Sunday, March 26, 2017

Lenten Journey- Sunday 4- Uncompromising

Things do exist that are worth standing up for without compromise. To me it seems that peace and social justice are such things,
as is Christ himself.
–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his brother

To compromise may be a brave thing to do in the right circumstances. But in others, we better not. The possibility might be that we would compromise our soul. Bonhoeffer was a very intense thinker. He did more mental and theological gymnastics to come to terms with things he felt were right- or wrong. As German culture and the German Church was descending into chaos and then the very center of hell itself under the Nazis, Bonhoeffer was shaken to his core by what was happening to the country he loved, the people he loved- and the church he loved. The quote above was made in a letter to his non-Christian brother when Bonhoeffer was organizing an illegal seminary, unapproved by the German Lutheran establishment. Dietrich was moving into dangerous territory and he knew it. Yet he had to do it.

Whether we agree with all his theological conclusions, or even begin to understand them from this perspective 75 years later, is not important. What is important is the challenge and the witness to what was important, essential, to being a Christian. These three could be in any order and make sense. But I think for Bonhoeffer he would put it this way.

As a professing Christian, he would insist on an
  • Uncompromising Christocentrism.
Jesus, to Bonhoeffer, had to be at the center of the faith. But this was not in some narrow “What Would Jesus Do?” kind of idea. It was far more radical than that. In Jesus, God was showing that humanity, which God created, was worth the time and effort to save! The Incarnation was essential to the Christian life in the broadest sense possible. It made no sense without it.

Because of this the second thing for a Christian is
  • Uncompromising discipleship.
He, of course wrote the classic book on that, Cost of Discipleship, which in its original German was simply Nachfolge, Following. In it he spoke of cheap versus costly grace. He did not see that we had to “pay” more to get grace- it was free. Rather, having received grace, we become willing to pay any price to follow Christ. We can do all kinds of our own theological gymnastics to try to understand, agree with, or argue with this. The point for me is that when I say I have received grace from the Creator, I have at that moment been called to live a particular kind of life. And then to live that life through everything I do. Easier said than done, but still the call!

The result of this in the Christian’s life is then
  • Uncompromising compassion.
One of the first things that caused Bonhoeffer so much pain was the treatment the Jews in Germany were beginning to receive. His social justice interest was formed in the United States where he found the deepest and most profound faith among the African-American Churches in the midst of the deeply rooted racism. When he saw the same things happening to the Jews, he stood up.

His was not a narrow Christianity. He did not limit compassion to those who deserve it or those who were like him. He continued to be a pastoral presence in Tegel Prison- to guards as well as to other prisoners. He refused a cell on a cooler floor knowing that meant someone else would be put in his cell. He understood the dangers of narrow compassion and worked against it. His was not a faith that looked to life after death as the purpose of believing. It was far more important than that. It was about how we live each and every day.

Today is the 4th Sunday in Lent. We are nearing the half-way point of the Lenten journey. So far our themes have been:
  • Being open to God’s daily interruptions.
  • Trusting the Word of God.
  • Taking an honest self-inventory.
  • Giving the gift of truly listening to others.
I admit that now, after these three weeks, I must go deeper into the mystery of being a person of spirituality and faith. I must take some greater steps to understand how I am to follow the ways and will of my Higher Power. I must move away from my self-centered human ways and ask some tough questions of my self. They all follow from those three uncompromising stands that Bonhoeffer laid out.

1. Is Jesus Christ the center of my faith if I profess to be a follower of his? I can ask this in numerous ways to fit a broader context. Have I truly turned my will and my life over to the care of God as I understand God? Is the spiritual path truly at the center of who I am? I won’t know the answers to these questions unless I am open to that self-challenge of the honest inventory of my actions that speak louder than words what I truly follow.

2. Am I willing to pay the cost of discipleship? How will I know? In Twelve Step programs they ask it a different way- Are you willing to go to any length to get and stay sober?
This is a tough one to deal with. We won’t know how far we are willing to go until faced with the situations. I have absolutely no idea what I would have done in Bonhoeffer’s situation- and I pray I never have to find out. He himself wasn’t sure most of the time, either. He wrestled constantly with what he was doing and often took a step back when he thought it might harm someone else simply by association.

3. How can I live a life of uncompromising compassion in ways I have not done before? Where and how have I been less than compassionate this past week? Maybe I need to ask that question every night in the upcoming week and be ready to make amends as needed for I am sure there will be times and places every day when that will happen.

This week my daily inventory will need to include these three elements of a personal faith, as well as the awareness that this is not a simple tip of the hat to some theological idea. I have to take a close look at how I live this life.

Earlier this week The Contemplative Monk posted a quote from Dallas Willard that makes a perfect beginning to this week's opportunities to be interrupted by God in our daily lives:
The gospel is less about getting into the Kingdom of Heaven after you die and more about how to live in the Kingdom of Heaven before you die.

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