Monday, 27 September 2010

Trinity 17: The rich man and Lazarus

A sermon by Kevin Bright

Luke 16.19-31, 1 Timothy 6.6-19

Today’s readings have a lot to do with money, something we spend a lot of time thinking about, yet a subject that often sits very uncomfortably within the Christian faith. It’s often hard to feel certain whether you are doing the right thing with money and keeping to Christian values at the same time.

If you or your family have adequate money it can make you feel good, you don’t have to worry whether you can pay the mortgage, replace your car when it wears out, have a holiday, go for a nice meal and turn the heating up when the cold weather arrives. All our expectations of a civilised western lifestyle are taken care of and it should therefore be easier to find the’ godliness combined with contentment’ referred to in the letter to Timothy. But we also hear that ‘if we have food and clothing we will be content with these’, just food and clothing? And does it matter if this is Waitrose or Aldi, Prada or Primark?

In this parable Jesus invites us to see if we are in the story.When we think of rich people do we think of ourselves or do we automatically look at people who live in bigger houses in nicer roads than us. Perhaps it even goes a stage further and we only think of premiership footballers like Wayne Rooney earning £140,000 per week or Simon Cowell earning £55m per annum as rich.

Who are the people we think of as being poor? If we are behind with our mortgage or rent, overdrawn at the bank and can’t afford to go on holiday we might feel poor.

In Luke’s gospel we heard of Lazarus described by Jesus as ‘a poor man’, clearly unwell and covered with ulcerated sores unable to even fend the street dogs away which pestered him.

In our own society we can see such people everyday, living on the streets, homeless and helpless. Virtually every town in England has homeless people visible on its streets. Perhaps the greatest contrast is in the richest areas of central London where the cardboard and blankets of the rough sleepers lay adjacent to the entrances to multi million pound apartment blocks.

The rich man in Jesus parable was seriously rich. William Barclay reckons that his robes would have cost about 1000 days of the average wage at the time. If you think this is an unrealistic comparison check out how much some of the richest people now pay for watches and jewellery, bags and shoes.

Yet like most beggars Lazarus isn’t expecting much from the rich, just what Jesus describes as ‘what fell from the rich man’s table’. In the wealthiest houses at a time of no cutlery or napkins after eating food with their hands they were often cleansed by wiping them on chunks of bread which were then thrown away, probably to the dogs, this is what Lazarus was hoping for.
I don’t know about you but to me it seems pretty tough justice to throw the rich man into hell. After all he doesn’t insult or assault Lazarus, there is no record of him stopping his scraps being thrown to him and he doesn’t even get him moved on from his gate.

I have to say that the part about the rich guy going to hell sounds more likely to have been written by a team about to embark on a modern day stewardship campaign than a loving forgiving Jesus. We know that Jesus was able to forgive crooked tax collectors and help them change their ways so can you imagine how hard done by an honest rich man would feel looking across a chasm to see not only the poor people he ignored but the man from HMRC who deliberately overcharged him! Something here doesn’t quite make sense.

The church addressed in the letter to Timothy are not told to give up all their wealth but are cautioned against it distorting their values and dulling their compassion. Apart from using money to help others they are reminded that money does not equal status.

It’s important that we hear that the real message from Jesus is not that he is prejudiced against people who have money but that he has a big problem with us seeing injustice and suffering yet accepting this as just the way the world is, this is what he came to change and this is his wake up call.

The rich man simply came to accept Lazarus as part of the landscape, he felt no sense of grief or pity, no anger at the injustice because he was too caught up in his own self indulgent life.

It’s not very often that we will find a poor and homeless person on our doorstep but we do need to think how we would respond. On the one occasion it happened to me, being a good Christian I called the police to have him removed.

In my defence it was 3.00 am, he’d left his pit bull dog sitting in the lane and started wandering out of sight around outside my neighbour’s house. Yet when I saw the man face to face he was a pitiful figure and I felt it would have been more appropriate to give him a sandwich and a cup of tea than call the police.

So it turns out that many of us know of or regularly see a ‘Lazarus’. Chances are we would be horrified to share his life for a day. So if we hear this parable of Jesus and feel moved to examine our own response to these issues what should we be thinking about?


Have we become self indulgent and accepting of suffering and injustice as just the way the world is. If we want to change this what can we do?

Firstly we can consider what money or time we are able to give to the organisations best placed to help those in greatest need, charities like the Children’s Society do fantastic work with homeless young people.

Secondly though we may want to help the professionals deliver support in an organised way we can also remember that the poorest among us are also fellow human beings and treat them as such. When you hear the stories of how many have got to this point you realise that these are real people just like us, many are victims of abusive relationships, failed business ventures and an increasing number are now ex servicemen.

Money itself doesn’t have to cause problems unless we become more dependent and comforted by money than by God. Perhaps it should have a warning across the currency like cigarettes and booze ‘PLEASE ENJOY RESPONSIBLY OBSESSIVE ATTACHMENT TO THESE NOTES CAN SERIOUSLY DAMAGE YOUR SPIRITUAL HEALTH’! Americans have an advantage over us in this respect as they have ‘In God We Trust’ written as a reminder on their money.

Jesus would have known that his message would apply to many more than the Pharisees who first heard the parable though they especially should have been able to see themselves in this, treating the people Jesus was welcoming in the same way the rich man treated Lazarus, it was time to change their ways. They would have been intimately familiar with Moses and the prophets and they were being asked to listen to their teachings. If they would do this then they could also see that Jesus was to bring them to fulfilment. If not then even someone rising from the dead could not help them change.

The parable leaves us with clear messages about how we are to treat each other if we are serious about sharing God’s love as Jesus gave us an insight into what God’s kingdom is like, offering hope to the poor and outcast.

Contrast the scraps of soiled bread that Lazarus hoped to receive with the loving generosity of him who sent Jesus to bring us back into relationship with God and each other and now invites us all to share at his table. We give him thanks that we will be able to share with Emma, Lucy and Ethan for the first time today.

If we can grow more responsive to the pain, hopes, and needs of others we also become more aware of our common humanity, our own shortcomings and our need for God’s grace. There follows a real possibility that in doing this we will obtain a glimpse of the lasting security which God offers us, more precious than silver or gold, something all the money in the world cannot buy.


Wednesday, 22 September 2010

Trinity 16: Dishonest Stewards? - Breathing Space Sermon

Luke 16. 1-13

There are some passages in the Bible which make a preacher’s heart sink, and this week’s Gospel reading is one of them. The parable of the dishonest steward. What on earth is this all about? A man who defrauds his master in order to get himself out of a hole. And Jesus seems to be holding him up as an example to follow. Surely that can’t be right!

Some preachers try to suggest that there is an innocent explanation for the steward’s behaviour, that these debts were perhaps unjust in the first place, but I don’t think that’ll do. If Jesus meant to say that I’m sure he would have done so. I also think that the story, read as it is, has a message that we need to hear.

But there are two things we need to be aware of, if we are going to be able to hear that message. The first is that this is a story. There’s an unfortunate tendency today to read the Bible as if it was an instruction manual, full of straightforward rules for living. It’s actually a post-Enlightenment attitude – a side effect of our modern scientific mindset. But Jesus and his listeners didn’t think that way. They lived in a world of stories and symbols, a much more subtle world, in a way. They knew that a story isn’t an instruction manual: it is something which evokes an emotional response, something you can step into, try out for size. You might identify with some of the characters in it, but that doesn’t mean you’re supposed to copy them. The story of Cinderella reminds us that deep down we all want to have the ashes washed away and our true selves recognised; it doesn’t tell us we need a pair of glass slippers to make that happen.

So to Jesus’ hearers this was a story – just a story – which helped them think about what it feels like to be cast out, accused – justly or unjustly – and regarded as in being the wrong.

And that brings me to my second point, because “in the wrong” was just how the first Christians were regarded. We are used to thinking of Christianity as a force for good, and of Jesus as a good man, but that wasn’t how it was then.

Many of the first Christians had probably been pillars of their society – good Jews, good Romans – but now they were following someone who’d been crucified as a troublemaker. Jesus had been seen as a traitor to his Jewish faith and a challenge to the good order of the Romans; that’s why they killed him. His followers too were often accused of squandering the riches of their traditions, treating the values of their society with disdain and contempt. Whether that was fair or not is neither here nor there. If everyone else thinks you are guilty, it’s hard not to internalise that to some extent. In Jesus’ story we aren’t told whether the initial accusations made against the steward are true or false. What mattered was that people believed them. And I’m willing to bet that those first Christians often felt pretty rotten about turning away from the faith and customs they’d been brought up with too, especially if their families started to suffer by association.

So what were they to do? The temptation must have been huge to turn back from the path they were on, try to cut a deal with their old lives, keep things the way they were and follow Jesus privately in ways that made no real difference to those around them. The alternative was to accept that they would find themselves cast out – as this steward was – catapulted into the wasteland where the world’s outsiders lived, having to make a new life for themselves there.

This parable encourages them to see that route not as a disaster, but as a new beginning, with new relationships and new opportunities. The early church was a radically new experience for them, where slaves and slave owners, men and women, Jews and Gentiles were on an equal footing. It was a challenge, but they also found new friends, new joy, energy and life in it.
And for us? I think the challenges we face are the same. Though we don’t face the persecution those early Christians faced, the path Jesus calls us on is not necessarily the path the rest of the world is taking. Swimming against the tide is hard work. It is tempting simply to treat Christian faith as a bolt-on – the ultimate gift for the person who has everything. But sometimes God calls us not to fit in but to stand out. In every generation Christians have made that choice and suffered the consequences. Those who campaigned against the slave trade met fierce opposition because the economy was so tied up with it. Those who advocated universal education were warned that educating the poor would make them unhappy with their lot in life and cause social dissent. Modern campaigns for racial equality, fair trade or environmental justice – in which many Christians have been involved – can take some guts to be part of, provoking harsh reactions from those who feel threatened by them. Any battle against injustice means risking the disapproval of those who’d know they are profiting from the status quo.

I like fitting in, and I expect you do too. I like it when people like me, and I expect you do too. But do we want that approval more than we want the kingdom of God, a kingdom where all his children can know they are loved? That’s the question from this strange story I invite you to ponder tonight.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Trnity 15 2010: Unexpected treasure

Luke 15.1-10

The lost sheep. Now, there’s a nice story, and a familiar one too. I expect most of us first heard it when we were children. No collection of children’s Bible stories would be complete without it, usually illustrated with a rather syrupy picture of a kindly shepherd carrying a fluffy lamb on his shoulders across a flower-strewn meadow.

It seems such a simple story, but I wonder whether we really understand it as well as we think. I wonder whether we hear it in the way that Jesus’ first hearers would have done.

Very few of us, I’m guessing, have any serious experience of farming. To most of us, sheep are just endearing creatures we like to get a glimpse of on a country walk, symbols of a pastoral idyll. They aren’t a familiar part of our everyday lives. It is very easy for us to have sentimental picture of them. But Jesus was speaking to people who knew about sheep, who kept them and depended on them. I’m sure they cared about their welfare, and felt sorry when they were in pain; but they weren’t pets. They were their livelihood, their clothing and, yes, their food too. When Jesus tells a story about sheep he knows that.

To them, this man who goes to look for his lost sheep wouldn’t have done so primarily out of sentiment. It’s not that this was a particularly cute sheep, one that he was especially fond of. He searches for it because it represents a significant proportion of his wealth. It is interesting that Jesus doesn’t describe him as the shepherd; he describes him as the owner – one who “has a hundred sheep”. Each one of these sheep is a valuable asset to him - not just in emotional terms, but in hard financial terms too. He can’t afford to lose one. He is even prepared to put the other ninety nine at risk – leaving them in the wilderness – to fetch this one back. That doesn’t seem very sensible if he really wants to protect his property; maybe he will come back to find that they have all wandered off too, but finding this one sheep, who he knows is in trouble now is worth that risk. If he has to rescue the rest later he’ll cross that bridge when he comes to it, but he can’t just shrug his shoulders and say “ easy come; easy go – one sheep here or there will make no difference.”

The second story Jesus tells makes the same point, but it makes it even more clearly. A woman loses one of her ten silver coins, and she turns the house upside down to find it. Finding that coin was vital to her. These coins were probably the only money she possessed in her own right. They were her insurance against disaster. They might, one day, be all that stood between her and starvation. Of course she looked for the one she’d lost.

Jesus puts these stories in the form of questions. “Which one of you, wouldn’t go and look for the sheep you’d lost?” “What woman wouldn’t sweep every corner of the house to find that stray coin?” They sound like rhetorical questions, ones he doesn’t expect an answer to, but I wonder what happens when we actually try to answer them. Think about it. What kind of person wouldn’t bother to search for these lost things?
The answer is, “Someone who felt they didn’t really need them. Someone who had plenty more where they came from and simply wouldn’t miss them.”

We accumulate a lot of lost property here in church – glasses, watches, pens, gloves and umbrellas. They sit at the back there waiting for their owners to reclaim them, but often no one ever does. Why? Presumably because it’s not worth the effort to them. They’ve got another umbrella at home, they didn’t really ever like those glasses anyway. If it is something that’s really important to them, though – the camera with the irreplaceable wedding photos on it – you can be sure they will be in touch very quickly.
The truth is that if something matters enough to us we’ll shift heaven and earth to find it again. It’s only the things we think are expendable, disposable, easily replaceable, which are unclaimed. “Which one of you,” asks Jesus “ wouldn’t go and look for something you’d lost?” The one who doesn’t care whether they get it back or not. The one who thinks they can get along fine without that sheep, that coin, thank you very much.

It’s not like that for the people in Jesus stories, though. The sheep farmer needs that lost sheep. The woman needs that missing coin. And God, says Jesus to the Pharisees, needs those tax-collectors and sinners whom they have been so quick to reject. He needs them to be part of his kingdom, just as much as he needs the Pharisees. He needs them because they have something to give. They are of value. It’s not just that God feels sorry for them, but that without them his kingdom will be missing something it needs to have. He can’t build it just with the respectable and righteous – or those who think they are. It won’t be complete. It will have gaping holes in it. There is something which these tax-collectors and sinners bring which is essential to the whole.

That was shocking to the Pharisees, it may seem pretty strange to us too, but I am sure it is true. And I think it is as just as important for us to hear this message as it was for them.

Most people’s lives run into difficulties sooner or later, whether through their own fault or because of something that happens to them. Like that lost sheep we feel isolated, confused, vulnerable. But one of the hardest things to deal with in that situation is often the sense that you haven’t got anything to give anymore, nothing that people want anyway.
Once, people sought you out, wanted to be with you, wanted your skills or your opinions, but now it is as if you are irrelevant to them. They might feel sorry for you and want to help you get back on your feet out of compassion for you, but they don’t seem to need you. The space you used to occupy in your workplace or your family or your social network closes over as if you were never there.

Yet my experience, at least, tells me that often those who have gone through those dark times have gifts to give that are unique and precious. Speaking as someone who’s been through divorce I know that the people who helped me most in that time were those who had been there too. The least helpful advice came from the happily married. It wasn’t their fault. They meant well, but what did they know of the landscapes I was going through?

I recall too, a man who phones for a chat now and then, whom I met first during my ministry in Gosport. He’s a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, from an appalling family background in a rough part of Glasgow. When I first met him he was a homeless drunk who used to turn up in local churches begging for money. But about twelve years ago he hit rock bottom and with a lot of help from Alcoholics Anonymous he came off the booze and drugs and has stayed sober ever since. I met him again not long after this turn around, in the local supermarket where he was working as a bag packer and after that we often had little pastoral chats over the frozen peas. Eventually these developed into a regular times together when he’d come to talk to me about his life . He’s stayed in touch as I have moved around, and I can honestly say that he is one of the bravest and most inspiring people I have ever met. It’s not a rags-to-riches fairy tale with everyone living happily ever after. His substance abuse has permanently damaged his health and he struggles with all sorts of physical and mental problems. Often he isn’t well enough to work, but he carries on getting up in the morning, doing what he can for himself and for others. Sometimes it doesn’t seem like much of a life to me, but he’s enormously grateful for what he has. He’s had to reflect deeply on himself in order to find the strength he needs to keep going and whenever we talk I come away feeling richer, knowing that I have been on the receiving end of something very precious and very holy. He is a man whose wisdom and gentleness shines out through the cracks in his life like a beacon – it is a real privilege to know him. But to many others, I’m sure that he must seem like just another welfare-dependent drain on society, someone to feel sorry for, but not someone who has anything much to give to the world. How wrong they are!

The Pharisees in today’s Gospel story, says Jesus, aren’t just behaving callously towards certain sections of their society. They are also missing out on some of God’s greatest gifts, the treasures he wants them to have, and they are missing out on finding God’s own presence too. After all, where is God in these stories? He’s not on the hillside with the good sheep, he’s out there hanging off the edge of the cliff with the one who has strayed. He’s not sitting in the front parlour quietly counting the coins he knows he still has; he’s in some dark and forgotten corner of the house amid the dust and the cobwebs looking for the one that has rolled away. If we want to be with him, to find him at work and to share in that work, then that’s where we need to start looking; in the dark and lost places of our own lives, and in the dark and lost places that others find themselves too.

God will go to any lengths to find us, even to the cross, even into the darkness of death, uncovering unexpected treasure where we just thought there was wasteland. Who knows what we are missing if we won’t go there with him?


Monday, 6 September 2010

Trinity 14: One more step along the world I go...

This is the first sermon which Revd. Stephen Snelling preached at Seal, following his ordination as a Deacon on Sept 4th in Rochester Cathedral.

Luke 14.25-33

“One more step along the world I go” – and yesterday I took the next step in my journey that God has planned for me as I was ordained Deacon by the Bishop of Tonbridge in Rochester Cathedral. It’s a journey that I will be privileged to share with you for the next few years but it’s a journey that began when I was three days old when I was baptised in hospital. Clearly I wasn’t expected to live but God had other plans for me to fulfil.

Although my parents were not practising Christians at the age of seven or eight I nevertheless found myself attending Sunday School at my local church – St John’s, Bexley - where I very soon came under the influence of a Lay Reader – Stan Allen who was to have a great effect on my life – although I didn’t know it at the time. It was Stan who helped to plant the seeds of my Christian faith and to nurture them so that when I was in my early twenties I thought seriously about training as a Reader (but they all seemed so old!).

College and work then got in the way and it was about ten years ago when I finally finished work that the little nagging voice started on at me again as it had done on more than one occasion in my life – previously I had pushed it away and filled my life with other things but now I couldn’t.
The prayer by Abbé Michel Quoist in the Church Times a couple of weeks ago sums up my position perfectly:
Lord, you seized me and I could not resist you. 
I ran for a long time but you followed me. 
I took by-paths but you knew them. 
You overtook me. I struggled, 
You won. 
Here I am, Lord, out of breath, 
no fight left in me, and I’ve said “yes” almost willingly. When I stood trembling like one defeated before his captor, 
Your look of love fell on me. . . 
Marked by the fire of your love, 
I cannot forget you. 
Now I know that you are there, 
close to me, and I work in peace beneath your loving gaze. 
I just lift my eyes to you and I meet yours. 
And we understand one another. 
All is light, all is peace.

And so I started training as a Reader at the church in my village of Bidborough where I had worshipped for sixteen years and following a placement at St Mary Hadlow I was able to move to that church where I was licensed as a Reader two years ago. During my placement the little nagging voice started up again and following meetings with the Diocesan Director of Ordinands, four interviews with priests in the Diocese, and five supportive references I was selected for training for ordination two years ago and now here I am standing before you as an ordained person who to borrow words from Winston Churchill, has not reached the end, or even the beginning of the end, but rather the end of the beginning.
Now I have got this far my only regret is, perhaps, that I didn’t embark on this wonderful adventure earlier in my life but I think that some words from psalm 139, which is also set for today, puts my journey into context:
it was you who formed my inward parts;
 you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 
My frame was not hidden from you,
 when I was being made in secretYour eyes beheld my unformed substance.
In your book were written
 all the days that were formed for me,
 when none of them as yet existed.
So I am here not in my time but very much in God’s.

I was so pleased that Stan Allen’s daughter, Jenny, was able to be with me at my ordination yesterday and indeed she is here today along with my wife Deborah and many of my friends who have supported me during my life and on this most remarkable unfinished journey.

Before I go on I should like to say a few thank yous – to Anne for agreeing to take me and to continue my formation during the time I am here and to all of you who have made Deborah and me so welcome and who will come on this journey with us over the next few years.

We heard in Luke’s Gospel this morning that Jesus was on a journey too and he said some things that to be honest are not great: It doesn’t sound that attractive being a Christian does it? – give up your possessions, hate your family, hate even life itself, carry a cross; sounds pretty miserable
Jesus had large crowds travelling with him – they were looking for answers and this was what he said to them. He’s very challenging - this is Jesus at his most extreme. The answers he gives are not easy – he’s saying that living fully as a human being in the world is costly but he’s also saying that somehow it’s worth it. So when today's gospel speaks about ‘hating’ the members of your family if you want to follow Jesus what does it mean? Now it's tempting to weaken the force of Jesus' words by some sleight of hand that concludes that he couldn't have meant what he said. But we can be clear that Jesus means what he says and means it with the utmost seriousness. The question is, how does he mean it?

Well Matthew has preserved the saying in a slightly different form: ‘Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me (Matthew 10.37). That makes the meaning clearer. Clearer, but not weaker. Jesus goes on to explain. ‘Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.’ The call, the summons, the demand is still all-embracing - It's not a case of ‘hating’ in the sense of detesting the good earth God has placed us on, or the people he has given us to love, or the gifts he has entrusted to us for our care. Far from it.

What we are called to do is to examine where our loves, our hungers and our longings really lie. If our relationships, our possessions, our race, our politics or our country claim our absolute loyalty, then our attachments are becoming simple idolatry.
When it comes to this life, there is no such thing as the ‘love that asks no questions’. We cannot serve two masters. The cross always puts to us the question Jesus put to Peter: ‘do you love me more than these?’ And it’s no good us sympathizing with Peter when he gets exasperated when the question is put three times because what the risen Jesus is looking for from Peter is the same unconditional love that he is prepared to give to him and us. Peter on the other hand is only prepared to give human friendship – he just doesn’t get it.

So like Peter, good old impetuous Peter who always tries his best - always gets things wrong - but is saved by Jesus, we humans feel things very intensely, we love, we are jealous, we are afraid, we’re happy, we’re wanting to be liked, we’re wanting to make a difference in the world: and in the never ending day by day network of relationships it’s often true that our spiritual life doesn’t really get a look in.

Most of the time, Jesus is, if he’s really lucky, our second best friend - or actually, an abstract presence that is not really part of most people’s everyday lives. And the state of our spiritual life is in part affected by the emotional experiences we have in the world. Doctors tell us that a feature of modern life is the acronym TATT. They write it on their notes and hear it from many of their patients. TATT; Tired All The Time.

In today’s competitive and noisy environment we are required to maintain the façade of competence and clarity; when in fact we may be lost inside. To keep a job in order to pay the mortgage or rent, to pass the exams we need to progress, we are required to disguise the myriad of fears and uncertainties we carry.

But the good news of today’s reading is that we do not have to be Tired All The Time; there is a depth of spirit, a spiritual energy inside each one of us, planted, and nurtured by God that is the essence of life itself. And Jesus is telling the crowd and us that we should measure all of our lives against the template of the cross - it doesn’t depend on our possessions, our relationships, our families, our plans. Whatever plans we make, like the builder or the king, the truth of our lives is that we are ourselves and we are alone before God where all human attachments will be measured and judged by the cross.

To know that we are alone before God doesn’t make us selfish or self centred – quite the opposite – it makes us turn outwards from ourselves to connect with others, to realise our mutual dependence.
All we are called to do is find that inexhaustible fire of life inside that awakens our will to live differently. We don’t have to be afraid or tired: because the energy of God sustains us.
The truth is, that God does not weary – as I do – of me and my interminable worries about what people will think of me. God does not weary - as I do - of the abortive attempts I make to pray. God does not weary – as I do - of the pursuit of justice and mercy. God does not weary - as I do - of looking for beauty and finding it stubbornly and delightedly despite so much evidence to the contrary.

We bring all that we are, all that we need, all that we long for, our loves, our worries, our desires, our petulance, and selfishness to the still small voice who tells us we are loved.
It is our exhausting need to justify our place in the world over and over again that means we as a society are Tired All The Time; we live at the edge of our capacity to communicate – emails, texts, images, even music – pour into our consciousness. Holding the mask up to present to others the person we think they will like – makes our arms ache and leaves us little room to breathe.

The good news is that there was no mistake in creation when we were made.
Remember the words of psalm 139:
In your book were written
 all the days that were formed for me,
 when none of them as yet existed.
That’s the truth. All of what we are is known to God and accepted as the truth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said that when Jesus calls a man or a woman he bids them come and die. We must take up our cross. But in dying to ourselves and putting our old ways behind us we are born into eternal life. That is Jesus’ overwhelming invitation of love to us – all we have to do is accept.