“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
Matthew 5:13-16 (NIV)
I wonder if you’ve heard of this very significant figure?
Born in 1906, Bonhoeffer was a theologian and church leader in Germany
When Hitler came to power in 1933, Bonhoeffer became a leading spokesman for the Confessing Church. The Confessing church in Germany were a group who saw Hitler and the Nazis as dangerous and at completer odds with the teaching of Jesus
He organized and for a time led the underground college of the Confessing Church, training church leaders. Although he originally believed that Christians should always obey the laws of the land they live in, he came to believe that to do so was sometimes the right choice—when governments were so unjust and evil—they had to be opposed.
In 1939 his brother-in-law introduced him to a group planning the overthrow of Hitler, and he made significant contributions to their work. After several years helping the Jews and resisting the Nazis he was arrested in April 1943 and imprisoned in Berlin. After the failure of the attempt on Hitler's life in April 1944, he was sent to a severe prison camp.
His life was spared at first, because he had a relative who stood high in the government; but then this relative was himself implicated in anti-Nazi plots. On Sunday 8 April 1945, he had just finished conducting a service of worship in the prison, when two soldiers came in, saying, "Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us,"
This was the standard summons to a condemned prisoner.
As he left, he said to another prisoner, "This is the end -- but for me, the beginning -- of life." He was hanged the next day, less than a week before the Allies reached the prison camp
He never compromised his faith in God—he was truly distinctive. Standing against the Nazi’s and their hatred even to the point of giving his life.
A few years before he was executed he wrote what’s been his most widely read work—’The Cost of Discipleship.’
I wonder when he wrote that book if he had even an inkling of what the cost might mean for him?
Like many Christians today, Bonhoeffer understood that we are all disciples, we’re all apprentices, learners, following Jesus. We may have different roles and different gifts, but Jesus calls us all to be a disciple.
In his book, ‘The Cost of Discipleship’ Bonhoeffer writes about how we should be distinctive, how we should be salt and light, bringing out the taste of a fully human life and illuminating the darkness with the light of Christ.
Bonhoeffer talks a great deal about a word which takes on a specific meaning for the Christian—that word is grace. And grace is the unconditional love God has for us. Grace is love which cannot be earned, only received as a gift
Grace is most clearly seen on the cross, where Jesus died, where he paid the price so that we don’t have to. Grace is what God offers to us as a gift—and we receive that gift when we choose to follow Jesus.
Bonhoeffer writes about something he calls cheap grace: Here’s a quote from his book:
‘Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church community, Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.”
Bonhoeffer, writing more than 70 years ago said that so many Christians understand that God loves them, that Jesus died and rose again for them, but that it doesn’t seem to make a difference to their lives.
Grace, the love God has for us, should be transformative. If it’s not then it doesn’t change anything—it’s cheap.
In comparison, we have costly grace—which is actually what we find in the pages of the Bible and in fact on the lips of Jesus when he calls people to let go of all that holds them back and to follow him.
Grace, he says, should be costly—it cost the very life of God’s own son. It’s not something we should take for granted but rather it’s something to be treasured and responded to.’
He makes the point that :
when Jesus called his disciples, it meant that faith “can no longer mean sitting still and waiting — they must rise and follow him. ‘
So what does it mean for us?
Well, in essence it’s understanding that we’ve been blessed by God to be a blessing to others; that a Christian life is lived distinctively for the good of others. We may not be called to give our lives as Bonhoeffer did, but we are called to make a difference in the places we are.
· If someone was to accuse you of being a Christian, what evidence might your life give?
· What can you do to live more distinctively to be bringer of peace and hope in your life?
· What can our church do to show God’s grace more clearly?
See www.thisisdiscipleship.org.uk for more about following Jesus today
Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. 12 The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.
13 “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 14 After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. 15 So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. 16 He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything.
17 “When he came to his senses, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! 18 I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. 19 I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired servants.’ 20 So he got up and went to his father.
“But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. 21 “The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22 “But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23 Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. 24 For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.
25 “Meanwhile, the older son was in the field. When he came near the house, he heard music and dancing. 26 So he called one of the servants and asked him what was going on. 27 ‘Your brother has come,’ he replied, ‘and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has him back safe and sound.’
28 “The older brother became angry and refused to go in. So his father went out and pleaded with him. 29 But he answered his father, ‘Look! All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. 30 But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!’ 31 “‘My son,’ the father said, ‘you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. 32 But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”
Typically, a son would receive his inheritance at the time of his father's death. The fact that the younger brother instigated the early division of the family estate showed a rebellious and proud disregard for his father, not to mention a selfish and immature attitude.
Pigs were unclean animals. Jews were not even allowed to touch pigs. When the son took a job feeding pigs, even longing for their food to fill his belly, it reveals that he had fallen as low as he could possibly go.
This son represents a person living in rebellion to God. Sometimes we have to hit rock-bottom before we come to our senses and recognize where we are in life.
The father is a picture of the Heavenly Father. God waits patiently, with loving compassion to restore us when we return to him with humble hearts. He offers us everything in his kingdom, restoring full relationship with joyful celebration. He doesn't dwell on our past waywardness at all.
Reading from the beginning of chapter 15, we see that the older son is a picture of the Pharisees, a first century group of religious legalists. In their self-righteousness, they have forgotten to rejoice when a someone turns to God. Bitterness and resentment keep the older son from forgiving his younger brother. It blinds him to the treasure he freely enjoys through constant relationship with the father.
Questions for Reflection:
As you think about the questions below look also at the picture below. This is Rembrandt’s interpretation of the moment when the son has returned home. Look carefully at all the figures, at the attention to detail and how light is used.
Consider the following after re-reading he story and studying the picture
Who are you in this story? Are you the rebellious son, lost and far from God?
Are you the self-righteous elder son, no longer capable of rejoicing when a sinner returns to God?
Maybe you've hit rock-bottom, come to your senses and decided to run to God's open arms of compassion and mercy?
Or are you one of the servants in the household, rejoicing with the father when a lost son finds his way home?
What characteristics of the Father in the parable do you think reflect God’s character? To build relationships you need to spend time together.
What can we do to spend more time with God to build our relationship with him?
1 Corinthians 12: 12-31
Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit so as to form one body—whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 14 Even so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
15 Now if the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason stop being part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body.21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honourable we treat with special honour. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 28 And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues]? Do all interpret? 31 Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
As individuals, we tend to take our bodies for granted. We do not think about how the various parts of the human body are interdependent- that is they work together and allow us through our senses to experience the joy of life. If you could only see a play and not hear the dialogue, would you not have missed a huge part of the experience?
Few of us get up in the morning thinking about how are circulation system works. It just does and we are grateful. We only begin to think about our individual bodies when they begin to break down on us and we need to adjust to restrictions these new physical limitations place on our freedom to act.
It is the same for families and larger communities like towns or countries. As individuals we smell, talk, think, look and act differently to each other. Our trouble begins when more then one of us has to share the same room. This might be a husband and wife who are sharing a lifelong covenant with each other- for better or worse. It could be a young brother and sister who really had no choice in the selection of their parents or siblings for that matter. When you become a community of individuals, all of whom think and respond differently, your bound to run into tension between members about how to share that room, be it a kitchen, country, community or idea.
It was the same in the early Church. The early Christian converts heard the message of Jesus’ Gospel spoken by Paul and they struggled to live its truth in unity with each other’s diversity.
Some Christians seemed to believe (and some still do) that being part of the Church is an individual matter and is not essentially bound to life with others.
This is such a shame because God has made us all special and of infinite value, and urges us to share our gifts and talents with those around us.
Being part of any community isn’t easy. It does need some effort and some work, all relationships do.
Let’s remember that the church is not a building; it is not a program; it is not an institutional bureaucracy. The church is people in relationship, it’s a family—It’s us struggling to live in community with each other, empowered by the Holy Spirit to live out the life of Jesus in and for the world today.
If our building or our community were to disappear tomorrow, the living Body of Jesus Christ, his church would carry on. You and I would be there striving to do our part because we know that our Unity in Christ is enough to sustain all of our human failings and predicaments. It is not fickle, faddish, or popular. It gives us the strength to share our talents and join in with the work of Christ in the world. That’s what we’re here for—to be the body of Christ—his hands and feet in a fractured world, working to make all things new.
So, something to think about…….
What does it mean for you to be part of the Body of Christ?
The truth is you are unique; and uniquely gifted to play a part in the work of this church family and we’re not the same without you!—What part can you play as we seek to grow closer together and reach out to a world in need?
But now, in King Jesus, you have been brought near in the king’s blood—yes, you, who used to be a long way away! He is our peace, you see. He has made the two to be one. He has pulled down the barrier, the dividing wall, that turns us into enemies of each other. He has done this in his flesh, by abolishing the law with its commands and instructions.
The point of doing all this was to create, in him, one new human being out of the two, so making peace. God was reconciling both of us to himself in a single body, through the cross, by killing the enmity in him.
He has pulled down the barrier, the dividing wall, that turns us into enemies of each other
Wow! Creating one new human being out of two (Jews and Gentiles in the context of Ephesians). One new human family, a forever family, created by King Jesus when people find their allegiance in Him rather than in the earthly families or realities to which many align themselves.
An older Christian I know well describes a scene when, back in the 1970s, he was invited to attend a small group hosted by a couple named Bob and Win. It was a time when many young people (who are now much older) were dissatisfied with the established church and were looking for something else. Bob and Win invited them to their house for Bible study.
Forever Family. That was the name of the group. These wandering souls had found something new: a gathering of people who focused their allegiance around Jesus Christ and then tried to live this out in a community of people from all kinds of backgrounds.
It was a family; it was a ‘forever family’ because these people found that their earthly family boundaries were much bigger when you have a group of people now identified by their allegiance to their mutual Father in heaven.
Here’s some more of chapter 2 (verses 17 to 22):
So the Messiah came and gave the good news. Peace had come! Peace, that is, for those of you who were a long way away, and peace, too, for those who were close at hand. Through him, you see, we both have access to the father in the one spirit. This is the result. You are no longer foreigners or strangers. No: you are fellow-citizens with God’s holy people. You are members of God’s household. You are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with King Jesus himself as the cornerstone. In him the whole building is fitted together, and grows into a holy temple in the Lord. You, too, are being built up together, in him, into a place where God will live by the spirit.
The New Testament book of Ephesians then gives us a real insight into what church was always supposed to be, a family; a movement rather than an institution.
One of these people who was a part of that movement in the 1970s described herself: ‘I am a servant of Christ Jesus carefully disguised as a machine operator in a machine shop’. She knew her allegiance and her mission. Her allegiance was to Christ. Her mission was to her co-workers.
Fast forward to 2017. The ‘established church’ has been found lacking by many people. In our day, there are many who may identify with Jesus but won’t identify with any formal church gathering.
This is what ‘The Gathering’ is all about and what the church here in Netherthong and the wider Holme Valley is seeking to become.
God has now created a new entity called the ‘family of God’ in whom His Spirit dwells. As such, we are now identified as brothers and sisters of each other. We live a new way in line with what King Jesus teaches, knowing that he has put this new body together in a way that is to bring about God’s way of reconciliation in a fractured world. The world is different because of the way these people (and others like them) live their lives. They, too, want to break down divisions among people through the work of the King and His big family.
While I love my earthly family, I am closer to them because of our ‘new family’ status in Jesus. The political affiliations are irrelevant; the economic status is irrelevant; the ethnic differences are irrelevant. We are one new body,representing King Jesus in a deeply divided world.
In his book Simply Christian, Tom Wright describes the Christian family this way:
‘The early Christians did their best to live as an extended family, caring for each other in the way in which (in that world) extended families did. They called each other “brother” and “sister” and really meant it. They lived and prayed and thought like that: children of the same father, following the same older brother, sharing goods and resources where need arose. When they talked about “love,” that’s the main thing they meant: living as a single family, a mutually supporting community. The church must never forget that calling.’
Let’s work together to make that even more of a reality here in the Holme Valley in 2017! Let’s choose to gather together regularly, develop true community and make a difference to the world we live in!