Last week we remembered the Saints and English Martyrs. This is a lesser festival in the Church of England and it can be easy for us to forget that people have died because of their Christian faith in this country.
Those from the Diocese of Exeter that visited Thika last month will have seen first-hand the impact of the threat to the Christian Churches with many of the churches in the diocese employing guards to protect the congregations from the threat of suicide bombers.
Later this month Father Mourad, a Syrian Catholic Priest who was taken by the Islamic State but rescued by his muslin friend, will speak in Exeter Cathedral and Cathedrals and Churches across the country are going red to remember Christians in the Middle East who have been killed because of their faith.
When we talk about the cost of Christian discipleship in this country it is often about the personal cost of our call and not the cost to us as of the risk to life or death.
Jesus calls the disciples to leave everything else behind and follow him even if it may bring suffering and persecution.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book, The Cost of Discipleship makes it clear: While God’s grace is always bestowed freely, it is never bestowed cheaply.
“Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field, for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price for which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble; it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciple leaves his nets and follows him.” (P. 47)
Bonhoeffer suggests that it is when we understand the cost of God’s love that we can surrender our lives to God in gratitude and faithful obedience. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.
Bonhoeffer goes on to suggest that the Church is made up of those who acted, worked and suffered with Jesus and they manifest to the whole world a visible community.
Bonfire night at the beginning of this month recalls the events at the palace of Westminster when a group of conspirators so angered by the few rights given to Catholics that they took the law into their own hands and planned to blow up parliament. It speaks of a time when the Christian church in this country was so divided that there were wars, armed conflicts and people were burned at the stake.
In the last dialogue of Jesus in John’s gospel he calls us to be a visible community to the world. This unity isn’t a formal arrangement it is based on and should mirror the unity between the Father and the Son. And the result is that the world will see and believe.
Bishop Robert in his blog from Thika mentioned that the conversations in Thika, crossing tribal and religious boundaries are no difference than those required in the UK. But in a divided world where divisions have often run down religious lines there is no excuse for Christian not to work together afresh in every generation towards the unity Jesus prayed for.
As pressures on the Church of England are moving us potentially into a more divided present let us pray that we may remember it is the love of the Father, that costly grace, which makes Jesus present to the church and through the church to the world.
Love which is generous, love which is gracious and love which is able to hold unity despite difference.