I was talking to someone recently who told me that he had heard that vicars were not allowed to work more than 35 hours a week. I wish I had known that! When I was offered this job, I had to complete a health questionnaire to make sure I was sufficiently fit to take on the demands of full-time vicaring. The company that administered the questionnaire did so on the basis that the job was 40 hours a week. I wish! The reality is that this job will take as much time as you give it and then some more. There are some clergy who have part-time posts but there is nothing part-time about vocation.
So, what about part-time Christians? Is there any such thing? You’d be right if you guessed that the answer is ‘no’. One of the problems we have is that the word ‘Christian’ is often used to mean someone who is good, or kind, or nice. My wife, Rose, says that she once helped a colleague pick up some papers that had been dropped and was told, “that was very Christian of you”. There are many good and kind people – atheists, Muslims and Jews, for example – who would be offended to have their goodness and kindness labelled ‘Christian’. And not all who go by the name ‘Christian’ are particularly good and kind people. Some of us worry that we are not very good Christians…
Acts 11:26 says that “it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called ‘Christians.” In other words, a Christian is a disciple and a disciple is a Christian. So, what is a disciple?
In the gospels, disciples are called by Jesus to spend time with him, learn from him and reach out to others in his name. In the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20), the disciples are sent out to
make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:16-20)
I often quote the following from the Revd Dr Alison Morgan, a Christian thinker and author:
It’s an apprenticeship: none of us is a master, we’re all learning on the job from the Master. We make mistakes and move on.
It’s undertaken in community: there may be Christians who are called to the solitary life but most of us live out our discipleship in community with others. Alison Morgan, again, says that “the plural of disciple is church“.
Jesus warns that this is no part-time job and no easy calling. In Luke 14:28-33 he compares it to someone who decides to build a tower. Imagine starting off with the best of intentions, digging the foundations, putting up the first few courses of brick and then realising that you don’t have the money to finish the job. Everyone who passes by will see not a tower but a folly, something ridiculous: a monument to your stupidity. Or a king going out to war against another who doesn’t sit down first and work out if he has the troops to get the job done. If he hasn’t, he takes the diplomatic route to see what he can rescue from the situation.
Who among you, Jesus says, if you were going to build a tower or start a war, would not work out first whether you have the resources to finish the task? Jesus is talking to large crowds. Many of them may be simply going along for the ride. Many may not have given any thought as to where this particular ride might take them. We know, as we follow Jesus towards Holy Week and Easter, that his journey is to the cross. On the other side of that is resurrection but he will not get there without walking the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.
“I’m going to the cross: who’s coming with me?” It’s hardly the most enticing advertising slogan ever but that is how Jesus calls people to discipleship. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer puts it:
“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”
This is not masochism and it gives no support for sadism. All human existence is touched by suffering: Christian discipleship is the call to die! At baptism, we are baptised into the death and resurrection of Jesus. What is it that dies?, given that most of us were baptised as infants and here we are still walking around and breathing in and out! What is it that dies? It is our ambition. It is our self-determination. It is the view that the universe revolves around me. The implications of that take a lifetime to work out but the selfish self must die so that the God-self, your real self, can live.
I’m writing this in Lent, which many find a good time to look again at our discipleship, our walk with Jesus. Have we counted the cost, weighed up the pros and cons? Jesus warns us that Christian discipleship is tough; it’s costly. But, he assures us, the benefits are out of this world! In one of the songs that we sing with the children who come to Praise & Play, we’re reminded that:
It’s an adventure following Jesus.
It’s an adventure learning from him.
It’s an adventure living for Jesus.
It’s an adventure following him.
Let’s go where he leads us
Turn away from wrong
For we know we can trust him
To help us as we go along.
It’s an adventure following Jesus…1
In April, both parishes hold their Annual Meetings: a good time to re-evaluate our calling to live for and serve God in the communities in which God has put us. On 16th April, we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus and are reminded that although being a Christian is never easy, we are invited to live out our discipleship in the light of Easter.
The resurrection assures us that a life of Christian discipleship, although costly, is worth it. God puts his seal of approval on the self-giving life of Jesus and shows us that a life like that, lived in love, is one that even death cannot ultimately put a stop to.
I hope you will be able to join us for one or more of our services in Holy Week and Easter.
1. [Capt Alan Price © 1990 Song Solutions Daybreak]↩