I remember discovering Dietrich Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship when I was in college. I was part of a small group that decided to work through the book section by section. Being self-absorbed college students, I'm sure that we thought we were the first people to stumble on the book. Each week, we gathered to share our insights and reflections and reactions. The book seized us with its clarity and power. Years later, I realize that the book also changed us, though I'm not sure we knew that at the time.
I still recall the line on page 99. It's underlined in my well-read copy. I still take the book off the shelf and flip to that page from time to time.
When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.
It's not the kind of sentence I encounter in most of the newer books I read these days, but that hard truth grows directly out of Jesus' own invitation. Follow me. Count the cost. Take up your cross. Lose your life. Deny yourself. Bonhoeffer was simply repeating what Jesus had already said.
For the past five months in our new church, we've been working through the story of Jesus, talking about what it means to follow him. As simple as that sounds, I am being deeply challenged. I'm sensing that following Jesus will mean that I won't be able to follow any other thing. I'm realizing that what I'd really like is to keep my life exactly the way it is and still follow Jesus. Maybe you'd like the same thing. Wouldn't that be great? To have everything we already have and to have Jesus too!
But Bonhoeffer - and Jesus - insist on telling us the truth. Following Jesus demands that we let everything else go. We don't take up our cross and carry on as usual. We don't deny ourselves and pretend that it's business as usual. And we certainly don't hear an invitation to come and die and then proceed to with the way we're already going.
I fear that many of us haven't really understood or embraced what it means to follow Jesus.
I've been carrying Bonhoeffer's words around for over forty years now.
I'm not sure that I've ever embraced them fully.
But I can't seem to let them go.