Friday, 18 April 2008

Always covered by the dust

Living Wittily, is a frequent source of stimulation and nourishment. I've appreciated his recent reflections on Bonhoeffer and discipleship, especially his wondering whether discipleship has lost something of its edge through programmatic approaches. As the minister of a local church, it concerned me that our discipleship courses could easily give the impression that we had ticked this particular box called 'discipleship' - 'done that, what next?', or that discipleship might be reduced to a few core tasks that we needed to undertake with some regularity depending upon our commitment.

When my Christian faith was awakened in my mid-twenties, I read David Watson's 'Discipleship', (which continues to challenge) and through this had my first encounter with Bonhoeffer. 'When Christ calls a man [or woman], he bids him come and die.' This, of course, is nothing more than the teaching of Jesus, repeated and reinforced throughout the gospels. Living Wittily, points out that, 'For Bonhoeffer a programmatic approach to Christian training that uses the term 'discipleship' is in danger of trivialising the passion and suffering that gives discipleship its essential Christ-like appearance and Christ-centred focus. "Whoever wishes to carry in his person the transfigured image of Jesus must already have carried in the world the battered image of the One who was Crucified."'

I was at Berkhamsted the other evening, speaking with the deacons about the role of a deacon, and my starting point was that a deacon is first of all a disciple. We may acquire many titles, but the only one that remains is 'Disciple of Christ'. I quoted John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, who spoke these words at his inauguration, 'In the Gospels, Jesus of Nazareth is often called a Rabbi – and his followers, his disciples. A disciple was someone who had chosen to be with his rabbi as much as possible in order to learn everything he could from him and not just during formal teaching times. A disciple was with his Rabbi all the time. This commitment of the disciple to stay in the presence of the rabbi he followed, was beautifully expressed in the blessing: "May you always be covered by the dust of your rabbi." That is: may you follow him so closely that the dust his feet kicks up covers your clothing and face! Very much like a baby duckling whose image of its mother has been imprinted on its brain, disciples never wanted to let the rabbi out of their sight.'

I'm excited by a strap line that we as a denomination are using, 'Encouraging missionary disciples', and also the emphasis that LICC place upon 'whole-life discipleship'. The fact is that however exciting it might sound, actually it's very hard work, and unlike the courses we run-out (which may be hugely helpful in terms of an introduction) needs to be for the long-haul, wherever he might lead.

May you always be covered by the dust.

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