Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 13-15

1. On page 147, Bonhoeffer writes, “The will of God, to which the law gives expression, is that men should defeat their enemies by loving them.”  His behavior must be determined not by the way others treat him, but by the treatment he himself receives from Jesus; it has only one source, and that is the will of Jesus.”

- How does God’s will and God’s love defeat our enemies?

2. “How then does love conquer?  By asking not how the enemy treats her, but only how Jesus treated her.  The love for our enemies takes us along the way of the cross and into fellowship with the Crucified.  The more we are driven along this road, the more certain is the victory of love over the enemy’s hatred.  For then it is not the disciple’s own love, but the love of Jesus Christ alone, who for the sake of his enemies went to the cross and prayed for them as he hung there.”

-  How is it possible to love others as Jesus loved us on the cross?

3. On page 159, “All that the follower of Jesus has to do is to make sure that his obedience, following and love are entirely spontaneous and unpremeditated.  Christ’s virtue, the virtue of discipleship, can only be accomplished so long as you are entirely unconscious of what you are doing.  The genuine work of love is always a hidden work.”

- Give examples of such spontaneity and hidden love.

4. On page 163, “Only through Jesus Christ can we find the Father in prayer.  Christian prayer presupposes faith, that is, adherence to Christ.  He is the one and only Mediator of our prayers.  We pray at his command, and to that word Christian prayer is always bound.”

- Why is Jesus the dominant focus of our praying?

5. “It matters little what form of prayer we adopt or how many words we use.  What matters is the faith which lays hold on God and touches the heart of the Father who knew us long before we came to him.”

- How does this description of prayer compare with yours?

6. “Prayer does not aim at any direct effect on the world; it is addressed to God alone, and is therefore the perfect example of undemonstrative action.”

- Why is prayer relation-centered?  Why is it not about outcomes?

7. “Not being content to wait for God to answer our prayer and show us in his own time that he has heard us, we provide our own answer.  We take note that we have prayed suitably well, and this substitutes the satisfaction of answered prayer.  We have our reward.  Since we have heard ourselves, God will not hear us.  Having contrived our own reward of publicity, we cannot expect God to reward us any further.”

- Can you think of a time when this played out for you?

8. “True prayer does not depend either on the individual or the whole body of the faithful, but solely upon the knowledge that our heavenly Father knows our needs.  That makes God the sole object of our prayers, and frees us from a false confidence in our own prayerful efforts.”

- How does complete trust in God’s love transform our praying?

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 9-12

1. “The angry word is a blow struck at our brother, a stab at his heart: it seeks to hit, to hurt and to destroy.  A deliberate insult is even worse, for we are then openly disgracing our brother in the eyes of the world, and causing others to despise him.  With our hearts burning with hatred, we seek to annihilate his moral and material existence.  We are passing judgement on him, and that is murder.  And the murderer will himself be judged.”

- Since so much of our discourse today is anything but civil, how are we to respond to the proliferation of angry words spewed in politics, Facebook, talk radio, Twitter, and other media outlets?

2. “The Incarnation is the ultimate reason why the service of God cannot be divorced from the service of man.  He who says he loves God and hates his brother is a liar.  There is therefore only one way of following Jesus and of worshiping God, and that is to be reconciled with our brethren.”

-  Is there an exception to this last statement?  Why or why not?

3. “The body of Jesus was crucified.  St. Paul, speaking of those who belong to Christ, says that they have crucified their body with its affections and lusts.  Here we have another instance of an Old Testament law finding its truest fulfilment in the crucified body of Jesus Christ.  As they contemplate this body which was given for them, and as they share in its life, the disciples receive strength for the chastity which Jesus requires.”

- How are we to understand such chastity today?

4. “What is an oath?  It is an appeal made to God in public, calling upon him to witness a statement made in connection with an event or fact, past, present or future.  By means of the oath, men invoke the omniscient deity to avenge the truth.  How can Jesus say that such an oath is ‘sin?’  The answer is to be sought in his concern for complete truthfulness.”  “The commandment of complete truthfulness is really only another name for the totality of discipleship.”

- Why have we relied on oaths?  Why does Jesus forbid them?

5. “The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for.  Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames.  But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.  Of course, this can only happen when the last ounce of resistance is abandoned, and the renunciation of revenge is complete.  Then evil cannot find its mark, it can breed no further evil, and is left barren.”

- Where does this strategy prove true?  Where is it incomplete?

6. “Suffering willingly endured is stronger than evil, it spells death to evil.  The worse the evil, the readier must the Christian be to suffer; he must let the evil person fall into Jesus’ hands.”  “The cross is the only power in the world which proves that suffering love can avenge and vanquish evil.  But it was just this participation in the cross which the disciples were granted when Jesus called them to him.  They are called blessed because of their visible participation in his cross.”

- How is Christian suffering stronger than evil?

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Cost of Discipleship, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Chapter 6-8

1. On page 110, Bonhoeffer writes, “But Jesus says: ‘They shall inherit the earth.’  To these, the powerless and the disenfranchised the very earth belongs.  Those who possess it by violence and injustice shall lose it, and those who here have utterly renounced it, who were meek to the point of the cross shall rule the new earth.”  What it means is that when the kingdom of heaven descends, the face of the earth will be renewed, and it will belong to the flock of Jesus.  God does not forsake the earth; he made it, he sent his Son to it, and on it he built his Church.  Thus, a beginning has already been made in this present age.  A sign has been given.  The powerless have here and now received a plot of earth, for they have the Church and its fellowship, its good, its brothers and sisters, in the midst of persecutions even to the length of the cross. The renewal of the earth begins at Golgotha, where the meek One died, and from thence it will spread. When the kingdom finally comes the meek shall possess the earth.”

- How are we to understand the role & work of the “meek” today? 
- And when the kingdom of heaven descends?

2.  On pages 113-114, Bonhoeffer concludes, “Having reached the end of the beatitudes, we naturally ask if there is any place on this earth for the community which they describe.  Clearly, there is one place, and only one, and that is where the poorest, meekest, and most sorely tried of all men is to be found – on the cross at Golgotha.  The fellowship of the beatitudes is the fellowship of the Crucified.  With him it has lost all, and with him it has found all.  From the cross, there comes the call ‘Blessed, blessed.’”

- How does the cross of Christ speak to you, compel you, and ultimately transform you into its blessed fellowship of disciples?

3.  On pages 116-117, Bonhoeffer writes, “It is not for the disciples to decide whether they will be the salt of the earth, for they are so whether they like it or not, they have been made salt by the call they have received.”  “The call of Jesus makes the disciple community not only the salt but also the light of the world; their activity is visible, as well as imperceptible.”  “They are already the light, and the call has made them so.”  “Now they must be what they really are – otherwise they are not followers of Jesus.”  “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call.”

- How has the call of Jesus changed you into salt & light?
- Where does your life demonstrate these functions?

4. “But there is nothing for us to glorify in the disciple who bears the cross, or in the community whose light so shines because it stands visible on the hill – only the Father which is in heaven can be praised for the ‘good works.’  It is by seeing the cross and the community beneath it that men come to believe in God.  But that is the light of the Resurrection.”

- To paraphrase: as the Church, we lift high the cross of Christ to the world.  
Through this, people “see” and come to faith…and stand renewed in the light of the Resurrection.  
- How does this profound statement shape the urgency & mission of the gospel?

5. On pages 112-123, Bonhoeffer writes, “Jesus vindicates the divine authority of the law.  God is its giver and its Lord, and only in personal communion with God is the law fulfilled.  There is no fulfilment of the law apart from communion with God, and no communion with God apart from fulfilment of the law.  To forget the first condition was the mistake of the Jews, and to forget the second the temptation of the disciples.”

- In all of this, what does God seek most from and with us?

6. In conclusion on page 125, “Again, it is not enough to teach the law of Christ, it must be done, otherwise it is no better than the old law.  In what follows, the disciples are told how to practice this righteousness of Christ.  In a word, it means following him.  It is the real and active faith in the righteousness of Christ.  It is the new law, the law of Christ.”

- Do, practice, follow…all directives from Jesus in the ways of true discipleship.  Where is the Holy Spirit leading you in these ways?