Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The Cost of Discipleship

My prayer life has been largely shaped by the Bishop who ordained me - twice (I'm of an age that when I entered the ordained ministry in the United Methodist tradition, candidates were first ordained as Deacons, then as Elders; this is no longer the practice).  Bishop Rueben Job has edited three guides to prayer that have provided persistent shape and discipline to my prayer life for over 20 years.

The 2nd week in Lent is centered around the theme "the cost of discipleship" in two of the three books.  This theme always reminds me of Bishop Job because it is at the core of his faith and was a guiding principle in his leadership of the Iowa Annual Conference.  On this subject, he writes:
"Salvation is free, but the cost of discipleship is enormous.  I try to hide from the truth, but when I read the Gospels and seek to live in communion with God, I discover both parts of the statement are dead-center truth...In offering ourselves as fully as we can, we discover the cost of discipleship.  For to bind ourselves to Jesus Christ requires that we try to walk with him into the sorrows and suffering of the world.  Being bound to Jesus Christ, we see barriers broken down and we are led to places we have never seen before.  Having offered ourselves to Jesus Christ, we may expect to become the eyes, ears, voice and hands of Jesus Christ in the world and in the church.  The cost of salvation?  It is completely free and without cost.  The cost of discipleship?  Only our lives - nothing more and nothing less" (Guide to Prayer for All Who Seek God, p. 135-136). 
Bishop Job confesses his response to this truth is to hide. My confession is that I struggle hard to reverse this principle upon which a Gospel of Grace rests.  I become a theological contortionist in an effort to convince myself salvation has a cost that I can somehow earn, while further twisting myself into the notion that discipleship is voluntary - it's cost borne by the 'leftovers' of my time, energy and money.  However, once bound to the grace of Jesus Christ and yoked with brothers and sisters in service to a broken world, such contortion of the Gospel is both sinful and delusional...and each year at this time Rueben's soft, yet firm, voice reminds me with the same gravity of the words he spoke when laying hands on my head: "Take authority as an elder in the Church to preach the Word of God..."

But, here's the kicker (you knew one was coming)...it's been my observation that the longer we (laity and clergy) are involved in our churches and the structures they create...the longer our lists of offices held and boards served upon become...the greater the temptation to either hide or try that soteriological backflip of justification by works.

When it seems this temptation is about to win out, it happens...I encounter someone whose love for Jesus and passion for discovering more about their faith is so pure they hear the message of grace providing free salvation followed by a discipleship that demands nothing less than all they are as good news...which, of course, it is.  If it hasn't yet happened to you this Lent, my prayer for you is that, like me, God will bless your Lenten journey with a fellow traveler whose passion and faith are so sincere that our attempts to justify ourselves while defining the limits of our discipleship are revealed for what they are...mere selfishness.

"Salvation is free, but the cost of discipleship is enormous."

Pastor Jon

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