I hope and trust you’ve had a break in August and that you are coming back refreshed to school or work or ministry – whatever your calling may be.
Today’s readings seem really appropriate as we begin a new school year and as we look ahead to the autumn.
Jesus reminds his followers that the way of the disciple is often a hard way. He talks about his own road to Jerusalem and the way he must suffer and be killed and then rise from the dead. Peter rebukes him: God forbid it, Lord. This must never happen to you.
Then Jesus patiently explains to his disciples that he must walk in the way of the cross – and we must follow him.
If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it and those who lost their life for my sake will find it.
This is a call to deep and adventurous living.
It is also a call to a disciplined life: a way of self denial. Throughout the long history of the church Christians have been called to deny themselves, to live that disciplined life. It can be helpful sometimes to gather those disciplines, those habits, together into a personal code of practice, sometimes called a Rule of Life.
You may never have thought about a Rule of Life for your own Christian journey. This might be a good time to reflect on that and reflect on it with others. Or your Rule of Life might need some resetting at this point in the journey and after several months of lockdown.
What kind of things might be in it? Public worship first of all. Putting God first on the first day of the week, the day of resurrection. If you can, if it’s safe to do so, worship with other Christians. Receive the sacrament. If you can’t for health and safety reasons, or because your church can’t open yet, then worship as you can, virtually. But reset that discipline.
Private prayer next. Set some time aside daily for prayer. It may be helpful to join with others and join your prayers in some way with the prayer of the church. Many churches have reported a rise in the number of people praying together in the mornings and the evenings online. I hope that will continue.
Third, practice the discipline of secret giving to and through the local church and for the relief of those in need. Again, you might need to reset that discipline and the way you give because of the pandemic.
After public worship, private prayer and secret giving, how will you engage in community with others in the Church? We all need the fellowship with other Christians: to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, as Paul writes in that beautiful passage from Romans. Can you meet physically and regularly with a few people to support one another in prayer? If not physically, can you meet virtually, once a week or once a fortnight to recharge your spiritual batteries, to give and to receive, to love one another?
Finally, how will you offer your time and your gifts to serve your wider community and your church? There is so much that needs rebuilding now. We all have something we can give through our time and our talents. Can you support your local school? Can you get involved with a struggling charity? Can you help to rebuild a ministry in your local church? Is there a need to lead in your community? Can you show hospitality and welcome to strangers and build up your neighbourhood?
All of these things are needed and vital. They might feel like a sacrifice at first, but actually, the more we do them, the more connected we feel to others.
A Rule of Life is a very simple thing: a set of habits and disciplines to make sure we are being faithful and being sustained as we follow Christ. Public worship, private prayer, secret giving, fellowship with others, loving service according to our gifts. Think about what you will do. Pray about these disciplines. Write them down. I look forward to walking with you and walking with Christ through the coming year.