You know it's a good book when you find yourself reassessing aspects of your daily life and your church life, measuring them against what it says in the book. Have you found that to be the case with Bonhoeffer? I certainly have. At this time of the year it would have been so easy to just let it all flow over me, like water off a duck's back. But not so easy when it's this book! Each of the Christmas events we went to at church, and in mentally preparing to spend our Christmas celebrations with our completely non-Christian family, I found Bonhoeffer's insights to have substantially changed my own perspective.
The shortest section of the book is sub-titled 'The Messengers', and deals with one passage in the book of Matthew in which Jesus speaks of the harvest, and then instructs, empowers and sends out theTwelve. I'm pretty sure that Bonhoeffer means us to understand that if we are called to be disciples of Christ, then we are called to be messengers to the world. Jesus didn't call his followers to "withdraw ...from the vulgar crowd" in order to be initiated into an "esoteric system of religion and ethics". Jesus had His Father's heart of compassion for the lost, as he looked around and saw them, like sheep without a shepherd. And He also had God's vision, that this multitude of wretched souls actually constituted a harvest that was ripe. The first thing he instructs the disciples to do, however, is to pray for God to raise up labourers.
That jars with us a bit. When Jesus is talking about the harvest being ripe, we think he's going to say something like 'so get out there and start work!' But instead He says to pray that God raises someone up to go out. It may well be me who God raises up! But I need to be sure that I am going in obedience to God, and not for any agenda of my own. As Bonhoeffer points out again and again, it is God's work, and it is His call. So often we get caught up with our own agenda, in mission just as much as anywhere. Do you ever find yourself praying mostly or totally about what you are doing, instead of praying to God about what He is doing? I've noticed that a lot lately...it sounds like this "Dear God, I pray that we will..."etc. I think when we pray like this, we are not leaving a lot of space for an awareness of God's ownership over our mission and the action of His Spirit to change people's hearts.
I'm still grappling with the application of Jesus' words to the disciples about "shaking the dust off your feet". As Bonhoeffer discusses this, he seems to be making the same point as earlier in the book, when he referred to the idea of 'cheap grace' as 'taking what is precious and throwing it to the dogs'. The point is that if a group of people are hardened to the gospel, we don't keep on preaching it to them, but move on to those who will have open ears. What does this mean, however, for mission in your average Australian suburban church? What does it mean for my witness to my non-Christian family? Still chewing it over...