Monday, November 28, 2011

The Practice Of Discipline

John Wesley's great gift to posterity was the practice of mutual accountability within a framework of the disciplined practice of the faith. In the face of an apostate church, Dietrich Bonhoeffer came to understand that the roots of discipleship lie in discipline. Writing in a Lutheran context, there could have been fewer things more shocking than both to discover then to insist that to be a Christian believer means to be a follower, that this following is not this thing or that thing, but quite specific things, rooted in the call and Christ to follow, always knowing the cross lies before us.

The Cost of Discipleship is a marvelous little work to be reading at Advent. Part of preparing our lives for the coming of the Messiah is recalling, and making that memory a living thing in our own daily round, that we, like those folks so long ago, were all waiting. In a world beset by the dual tyrannies of Rome and the apostate King Herod, a world where the slightest whisper of holiness of heart and life was understood as a threat, a time when God seemed silent, the only way to be sure one was being faithful seemed to be a persistent practice of piety not as an end in itself, but as a means toward union with God.

We flail and flutter about, seeking ways to breathe the Spirit in to moribund churches. We mourn the sense of loss, the lack of any direction, the inability to sense any hope in our common life. We rail against the stupidity and corruption of our leaders. We mourn preventable deaths that the powerful insist are necessary; human sacrifice continues to be practiced in the name of economic efficiency, but that doesn't make it any less human sacrifice.

So, our times really aren't that different.

Except for this.

We Christians already know the end of the story.*

If we in the Church are floundering and flailing and moaning and whining and feel hopeless and lost, we are forgetting that this whole Advent season should be reminding us that God is on the Way, because God, in Christ, has already been here. When we recall this together, we are already beginning the process of discipleship. As we move through this season to the celebration of the birth of Jesus, we do it together. In this daily movement, we hold one another up, recall one another to the life of love and service that is the way of he Christ child. As we feel others around us reminding us of our duty to continue to follow even as the world around us seems insistent that such following leads nowhere, we should be thankful to the call to surrender our lives, together with those who have gone before us as witnesses, to those who are with us on the Way, hoping against hope that even now, in the midst of all the troubles, we can see that single candle so we do not have to curse the darkness.

Discipleship exists in the tension between the individual and the community. This Advent season is a nice time to recall that tension, and that it serves us all well through mutual reinforcement. The Way isn't easy. But, we aren't alone. In the midst of the dust and dirt and sense of loss, we should still be able to see the tiny baby who leads us.

*I'm stealing this from Lisa's sermon yesterday. I hope she doesn't mind.

Virtual Tin Cup

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