship

Their new life, in the power of the Holy Spirit, meant that they then had to battle to establish and maintain Christ’s Church here on earth

Old or new, being a disciple is not easy

The life of a modern disciple is illustrated, dramatically, by the German Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer

A German Lutheran Pastor, he wrote a book in 1937 called “The Cost of Discipleship”

It was written after Nazism had taken its grip on Germany

The central premise of Bonhoeffer’s Book was that discipleship is not easy

He argued that there had been a tendency in modern secular society to cheapen God’s grace

As he put it: “cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without repentance, baptism without church discipline communion without confession 

He went on to say

Grace is costly because it compels a man to submit to the yoke of Christ and follow him”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer went on to practise what he preached

After fleeing to the United States in 1939 he realised he had made a mistake

His understanding of discipleship meant that he had to go back to confront the Nazi regime

He was, inevitably, arrested and was executed in the closing days of the war

He suffered a form of execution every bit as brutal as that of our Lord

Stripped naked, he was strangled by hanging at Flosenberg Concentration Camp on the 9th April 1945

The doctor who attended his execution said

“I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God”

Stories of such discipleship give a true perspective to our own troubles and tribulations

As modern disciples, we sometimes think that simply listening to Christ is all we are required to do

But as Bonhoeffer said, this cheapens God’s grace

Like the first disciples, when we chose to follow him, we simply did not know what would unfold when we made that decision

As Christian people at Bolton Abbey we have endured invasion, reformation, civil and world war

But we are still standing – in constancy and faith

Now we are asked to endure a pandemic with all the restrictions on our worship that it might entail

But seen through the prism of discipleship we are presented with a different picture

But no one ever said discipleship was easy, and if it was, God’s grace would be cheapened

As Bonhoeffer said “we are compelled to submit to the will of Christ and follow him”

The journalist may complain  

But the cost of being a disciple is that there is also “nothing normal about the new normal”

When you lay down your nets and follow him then expect your life to change, forever, and in ways you could never have predicted